Posts with the tag: Anthropology

The Archivist’s Nook: Telling Us Who They Are

The manuscript was originally submitted in April 1966 as a Ph.D. dissertation for Catholic University’s Department of Anthropology under the title “Behavior and Values of Streetcorner Negro Men.” Under the title “Tally’s Corner,” it doubled as Liebow’s Final Report for Project No. M-MHSC-59 in the Adolescent Process Section of the Mental Health Study Center at NIMH.

Elliot Liebow (January 4, 1925–September 4, 1994) was an anthropologist best known as the author of Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men (1967, Little, Brown and Co.) and Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women (1993, Free Press).

The two books, written more than twenty-five years apart, rather neatly bookend Liebow’s career at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over the course of which he rose to become Chief of the Center for the Study of Work and Mental Health. While Tally’s Corner—originally submitted as a Ph.D. dissertation to Catholic University’s Department of Anthropology—had grown out of research that Liebow conducted through the Health and Welfare Council of the National Capital Area on a grant from NIMH, Tell Them Who I Am punctuated the end of his career with the federal government. Liebow wound up writing Tell Them Who I Am after abruptly retiring on disability in 1984, having been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and given six or eight months to live. (See Biographical Note and the preface to Tell Them Who I Am for further details.) Happily, he lived for another decade after his diagnosis.

The symmetry of Liebow’s two books is underlined by the fact that both are examples of participant observation—a traditional anthropological approach which until Tally’s Corner had rarely been applied in a Western, urban setting. “In participant observation,” Liebow explains in the preface to Tell Them Who I Am, “the researcher tries to participate as fully as possible in the life of the people being studied” (p. vii). He goes on to poke fun at himself “Doing Research (that is, hanging around)” (p. x). Despite his modesty, Liebow’s ability to get close to his subjects is the stuff of legend. In his foreword to the 2003 edition of Tally’s Corner, Charles Lemert marvels at Liebow’s informality with Sea Cat: “Liebow “flopped” on the bed. When the condoms fell out, he felt no shame either in putting them away for Sea Cat or in asking about his use of them” (p. xi). Similarly, in her review of Tell Them Who I Am—which she calls “a work full of pathos and insight”—Katherine S. Newman of Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology writes: “Virtually every social scientist in the United States was raised on a diet that included Tally’s Corner. Elliot Liebow is the exemplar of the engaged ethnographer” (see Box 49, Folder 33).

Beloved classic though it is, Tally’s Corner (1967) has regularly been critiqued for the inclusion of the word “Negro” in its subtitle. A notable example of this critique (among others) in the Liebow papers comes from letters written in 1974 by Black students, who, not even ten years after the book’s publication, largely find it dated and distasteful (see Box 11, Folder 5).

The Liebow papers provide strong evidence of his research methods in participant observer studies. That said, the overwhelming majority of his copious field notes and tape recordings must be kept closed for the time being out of consideration for the privacy of his informants. Per the terms of the gift agreement signed by Harriet Liebow (Liebow’s widow), “field notes and related material, marked ‘confidential,’ […] shall be subject to a sixty (60) year restriction from the date of creation of said notes.” The finding aid indicates which materials are open for research and which are closed (and until when).

The first time I heard Liebow’s voice, I was surprised by how deep it was. I was listening to some tape recorded life history interviews with informants for Tell Them Who I Am (see Box 50), and I couldn’t help but be charmed by his parting words to one especially deferential interviewee: “You don’t have to call anybody anything but their first names,” he assured her, “[no] Miss Anybody […] and it’s just plain Elliot.” Tape recordings like that one offer some of the most vivid pictures of Liebow to be found anywhere in the papers; unfortunately, the collection contains very few photographs of him (and what few there are are rather poor quality). Because his role as participant observer seems so unavoidably personal, I found the lack of photographs both frustrating and tantalizing. While it’s true that he gives physical descriptions of himself in both of his books—6’1” tall, 185 pounds at the time of Tally’s Corner (p. 164) and ten pounds lighter, with white hair, by the time of Tell Them Who I Am (p. x)—these cursory accounts fall far short of capturing his charisma. In an obituary that appeared in the November 1994 issue of Anthropology Newsletter, Kim Hopper, the one-time president of the National Coalition for the Homeless, recalls Liebow’s incredible capacity to disarm (see Box 49, Folder 47):

