Cora Du Bois

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Cora Alice DuBois
Jeanne Taylor, Gerard Du Bois, Cora Du Bois.jpg
Jeanne Taylor, Gerard Du Bois, Cora Du Bois
Born(1903-10-26)October 26, 1903
DiedApril 7, 1991(1991-04-07) (aged 87)
EducationBarnard College, Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley
Known forCulture and personality studies and psychological anthropology

Cora Alice Du Bois (October 26, 1903 – April 7, 1991[1]) was an American cultural anthropologist and a key figure in culture and personality studies and in psychological anthropology more generally.

Early life and education[edit]

Du Bois was born in New York City on October 26, 1903 to Mattie Schreiber Du Bois and Jean Du Bois, immigrants to the U.S. from Switzerland. She spent most of her childhood in New Jersey, where she graduated from high school in Perth Amboy. She spent a year studying library science at the New York Public Library and then attended Barnard College, graduating with a B.A. in history in 1927. She earned an M.A. in history from Columbia University in 1928.

Encouraged by an anthropology course taught by Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas at Columbia, DuBois moved to California to study anthropology with Native American specialists Alfred L. Kroeber and Robert Lowie. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1932.

Early work[edit]

In part due to prejudices against women academics, she was initially unable to find a university position. She remained at Berkeley as a teaching fellow and research assistant from 1932 to 1935. She conducted salvage ethnography on several Native American groups of northern California and the Pacific Northwest, including the Wintu Indians of northern California. She published The 1870 Ghost Dance in 1939, a study of a religious movement among Native Americans in the Western U.S.

In 1935, Du Bois received a National Research Council Fellowship to undertake clinical training and explore possible collaborations between anthropology and psychiatry. She spent six months at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, now the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, and six months at the New York Psychoanalytic Society. In New York she worked with psychiatrist Abram Kardiner, who became her mentor and collaborator for several projects in cross-cultural diagnosis and the psychoanalytic study of culture. Du Bois also taught at Hunter College in 1936-1937 while developing a fieldwork project to test their new ideas.

Work in Indonesia and OSS[edit]

From 1937 to 1939, DuBois lived and conducted research on the island of Alor, part of the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia. She collected detailed case studies, life-history interviews, and administered various personality tests (including Rorschach tests), which she interpreted in collaboration with Kardiner and published as The People of Alor: A Social-Psychological Study of an East Indian Island in 1944. One of her major theoretical advances in this work was the concept of "modal personality structure". With this notion she modified earlier ideas in the Culture and Personality school of anthropology on "basic personality structure" by demonstrating that, while there is always individual variation within a culture, each culture favors the development of a particular type or types, which will be the most common within that culture.[2] Her work strongly influenced other psychiatric anthropologists, including Robert I. Levy, with his person-centered ethnography, and Melford Spiro.

Like many other American social scientists during World War II, DuBois served as a member of the Office of Strategic Services working in the Research and Analysis Branch as Chief of the Indonesia section. In 1944 she moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to serve as chief of research and analysis for the Army's Southeast Asia Command.[3] There she began a lesbian relationship with Jeanne Taylor, another OSS employee. They lived together as a couple and in the mid-1950s they visited Paul and Julia Child in Paris.[4] DuBois and Taylor, "her companion," according to her Harvard Library biographer, "enjoyed an active social life" in the 1970s.[5]

Later work and Harvard career[edit]

She left the OSS after World War II and from 1945 to 1949 was Southeast Asia Branch Chief in the State Department's Office of Intelligence Research.[3] In 1950, she declined an appointment to succeed Kroeber as head of the anthropology department at Berkeley rather than sign the California Loyalty Oath required of all faculty members.[5][6] DuBois worked for the World Health Organization in 1950-51. In 1954, she accepted an appointment at Harvard University as the second person to hold the Zimurray Chair at Radcliffe College. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1955.[7] She was the first woman tenured in Harvard's Anthropology Department and the second woman tenured in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. She conducted research between 1961 and 1967 in the temple city of Bhubaneswar in the Indian state of Orissa, where a number of graduate students in Anthropology and Social Relations conducted fieldwork.

DuBois was president of the American Anthropological Association in 1968-69 and of the Association for Asian Studies in 1969-70, the first woman to be allowed that honor.[3]

In 1970 she retired from Harvard but continued teaching as Professor-at-large at Cornell University (1971–1976) and for one term at the University of California, San Diego (1976).[5] She died in Brookline, Massachusetts, on April 7, 1991.[3] Most of her research materials and personal papers are held in Tozzer Library at Harvard University.[1] Some are in the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago.


Notable students[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Du Bois, Cora Alice, 1903-1991. Cora Alice Du Bois papers, 1869-1988: Guide". Tozzer Library, Harvard College Library: OASIS. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  2. ^ Christina Toren, "Culture and Personality" in Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1996)
  3. ^ a b c d New York Times: Cora DuBois, Harvard Professor of Anthropology, Is Dead at 87," April 11, 1991, accessed April 26, 2011
  4. ^ Jennet Conant, A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 241. DuBois' New York Times obituary called Taylor "her longtime companion."
  5. ^ a b c Cora Alice Du Bois papers: Guide Archived 2006-09-02 at the Wayback Machine., accessed April 26, 2011
  6. ^ For the history of the California Loyalty Oath at Berkeley, see "Summary of Loyalty Oath events", accessed April 26, 2011
  7. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  8. ^ Briggs, Jean (1970) Never in Anger: portrait of an Eskimo family. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. P. ix.

Further reading[edit]

  • Seymour, Susan C. (2015). Cora Du Bois : anthropologist, diplomat, agent. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803274303.

Select publications[edit]

  • Du Bois, Cora A. (1938) The Feather Cult of the Middle Columbia. Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Company.
  • Du Bois, Cora A. (1939) The 1870 Ghost Dance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Du Bois, C. A. (1944) The people of Alor; a social-psychological study of an East Indian island. With analyses by Abram Kardiner and Emil Oberholzer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Du Bois, Cora (1959) Social Forces in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Du Bois, Cora Alice (1960). The people of Alor; a social-psychological study of an East Indian island. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.