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COLLECTION Identifier: ETHG. D 852 c

Cora Alice Du Bois papers


Cora Alice Du Bois (1903-1991), American anthropologist, educator, and author, was Zemurray Stone-Radcliffe Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University from 1954 to 1969. She was the first woman to receive tenure in Harvard’s Department of Anthropology, and the second woman to join the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This collection contains correspondence, class materials, research and field notes, teaching files, and manuscript drafts of publications, lectures, and speeches documenting her career as an academic and anthropologist, in addition to personal letters, diaries, photographs, and family papers, dating from 1869 to 1988.


  • Creation: 1869-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1912-1985

Language of Materials

Collection is predominately in English; materials in French and German are indicated at the folder level. There are also materials in Dutch and Abui.

Researcher Access

Open for research with the following exceptions: Access to Harvard University administrative records is restricted for 50 years. Student and personnel records and curriculum vitae are closed to research use for 80 years. Specific restrictions are noted at the folder level.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying is restricted (consult Reference Librarian for details).


28 cubic feet (76 document boxes, 3 flat boxes, 2 card file boxes, 2 book boxes, 1 artifact box, 1 folder)

This collection contains correspondence, class materials, research and field notes, teaching files, and manuscript drafts of publications, lectures, and speeches documenting the career of Cora Du Bois as an academic and anthropologist, in addition to personal letters, diaries, photographs, and family papers, dating from 1869 to 1988.

The bulk of the collection spans from 1912 to 1985 and covers Du Bois’s early education, undergraduate and graduate studies, training and field research in the area of psychological anthropology, work as a government research analyst during World War II and in the early 1950s, teaching appointment at Harvard and Radcliffe, oversight of the Harvard-Bhubaneswar Project in India, and participation in professional organizations and conferences.

While the collection contains some records of Du Bois's fieldwork among Native Americans in the Western United States in the early 1930s, most of her field notes on the Wintu people and Ghost Dance religion were lost, excepting those held by the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Similarly there are some materials concerning Du Bois's India research in the 1960s, but the bulk of her India correspondence, Oriya language cards, and field notes are in the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library.

Du Bois’s schooling and initial research interests are documented in class materials from Perth Amboy High School, Barnard College, Columbia University, and the University of California, Berkeley, including notes, tests, grades and reports, and drafts of her theses, among other papers.

Both her personal and professional relationships are reflected in correspondence with friends and colleagues like Julia and Paul Child, Abram Kardiner, Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Margaret Mead, Paul Radin, and May Sarton. There is also correspondence with scientific and cultural organizations, government agencies, publishers and editors, and former students, and letters, memos, and other communications with Harvard academic departments, committees, administrators, and faculty.

Her teaching materials contain lecture notes, outlines, syllabi, bibliographies, journal articles, and other documents Du Bois used in courses and seminars at Harvard and Radcliffe, Sarah Lawrence College, Cornell University, and the University of California, San Diego.

Also included are an extensive amount of material related to Du Bois’s fieldwork on Alor Island, consisting of handwritten and typed research notes, journals, linguistic notebooks, ethnologic texts, biographies, dictionaries, tests, drawings, and drafts of her book on the people of Alor. The collection further contains early and final drafts of books, lectures, articles, and conference papers by Du Bois on anthropology in general and specific topics like the Ghost Dance, Southeast Asia, friendship, and culture shock, as well as book reviews and State Department field reports.

Personal and family papers in the collection largely consist of Du Bois’s correspondence with her parents, Jean and Mattie Du Bois, and stepfather Richard Bicknell, concerning her travels, social life, education, fieldwork, teaching career, and finances, in addition to politics and current events; autobiographical materials like diaries and journals, curriculum vitae, interview transcripts, diplomas, and awards; and photographs. There are also letters written by her father when he lived and worked in South Africa in the 1890s, financial and estate administration records, papers related to her estranged brother Claude, correspondence of American and European relatives, and genealogical information.

Du Bois often used the blank verso of incoming correspondence, memoranda, student papers, and various printed documents to draft handwritten lecture notes, articles, and letters; these are scattered throughout several series in the collection. There are also notes in an unidentified hand that were apparently added with Du Bois's input and consent to certain materials, specifically in the Personal and Family Photographs series.

In Du Bois's correspondence, field notes, and teaching materials, she sometimes employs language now considered racist, derogatory, or outdated, and there are other papers in the collection that similarly contain contemporary descriptions of Indigenous people and non-white Americans that are offensive. When found, these materials are noted at the series or folder level.