Liebow was a consummate (some would say relentless) ethnographer and teacher. Two cardinal virtues of that dual profession—an ability to listen closely and a gift for storytelling—he held in abundance. Legend (confirmed) has it he once interviewed two men he had interrupted in the process of stealing the alternator from his parked car. (They desisted; “Give the man back his bolts!,” one of them reminded the other as they took their leave.) “It’s amazing what you can learn if you just don’t get excited,” was Liebow’s comment on the episode.

Perhaps the most lingering and impressive aspect of the Liebow papers is the documentation of his so-called retirement, during which, faced with his own imminent death, he steadfastly went on telling us who they are—tossing out stereotypes of the underclasses, just as he had in Tally’s Corner.

On July 11, 1986, Liebow was appointed the first occupant of the Cardinal O’Boyle Chair at Catholic University’s National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS). In January 1990, he was presented with Catholic University’s President’s Medal.

To learn more about the Elliot Liebow Papers, please see the newly published finding aid.

The Archivist’s Nook: Our Coolest Blog Yet – The Arctic Institute at Catholic University

A concave map of the Arctic is displayed in Mullen Library, 1960. Dr. Kenneth Bertrand, Head of the Geography Division, seen pointing, while Rector Fr. Mcdonald (L) and Fr. Dutilly (R) observe.

“When Father Dutilly returned from the Arctic last year, he brought a polar bear skin with him, which, I understand, was to have gone to you.”

-John Murphy to Rev. Joseph M. Corrigan, Catholic University Rector, 1940

In 1940, an office on the fourth floor of McMahon – room 405 to be specific – became known as the “Igloo” in official University correspondence. It is in this space that the Arctic Institute of the Catholic University of America operated. Fittingly this site was a hive of activity in the winter months, with scholars cataloging botanical, geological, and anthropological specimens collected from the Arctic Circle. But come the summertime, its faculty would disperse to the North, hitching rides on canoes, seaplanes, and icebreaker ships in search of new Arctic plant life and soil samples.

Dutilly’s 1940 travel plan, with the “Santa Maria” and its pilot (Louis Bisson) pictured on the bottom. In the center is pictured Dutilly (far right) at the Grotto of Lourdes on the Arctic Sea shore. He is standing next to Archbishop Gabriel Breynat (far left) and Sister Lusignan, both missionaries in the Canadian Arctic.

Beginning in 1895, Catholic University became a center for botanical research. In that year, the Langlois Herbarium was donated to the University by the estate of August Barthelemy Langlois. This collection consisted of over 20,00 specimens. This massive collection served as foundation for the Herbarium, with additional deposits occurring through the 1930s. One such scholar who donated to the collection was Danish Arctic explorer and botanist, Herman Theodor Holm. One of the earliest laypeople to earn a doctorate at Catholic, Holm would teach briefly at the University and donate some of his own library to the campus upon his death in 1932. Based on the strength of its collections, Fr. Artheme Dutilly (1896-1973) would join Catholic University in 1937 as a research associate in the Department of Biology.

Born in Quebec in 1896, Fr. Dutilly (1896-1973) was an Oblate Missionary priest and celebrated botanist with a particular interest in Arctic flora. In 1933, at the behest of Pope Pius XI, he was appointed Naturalist of the Oblate Arctic Missionaries. Dutilly would spend his summers traveling within the Arctic Circle, collecting soil, plant, and anthropological specimens to be prepared and sent to the Lateran Museums in Rome. He accompanied Oblate missionaries working in the Arctic, hitching rides on their motor ship M. F. Therese and, later, their seaplane, the Santa Maria. In both cases, Dutilly was not merely a collector of samples. He was also a radio operator, plane mechanic, and fighter of bears.

