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COLLECTION Identifier: ETHG. D 852 c

Cora Alice Du Bois papers,

Personal and professional papers of American anthropologist Cora Du Bois.


  • 1869-1988 (inclusive), 1912-1985 (bulk).

Conditions Governing Access

Unrestricted, except for letters of recommendation and grades. Permission to use restricted materials must be granted by individual concerned or his/her legal heir.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying is restricted (consult Reference Librarian for details).


81 boxes

The papers reflect CDB's life as student, field worker, teacher, author, but on a more intimate level, as daughter, friend and companion. The documents cover the period from 1869 to 1988; however, the bulk of the material dates from 1912 to 1985. The collection occupies 81 boxes. Included are correspondence; diaries; vitae; diplomas and awards; class notes; ethnographic data; teaching materials; interviews with CDB; drafts of papers, books and speeches; and bibliographies, photographs, maps and clippings.

CDB was a prolific correspondent, and though she guarded her privacy during her lifetime, she has left behind an extensive record of this side of her life. Her correspondence with family members, friends, and professional associates covers the wide range of CDB's social relationships from youth to the final years of her life. The papers do not contain any correspondence between Du Bois and her companion, Jeanne Taylor, with the exception of one letter from Jeanne to Cora near the end of CDB's life. However, letters from their mutual friends as well as CDB's autobiographical notes provide insight into their relationship. Additional information about their life together can be gleaned from CDB's correspondence with her mother and stepfather.

Du Bois' papers provide the means of tracing the growth of her career and the evolution of her philosophy. In addition, they provide insight into the development of applied and psychologic anthropology. Leaders in the field such as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Robert Lowie, Paul Radin, and A. L. Kroeber were formative influences on CDB. This influence is reflected in materials such as class notes, correspondence, biographical notes, and drafts of CDB's obituary articles on Lowie and Radin. Evidence of CDB's pioneering work in psychologic anthropology can be found in her notes and abstracts of seminars with A. Kardiner, and her letters to Kardiner. Du Bois' exploration of specific questions in the area of psychologic anthropology is documented in her Alorese research materials, including a journal describing CDB's visit with Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson and a small amount of correspondence with Bateson and Mead. As a result of the rapid pace of cultural change today, much of the material relating to Alor cannot be reassembled. For this reason, field notes, journals, and drafts of People of Alor can provide an unrivaled source for a range of future research topics in anthropology, linguistics, folklore, and related disciplines. These materials are contained in the "Alor Field Work" series.

Other documentation, such as correspondence, class notes, CDB's drafts of speeches, lectures and articles, her teaching materials, and interviews with CDB, can help deepen researchers' understanding of the main trends in anthropological thinking during a half century (roughly the 1930s to 1980s). These materials are an exceptionally rich source for the study of anthropology and women (e.g., Ethel Albert, Frederica de Laguna, Harriet Kupferer, Isabel Kelly, Margaret Mead, Katherine Luomala, Antonia Mills, Jean Briggs, Marguerite Robinson, Sylvia Vatuk, Hazel Hitson Weidmann, and others). Du Bois was employed by various federal agencies during WWII and her role in the development of applied anthropology is demonstrated in correspondence files, interviews with CDB, family letters, a 1950 diary, and in lectures given at the Foreign Service Institute.

Teaching dominated most of Du Bois' career. Included are undergraduate and graduate course lectures and readings, extensive correspondence with students, and other materials from her years at Sarah Lawrence, Harvard-Radcliffe, and Cornell. Materials from CDB's Harvard classes are located in the "Teaching Materials" series, while evidence of her work in guiding senior honor theses and Ph.D. dissertations is found primarily in the "Correspondence" series.

CDB's teaching informed her research, and vice versa. One instance of this is her lectures and writings on the subject of friendship. Student papers for her Harvard seminars, 1954-1956, are filed with CDB's drafts for a 1974 article titled "The Gratuitous Act: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Friendship Patterns." These materials can be found in the "Articles, Reviews, and Speeches" series.