Biographical note on Cora Du Bois

Cora Alice Du Bois (1903-1991), American anthropologist, educator, and author, was Zemurray Stone-Radcliffe Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University from 1954 to 1969. She was the first woman to receive tenure in Harvard’s Department of Anthropology, and the second woman to join the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Du Bois was born on October 26, 1903, in New York City, to Mattie Schreiber Du Bois and Jean Du Bois. She graduated from high school in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1921 and took a one-year course in library science at the New York Public Library in 1922-1923. Du Bois subsequently earned degrees in history from Barnard College (BA 1927) and Columbia University (MA 1928).

She completed her first course in anthropology, taught by Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, in her final year at Barnard. In spring 1929, Du Bois entered the graduate anthropology program at University of California, Berkeley, where she studied with Alfred L. Kroeber and Robert Lowie; under their direction Du Bois conducted fieldwork among the Wintu Indians of northern California in the summer of 1929. After receiving a PhD in cultural anthropology in 1932, she remained in Berkeley as a research assistant and began fieldwork investigating revivalistic cults, notably the Ghost Dance religion.

In 1935, Du Bois was awarded a year-long fellowship to study the uses of psychiatry in anthropology by the National Academy of Sciences. She spent six months working at the Harvard Psychological Clinic and Boston Psychopathic Hospital and attending seminars at the Boston Institute for Psychoanalysis, followed by a semester at the New York School of Psychoanalysis, where she collaborated with Abram Kardiner on a joint seminar on psychoanalysis and culture. Along with Benedict, Kardiner, Ralph Linton, and Margaret Mead, Du Bois contributed to field of anthropology known as Culture and Personality.

In 1938, Du Bois traveled to the island of Alor, then part of the Netherlands East Indies, to conduct fieldwork and test theories on basic personality structure and culture developed by Kardiner, who also helped fund the project with the Social Science Research Council of Columbia. She lived in the village of Atimelang for almost two years, conducting interviews, administering projective tests, and collecting biographical information and other data. Du Bois’s research led her to theorize that a certain personality structure occurs most frequently within each society, but that it is not necessarily common to all members of that society. She advanced this concept of “modal personality structure” in The people of Alor; a social-psychological study of an East Indian island, published in 1944.

During World War II and the early postwar years, Du Bois was employed by the US government as a Southeast Asia expert focused on applied anthropology. In 1942, she joined the Research and Analysis (R&A) branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Washington, DC. Du Bois transferred to the Southeast Asia Command in 1944 and was appointed chief of R&A at the OSS headquarters in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). From 1945 to 1950, she headed the South East Asia Branch of the State Department’s Division of Research for the Far East. Du Bois took a leave of absence for the year March 1950-April 1951 to work with the World Health Organization as a consultant on regional health programs in Asia. She additionally was employed by the Institute of International Education in Washington, DC, to establish a small research unit in 1951.

Du Bois taught courses at Hunter College (1936-1937) and Sarah Lawrence (1939-1942), and she planned to return to academia in the fall of 1951 as a tenured professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. She ultimately declined the position rather than sign the University of California loyalty oath, which was required of all faculty.

In 1954, Du Bois was appointed Samuel Zemurray Jr. and Doris Zemurray-Stone Radcliffe Professor by Harvard. Though the professorship was funded with a bequest to Radcliffe College, Du Bois taught both Harvard and Radcliffe students. She offered lecture courses on Southeast Asia and India in the Department of Anthropology and graduate seminars on social change in the Department of Social Relations. Du Bois was also an honorary curator at the Peabody Museum, and from 1962 to 1973 oversaw the Harvard-Bhubaneswar Project, a long-term study of sociocultural change in Orissa, India.

After retiring from Harvard in 1969, Du Bois taught at Cornell University (professor-at-large, 1971-1976) and the University of California, San Diego (spring seminar, 1974).

Throughout her career, Du Bois participated in professional and academic conferences, symposia, and workshops, and gave public and informal lectures. She was president of American Anthropological Association in 1968-1969 and the Association of Asian Studies in 1969-1970.

In addition to People of Alor, published works by Du Bois include The feather cult of the Middle Columbia (1938), The 1870 Ghost Dance (1939), and Social forces in Southeast Asia (1949). She also produced numerous articles and book reviews.

Du Bois met her partner, Jeanne Taylor (1912-1992), a New York City artist originally from Minnesota, while both women were serving in the OSS in Southeast Asia in 1944. After the war they moved to Washington, DC, where Taylor also worked for the State Department. Following Du Bois’s appointment at Harvard, the couple settled in Cambridge. Cora Du Bois died on April 7, 1991, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Biographical note on the Du Bois and Schreiber families

Jean Du Bois was born in Le Locle, Switzerland, in 1869 to Philippe Henry Du Bois and Louise Andreae Du Bois. He had seven siblings: Cecile (born 1863), Louise (1864-1888), Philippe (born 1866), Alice (born 1868), Albert (born 1871), Georges (born 1874), and Hugues (born 1875).