Dutilly would draw his own maps. With McMahon Hall pictured at the bottom, Dutilly’s 1940 journey is visible.

In one harrowing event, a polar bear overtook Dutilly’s boat with the priest fending it off. He also served as the mechanic during many of his flights, from soldering broken pieces to spending two days in the wilderness rigging a failing engine to continue on with his fieldwork. (Despite working, the plane still needed to stop every two hours to replenish its leaking oil supply!)

Even after relocating to Washington, Dutilly did not change his fieldwork operations and instead brought along several other Catholic University faculty and students with him. Scholars such as Fr. Hugh T. O’Neill and Fr. Maximillian Duman, OSB, were also prominent figures in the history of the Arctic Institute and accomplished researchers. During the summer, they would be off to various points in the Arctic. (It was reported that in 1941 Dutilly traveled over 15,000 miles across the Canadian Arctic!) And in the winter, he would return to Washington to inventory the materials for shipment to the Lateran Museums, as well as keeping some in DC at the Smithsonian and Catholic University.

With the formal founding of the Arctic Institute in 1940, the “Igloo” contained more than 50,000 mounted Arctic plants, over 900 volumes on Arctic vegetation, and numerous samples of soil, fossils, rocks, and minerals. Dutilly even worked with the Inuit populations to collect philological texts on indigenous languages. It was the single largest collection of Arctic material in the Americas…well outside the Arctic that is!

Fr. Dutilly’s business card, late 1930s.

In 1947, the Department of Defense began to provide additional funding for Dutilly’s research, with an added emphasis on Alaska and Greenland. The expressed purpose of this research grant was to explore ways to study the soil and plant life of the Arctic to better understand how to develop agriculture in this otherwise inhospitable zone.

Dutilly remained a faculty member of the Biology and Geography departments until 1967. He served as the Director of the Arctic Institute (1939), Curator of the Department of Biology Herbarium (1947), and as a Lecturer in the Department of Geography (1947).  Not long after his departure, the Arctic Institute melted away. The collections of the Institute and Herbarium were donated to other institutions in 1985-1986.

While we have yet to find the “polar bear skin” Dutilly allegedly sent to the University’s rector, the Archives does maintain examples of Dutilly’s anthropological materials, as well as the papers of Herman Theodor Holm: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/holm.cfm

Fr. Dutilly next to records of his annual Arctic explorations.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Flapper, a Nurse, and a Nun Apply to Catholic University…

Women blast through the barriers to their admission at Catholic University. No prisoners were taken. Pictured: (L to R) Nursing students Kathleen Bowser and Lois Pecor visiting the Soldier’s Home, 1945-46. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection. Special thanks to Robert Malesky for identifying the location.

I am not pleading for co-education or the admission of “flappers” into the University, but I am pleading for the cause of the women who mean more for the Church in America in one sense, than all its Hierarchy and all its Priests.

– Archbishop Michael Curley to Peter Guilday, October 10, 1924

Among the most frequently asked questions we receive at the Catholic University Archives are: Who was the first woman to graduate from Catholic University? When did the University first admit female students? Despite the simple questions, the answers are surprisingly complex! Beyond the opposition to coed institutions at the time of the University’s founding, the admission of women was complicated by the variety of degree programs, academic schools, and the status of lay and religious women on the campus.

During the 1895 inauguration of the newly constructed McMahon Hall, Rector John J. Keane stated to those assembled that, “Many women have applied for admission and the University would be glad if it were in her power to grant them the educational advantage which they desire.” Keane went on to state that such a change in the University’s admission policy would necessitate a decision by the Board of Trustees.¹

This issue was seemingly resolved with the founding of Trinity College (1897) and Catholic Sisters College (1911). Both institutions were founded to educate Catholic women, the former being for lay women and the latter for religious sisters. While certain exceptions were granted for some women to enroll as graduate students at the University – although without the full rights of an enrolled student – female students largely took courses at one of the two neighboring colleges. However, with the end of the First World War and passage of women’s suffrage, new opportunities appeared for American women.