In addition, CDB is the author of five monographs on Native Americans, a substantial number of articles in professional journals or special volumes, dozens of book reviews, and a few popular articles. (See vitae in "Autobiographical Materials" series for a complete listing.) Drafts of a large portion of these writings remain intact and there are copies, as well, of many of the speeches she gave over the years. Manuscript materials are frequently accompanied by related correspondence, background information, and published versions of her articles and reviews.

CDB donated six boxes of her India correspondence, Oriya language cards and field notes to the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago. Even so, the Tozzer collection includes some correspondence with individuals who worked on the India project, as well as other related manuscript materials (consult "Correspondence" and "Articles, Reviews, and Speeches" series). CDB's record of her field work among the Wintu people in 1929-1930 and the Ghost Dance in California was lost, with the exception of Tututni (or Rogue River) field notes. The Tututni notes are preserved at the Robert H. Lowie Museum, University of California, Berkeley (see letter to Frank LaPena, October 27, 1972).

Biographical / Historical

Cora Du Bois was born on October 26, 1903, in New York City, to Mattie Schreiber Du Bois and Jean Du Bois. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in her 88th year on April 7, 1991. Cora Du Bois was a first generation Swiss-American. Her father was stationed in South Africa during the early part of his career; during Cora Du Bois' childhood he was employed at a chemical company in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The Du Bois family lived in Perth Amboy from 1911 to 1921. After Jean's death in January 1922, Mattie moved to Red Bank, New Jersey. In 1926, she married Richard S. Bicknell, and eventually they settled in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mattie died in 1963 after a long illness; Richard died in 1965.

In 1921 Du Bois graduated from high school in Perth Amboy. In June 1923, she completed a one-year course in library science at the New York Public Library. Her BA (Barnard College, 1927) and MA (Columbia University, 1928) degrees were both in history. Her Columbia thesis was titled: "Change from Hellenic to Hellenistic Greece." (Subsequent to graduation in 1928, Du Bois spent six months in Europe.)

Du Bois' first course in anthropology was in 1926-1927, her last year at Barnard College, and was taught by Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. In January 1927 she entered one of the few reputable ethnology departments at that time--the University of California, Berkeley--to study under Alfred L. Kroeber and Robert Lowie. Under their guidance, she began field work among the Wintu people of northern California in the spring of 1929.

From 1929 to World War II, Du Bois' interests were in ethnography, historical study of the early Ghost Dance, and psychoanalysis. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Berkeley (in 1932), and stayed on as a research associate for three years (to 1935). Academic positions for women were even scarcer than they were for men during this Depression period.

In 1935, the National Academy of Sciences granted Du Bois a year's fellowship to study the uses of psychiatry in anthropology. She spent a semester in Cambridge, Massachusetts, divided between Henry Murray's research clinic at Harvard, the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, and weekly seminars at the Boston Institute for Psychoanalysis. During the fall semester (1935-1936), she collaborated with Abram Kardiner, at the New York School of Psychoanalysis, on a joint seminar on psychoanalysis and culture.

From 1938 to 1939, Du Bois did pioneering fieldwork among the people of Alor, in order to pursue her interest in the field of personality and culture. Her work there was funded by the Social Science Research Council of Columbia. Her People of Alor (1944) is an early classic in that field. In Alor, she was confronted with a language which had not been previously studied and had no written form. She learned this language and named it "Abui" (or "Aboei").

After leaving Berkeley, Du Bois taught anthropology at Hunter College (1936) and at Sarah Lawrence (1939-1942), and also wrote her book on Alor. From 1942 to 1954, she was engaged in applied anthropology for the government (Office of Strategic Services, 1942-44 and State Department, 1945-1950) and later for the World Health Organization (1950-1951). She was granted a year's leave of absence from the government in order to do consulting for WHO (they sent her to their SE Asian regional office). She continued to publish during this period. For example, in April, 1947, while still employed by the State Department, she delivered three lectures at Smith College which appeared in 1949 under the title, Social Forces in Southeast Asia, based on her experiences there. In 1951 the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C. employed Du Bois to establish a small research unit.

