Katherine Ann Dettwyler

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Katherine Ann Dettwyler
Born (1955-02-03) February 3, 1955 (age 66)
OccupationAnthropologist, professor

Katherine Ann Dettwyler is an American anthropologist and advocate of breastfeeding.[1] She was an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware. In 2017, she gained media attention for her comments regarding Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who received fatal brain damage while imprisoned in North Korea.[2][3]

Background and education[edit]

Katherine Ann Dettwyler was born on February 3, 1955. She earned her BS in Anthropology from the University of California, Davis, in 1977, her MA from Indiana University Bloomington in 1981, and her Ph.D. in Anthropology also from IU Bloomington in 1985.[4]

Professional career[edit]

Dettwyler taught as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi from 1985 to 1987.[4] She taught at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas in the Anthropology department from 1987 until 2000,[4] when she took early retirement from her position as a tenured Associate Professor and moved to Delaware with her husband and children.[5]

Through the 1990s she was a nutritional anthropologist/consultant to a number of organizations providing nutrition education in Mali, while performing field research there.[6] She taught part-time as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Delaware, and continued to write and speak at conferences and universities.

Advocacy of breastfeeding[edit]

Dettwyler is known for her work studying the duration of breastfeeding in humans as it relates to other mammals, principally the nonhuman primates. According to her research, the natural age of weaning is 2½ to 7 years old as determined by weight gain, length of gestation, dental eruption, and other factors.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Kathy Dettwyler is married to Steven Dettwyler, Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and the mother of three children.[8][9] In 1999, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.[5]

Comments on death of Otto Warmbier[edit]

In June 2017, Dettwyler's comments on the case of Otto Warmbier attracted media attention. Warmbier was an American college student visiting North Korea who was arrested for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster in a staff-only area of his hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but was released and returned to the United States almost a year and a half later. He was returned in a comatose state and died shortly after his repatriation.[10]

Dettwyler wrote about the case on her personal Facebook page and in the comments section of a National Review article. She said Warmbier was "typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes"; that "these are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade", and that Warmbier's parents "ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea."[11] In a since-deleted post to her Facebook page she asked "is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?"[12]

Dettwyler had been an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, without tenure, and was not employed between terms. After her comments became public, the university announced that her contract would not be renewed.[13][14]



  • Cultural Anthropology & Human Experience: The Feast of Life (2011) ISBN 978-1577666813
  • Reflections on Anthropology: A Four-Field Reader (2003) ISBN 0-07-248598-1 – co-editor with Vaughn M. Bryant
  • Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives (1995) ISBN 0-202-01192-5 - co-editor with Patricia Stuart-Macadam[15]
  • Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa (1994) ISBN 978-0-88133-748-8. 1995 Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology.[16]

Selected academic journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ Weise, Elizabeth (May 12, 2012). "It's Only Unusual for US". Burlington Free Press. p. 2A – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ "Professor who said 'clueless white male' Otto Warmbier got 'what he deserved' won't be rehired". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Inside the mind of Kathy Dettwyler - Curriculum Vitae 2014". 21 September 2016. Archived from the original on 21 September 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  4. ^ a b c "Curriculum Vita" (PDF). kathydettwyler.weebly.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 19, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Katherine A. Dettwyler - Info". Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  6. ^ "Author to relate experiences with malnourished African children". Kent Island Bay Times. April 6, 2011. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "A Natural Age of Weaning Archived 2012-03-30 at the Wayback Machine", by Katherine Dettwyler, brief version of chapter "A Time to Wean", in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives, pp. 39–73, ed. Patricia Stuart-Macadam and Katherine A. Dettwyler, 1995, ISBN 978-0-20201192-9
  8. ^ "About the author". kathydettwyler.weebly.com. Archived from the original on December 20, 2014.
  9. ^ "Katherine A. Dettwyler: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle". Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  10. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, "Otto Warmbier, American Student Released From North Korea, Dies". The New York Times, June 19, 2017. Print version "American Student Dies After Being Released From North Korea in Coma" published in New York edition on June 20, 2017, on page A-14.
  11. ^ "U. Delaware prof under fire for saying Otto Warmbier got 'what he deserved' in N. Korea". Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  12. ^ Laughlin, Jason, "U. Delaware will not rehire prof who made critical comments about Otto Warmbier after his death". The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 25, 2017.
  13. ^ UD issues statement. UDaily, June 25, 2017.
  14. ^ Hawkins, Derek (June 26, 2017). "Professor who said 'clueless white male' Otto Warmbier got 'what he deserved' won't be rehired". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  15. ^ Wright, Anne L. (1998). "Review of Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives". Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 12 (3): 396–398. doi:10.1525/maq.1998.12.3.396. ISSN 0745-5194. JSTOR 649695.
  16. ^ "Margaret Mead Award Recipients". Society for Applied Anthropology. Retrieved 6 March 2019.

External links[edit]