Ashley Montagu

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Ashley Montagu
Ashley Montagu
Born (1905-06-28)28 June 1905
London, United Kingdom
Died 26 November 1999(1999-11-26) (aged 94)
Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Citizenship American
Nationality British
Fields Anthropology

Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu (June 28, 1905 – November 26, 1999), previously known as Israel Ehrenberg, was a British-American anthropologist who popularized the study of topics such as race and gender and their relation to politics and development.[1] He was the rapporteur (appointed investigator), in 1950, for the UNESCO statement The Race Question. As a young man he changed his name from Ehrenberg to "Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu". After relocating to the United States he used the name "Ashley Montagu". Montagu, who became a naturalized American citizen in 1940, taught and lectured at Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, the University of California, and New York University.[2] He authored over sixty books throughout this lifetime. In 1995, the American Humanist Association named him the Humanist of the Year.

Early life and education[edit]

Montagu began life as Israel Ehrenberg, having been born on June 28, 1905, in London, England. According to an interview in 1995 by Leonard Lieberman, Andrew Lyons, and Harriet Lyons, in the publication Current Anthropology, the young Ehrenberg grew up in London's East End. He remembered often being subjected to antisemitic abuse when he ventured out of his own Jewish neighborhood.[citation needed] Montagu attended the Central Foundation Boys' School.[3] He developed an interest in anatomy very early and as a boy was befriended by Arthur Keith, under whom he studied informally. In 1922, at the age of 17, he entered University College London, where he received a diploma in psychology after studying with Karl Pearson and Charles Spearman and taking anthropology courses with Grafton Elliot Smith and Charles Gabriel Seligman.[citation needed] He also studied at the London School of Economics, where he became one of the first students of Bronisław Malinowski. In 1931, he emigrated to the United States. At this time, he wrote a letter introducing himself to Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton, falsely claiming to having been "educated at Cambridge, Oxford, London, Florence, and Columbia" and having earned M.A. and PhD degrees. In reality, Montagu had not graduated from Cambridge or Oxford, and would not receive a doctorate until 1936, when he produced a dissertation at Columbia University entitled Coming into being among the Australian Aborigines: A study of the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia which was supervised by cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict. Nevertheless, he taught anatomy to medical students in the United States,[4] before becoming a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University from 1949 until 1955.[citation needed]


During the 1940s, Montagu published a series of works questioning the validity of race as a biological concept, including the UNESCO Statement on Race, and his very well known Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race. He was particularly opposed to the work of Carleton S. Coon. In 1952, together with William Vogt, he gave the first Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, inaugurating the series.

Montagu wrote the Foreword and Bibliography of the 1955 edition of Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Petr Kropotkin, which was reprinted in 2005.

Due to disputes concerning his involvement with the UNESCO Statement on Race, Montagu became a target for anti-communists, and, untenured, was dismissed from Rutgers University and "found all other academic avenues blocked."[4] He retired from his academic career in 1955 and moved to Princeton, New Jersey to continue his popular writing and public appearances. He became a well-known guest of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. He addressed his numerous published studies of the significant relationship of mother and infant to the general public. The humanizing effects of touch informed the studies of isolation-reared monkeys and adult pathological violence that is the subject of his Time-Life documentary Rock A Bye Baby (1970).

Later in life, Montagu actively opposed genital modification and mutilation of children. In 1994, James Prescott, Ph.D., wrote the Ashley Montagu Resolution to End the Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide: a Petition to the World Court, The Hague, named in honor of Dr. Montagu, who was one of its original signers.


An Ashley Montagu Fellowship for the Public Understanding of Human Sciences has been established at the University of Sydney, in Australia, and is currently held by anthropologist Dr Stephen Juan.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Montagu is the writer and director of the film One World or None. Produced in 1946 by The National Committee on Atomic Information, this short documentary exposes the dangers of nuclear weapons and argues that only international cooperation and proper control of atomic energy can avoid war and guarantee the use of this force for the benefit of mankind.
  • Footage of Ashley Montagu talking with Charlton Heston about his character in the movie appears as a bonus in the special DVD edition of The Omega Man.[citation needed]
  • Archive footage of him, among others (including Carl Sagan), is featured in The X-Files episode "Gethsemane."
  • The saying "International law exists only in textbooks on international law," which is often attributed to Albert Einstein, was in fact said to Einstein by Montagu.[5]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ramirez, Anthony (29 Nov 1999). "Obituary: Ashley Montagu, 94, Anthropologist and Popular Author". NY Times. 
  2. ^ The Ashley Montagu Institute; Roderic Gorney MD, Los Angeles
  3. ^ "Alumni". Central Foundation Boys' School. 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Marks, J. (2008). Chapter 14: "Race Across the Physical-Cultural Divide in American Anthropology". Kuklick, Henrika, ed. A New History of Anthropology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell ISBN 978-0-470-76621-7
  5. ^ "Conversations With Albert Einstein", in Science Digest, July 1985, pp. 50-53
  6. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (July 1958). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. p. 108. 

External links[edit]