Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent

Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent

Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent

Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent

Synopsis

Although Cora Du Bois began her life in the early twentieth century as a lonely and awkward girl, her intellect and curiosity propelled her into a remarkable life as an anthropologist and diplomat in the vanguard of social and academic change.

Du Bois studied with Franz Boas, a founder of American anthropology, and with some of his most eminent students: Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, and Robert Lowie. During World War II, she served as a high-ranking officer for the Office of Strategic Services as the only woman to head one of the OSS branches of intelligence, Research and Analysis in Southeast Asia. After the war she joined the State Department as chief of the Southeast Asia Branch of the Division of Research for the Far East. She was also the first female full professor, with tenure, appointed at Harvard University and became president of the American Anthropological Association.

Du Bois worked to keep her public and private lives separate, especially while facing the FBI's harassment as an opponent of U.S. engagements in Vietnam and as a "liberal" lesbian during the McCarthy era. Susan C. Seymour's biography weaves together Du Bois's personal and professional lives to illustrate this exceptional "first woman" and the complexities of the twentieth century that she both experienced and influenced.

Excerpt

Cora Du Bois began life in 1903 as a lonely and awkward girl who liked being a distant observer of humankind. She matured into a formidable woman whose intellect, curiosity, and presence helped take her on a remarkable journey — a journey that culminated with an appointment at Harvard. There she would become the first woman to receive a tenured professorship — the Zemurray-Stone-Radcliffe chair in the Departments of Anthropology and Social Relations. Along the way, in addition to getting a PhD in anthropology and doing pioneering research in the field of culture and personality, she served as a high-ranking intelligence officer during World War ii and as a Southeast Asia expert in the State Department following the war. in the State Department she opposed actions of the U.S. government that led to the Vietnam War and stood up for civil liberties during the McCarthy era when, as a “liberal” and lesbian, she was repeatedly investigated and harassed by the fbi.

This is a book about a twentieth-century “first woman.” For the general reader, it is a chronicle of that life, one that intersected major events of the past century. Du Bois was one of the few women of her generation who succeeded in having a career that included both university teaching and government service. We tend to think of Margaret Mead as the public face of anthropology during much of the twentieth century and assume that anthropology was a discipline welcoming to women. It was not. Although in the first half of the century women were admitted into certain graduate programs, few were able to obtain jobs commensurate with their degrees. This included Mead, who, unlike Du Bois, never had a full-time academic appointment.

This book is also about the development of American anthropology as viewed through the life of one individual. Du Bois studied with Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology, and with some of his most eminent students — Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, and Robert Lowie.

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