In 1891, Jean moved to the Transvaal Republic (now South Africa), where he and brother Philippe pursued mineral exploration and established a salt manufacturing business in partnership with Carl Fehr. Their investors included Philippe Henry Du Bois and other Du Bois relatives. Fehr & Du Bois opened an office in Johannesburg, and in 1894 the firm co-founded the Gravelotte Gold Mining Company, based in Pretoria.

Gertrude Martha (Mattie) Schreiber was born in 1878 in Brooklyn, New York, to Cora Horton and Henry Schreiber, a dentist and businessman. She had three siblings, Henry II, Elisa (Lisa), and George.

Jean Du Bois and Mattie Schreiber met in Germany, and they married in 1895. Mattie then joined her husband in Johannesburg, where their son Claude was born in 1897. The outbreak of the second Boer War compelled the Du Bois family to leave South Africa and move in with Mattie’s parents in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899. In 1908 Jean was hired to manage construction of a chemical factory in St. Quentin, France, for a subsidiary of his brother Georges’s Frankfurt employer, Deutches Gold-und Silber Scheideanstalt. The Du Bois family lived in France until 1911, when Jean was transferred to the company’s American subsidiary Roessler & Hasslacher Chemical Co., located in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Jean worked there for the remainder of his life, and he died in January 1922.

After Jean’s death, Mattie moved to Red Bank, New Jersey. In 1926, she married Richard S. Bicknell. Bicknell worked at Isolantite Manufacturing Company in the 1930s and American Lava Corp. from 1942 to 1948. In the late 1940s they settled in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mattie died in 1963 after a long illness; Richard died in 1965.

Claude Du Bois became estranged from his family in the 1920s and was sought by law enforcement on the East Coast and in California and Arizona for writing bad checks. The date and circumstances of his death were unknown to the family, and in the 1950s, Cora commenced legal action to declare him dead and recover Claude’s unclaimed inheritance from their father; his estate was settled in 1957.


The collection is arranged in eight series:

  1. Family/Genealogical Materials, 1869-1988
  2. Autobiographical Materials, 1908-1987
  3. Correspondence 1937-1988
  4. Class Materials, 1918-1937
  5. Alor Field Work and People of Alor Materials, 1937-1941
  6. Teaching Materials, 1939-1974
  7. Articles, Reviews, and Speeches, 1927-1983
  8. Personal and Family Photographs, circa 1877-1985

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.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Papers of Cora Du Bois, 1951-1964 (HUGB D856.xx):
In the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
  1. Photographs and objects collected during Du Bois's fieldwork are held by the Peabody Museum.
In the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
  1. Cora DuBois Papers, 1961-1972
In the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
  1. Du Bois’s Tututni (or Rogue River) field notes are part of Ethnological Documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, 1875-1958 (BANC FILM 2216)


  • Du Bois, C. (1980). Some Anthropological Hindsights. Annual Review of Anthropology, 9, Xii-13.
  • Du Bois, C. (1970). Studies in an Indian Town. Peggy Golde (Ed.) Women in the field; anthropological experiences. Chicago: Aldine Pub.
  • Interview with Cora Du Bois, including transcription, correspondence, 1978. Cora Alice Du Bois papers, ETHG. D 852 c. Tozzer Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University.
  • Schmidt, N (1991). Cora Du Bois. Christopher Winters (Ed.). International Directory of Anthropologists. New York ; London: Garland Publishing.
  • Seymour, S. (2015). Cora Du Bois : Anthropologist, diplomat, agent (Critical studies in the history of anthropology). Lincoln, [Nebraska] ; London, [England]: University of Nebraska Press.

Processing Information

Inventory created by Elizabeth Sandager and Erica B. L. Lindamood, 1 April 1996. Completed by Janet Steins, 12 September 2003.

Some titles were transcribed from Du Bois's files. Information in brackets was added by the archivist. A number of restricted materials were removed to Box 33.

The collection was rehoused and the finding aid was revised by Brooke McManus from November 2019 to April 2020. The overall intellectual and physical arrangement of the collection remains intact, but due to rehousing, the location of certain items may have shifted. Location changes are noted at the folder or item level in the finding aid.

Du Bois, Cora Alice, 1903-1991. Cora Alice Du Bois papers, 1869-1988 (inclusive), 1912-1985 (bulk): an inventory.
Tozzer Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

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

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