New organizations, such as the National Council of Catholic Women, founded educational institutions such as the National Catholic School of Social Service, which became affiliated with Catholic University in 1923. However, despite being affiliated with Catholic University and often being taught by University faculty, none of the female students officially were enrolled or received degrees from the University.  That is until one sister from Minnesota came on the scene.

Sister Hilger with Mapuche women in Chile, ca. 1950s. Traveling the world, Hilger studied childhood experiences across cultures. (Courtesy: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Wishing to pursue an advanced degree in sociology, Sister Marie Inez Hilger, OSB, was upset to find that major Catholic universities, such as Notre Dame and Catholic University, did not accept female applicants. Explaining her situation to the Bishop Joseph F. Busch of St. Paul, she found a sympathetic ear. Busch expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for religious sisters at Catholic universities and promised to raise the issue at the annual Bishop’s meeting in Washington. Shortly thereafter, a telegram arrived from Busch, informing Hilger that permission had been granted for her to enroll as a full student at Catholic University. Packing up from Minnesota, Hilger arrived on campus on October 1, 1924. Completing her Masters in sociology and social work in 1925, Hilger’s example helped renew the discussion among the Board of Trustees on the topic of female students.

With her admission, the deadlock that had existed since 1895 was broken. The first laywoman to be registered as a full student was Florence McGuire, who began in 1927 and earned a Masters in Greek and Latin. With these two women granted special permission to enroll, a debate developed amongst the University’s leadership. Paralyzed between pro and anti-admission factions, the Board deferred on making a decision and referred the matter to the Rector. In 1928, Rector John H. Ryan granted admission to all religious sisters.² With the stalemate seemingly broken, the Board of Trustees moved quickly to open the University’s graduate programs to all women, lay or religious. However, undergraduate admission was another matter.

In 1932, the School of Nursing began to operate on the campus, presenting a new challenge to the University. Suddenly, a large cohort of lay women required general course work outside the nursing program, necessitating that they be permitted into undergraduate classes. Despite some concern over infringing upon the two nearby colleges, pragmatism won out as sending professional students to other campuses was costly and inefficient.³ Thereafter, women were accepted into a variety of science and humanities courses in the 1930s. While these students were technically enrolled only in professional programs – and not strictly liberal undergraduate degrees – this did not stop female students from becoming engaged in undergraduate life.

(L to R) Kathleen Bowser, Annabelle Melville, Rita Bondi, and Joan Chapman, 1945-46. Melville was a PhD student in history, the other three were nursing students. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection.

By the end of the 1930s, women would be seen attending and teaching classes in English, drama, anthropology, and even aeronautics. The January 1934 Alumnus even reports that there were already enough female graduates to form the Graduate Alumnae of the Catholic University of America, complete with officer elections and nationwide branches! In the 1940s, female students began to organize their own social clubs on campus, including the Association of Women Students (1943) and the Columbians (1945). Undergraduate actors and actresses graced Fr. Gilbert Hartke’s theatrical stage. By 1950, one of the final barriers to admission came down with the Board of Trustees officially allowing undergraduate women to enroll in bachelor’s degree programs on campus.

As for Sister Hilger? Well, she returned to the University in 1936, earning a doctorate in anthropology in 1939. Soon afterward, she met famed anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who inspired her to continue a lifelong career studying the child life of indigenous people worldwide. After decades of teaching at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota and serving as a Smithsonian research associate, Hilger passed away in 1977.

A small collection detailing the graduate admission and anthropological work of Sister Hilger may be viewed here: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/hilger.cfm


¹ The Catholic University Bulletin, Vol. 1 (1895), 540. 
² E. Catherine Dunn and Dorothy A., eds. Mohler. Pioneering Women at The Catholic University of America: Papers Presented at a Centennial Symposium, November 11, 1988 (Hyattsville, MD: International Graphics, 1990), 1-18.
³ Roy Deferrari, Memoirs of The Catholic University of America, 1918-1960  (Boston: The Daughters of St. Paul, 1962), 229-40.