In 1950, Du Bois turned down a job offer at U. C. Berkeley to succeed Kroeber as head of the anthropology department. The sticking point was the California Loyalty Oath, which all faculty members of that time were required to sign. She returned to academic life in 1954 as Zemurray Professor of Anthropology at Harvard. With the joint appointment at Harvard and Radcliffe, she became the first woman to teach anthropology at Harvard; she remained there until her retirement in 1969. At Harvard, she offered upper-division lecture courses on Southeast Asia and India in the Department of Anthropology and graduate seminars on social change in the Department of Social Relations. In later years she taught at Cornell University (professor-at-large, 1971-1976) and at the University of California at San Diego (Spring seminar, 1974).

In 1961, Du Bois traveled to India to study the topic of value confrontations between traditional and modern life styles; the site of her study was the double town of Bhubaneswar -- both an old temple town and the new state capital of Orissa. She worked intermittently on the project over a six-year period (1961-1967). Although she chose not to publish the results of her India research, the material is available at the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago.

Du Bois received many awards and honors for her accomplishments. For example, she was given the Exceptional Civilian Award by the U.S. Army and the Order of the Crown of Thailand. She also received honorary doctorates from Mills College (LL.D, 1959) and Wheaton College (Ph.D, 1963).

Du Bois retired from teaching at Harvard in 1969, though she held a position as professor-at-large at Cornell University from 1971 to 1976. Despite three major operations between 1975 and 1981, she continued a steady stream of correspondence with her colleagues and friends. During these years she and her companion, Jeanne Taylor, enjoyed an active social life. In 1976, Du Bois participated in the conference "American Social and Cultural Anthropology: Past and Present," held at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Minnesota.


Organized into the following eight series:
  1. Series 1: Family/Genealogical Materials, 1869-1988
  2. Series 2: Autobiographical Materials
  3. Series 3: Correspondence 1937-1988 (inclusive), 1945-1985 (bulk)
  4. Series 4: Class Materials
  5. Series 5: Alor Field Work and People of Alor Materials, 1937-1941
  6. Series 6: Teaching Materials
  7. Series 7: Articles, Reviews, and Speeches, 1927-1983
  8. Series 8: Personal and Family Photographs

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Cora Du Bois were bequeathed by Du Bois to the Tozzer Library of Harvard University, 1983-1987.

Sources: Du Bois, Cora, "Some Anthropological Hindsights," in Annual Review of Anthropology, 9 (1980), pp.1-13. Du Bois, Cora, "Studies in an Indian Town" in: Peggy Golde (editor),Women in the Field, Anthropological Experiences (Chicago: 1970), pp. 221-236. Cora Du Bois Papers: interview by Lawrence C. Kelley, 1979 (Box 11) and student paper by Shirley Drye, 1980 (Box 19). Schmidt, Nancy J., "Cora Du Bois" in: Christopher Winters (editor), International Directory of Anthropologists (New York: 1991), pp.162-3.
  • Du Bois, Cora, "Some Anthropological Hindsights," in Annual Review of Anthropology, 9 (1980), pp.1-13.
  • Du Bois, Cora, "Studies in an Indian Town" in: Peggy Golde (editor),Women in the Field, Anthropological Experiences (Chicago: 1970), pp. 221-236.
  • Cora Du Bois Papers: interview by Lawrence C. Kelley, 1979 (Box 11) and student paper by Shirley Drye, 1980 (Box 19).
  • Schmidt, Nancy J., "Cora Du Bois" in: Christopher Winters (editor), International Directory of Anthropologists (New York: 1991), pp.162-3.

Processing Information

Inventory created by Elizabeth Sandager and Erica B. L. Lindamood, 1 April 1996. Completed by Janet Steins, 12 September 2003.
Link to catalog
Du Bois, Cora Alice, 1903-1991. Cora Alice Du Bois papers, 1869-1988: Guide.
Tozzer Library, Harvard College Library

Repository Details

Part of the Tozzer Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University Repository

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