Some of the most famous anthropologists are women: Margaret Mead, Mary Leakey, Alice Roberts, and Jane Goodall, to name a few. Even in times when men were typically leaders in the field, women still made a name for themselves and continue to do so now. During Women’s History Month, the Department of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico is honoring university women in Anthropology and hosting a series of talks.
Anthropology department administrator Jennifer George and graduate students Laura Steele and Stephanie Fox have compiled a Women’s History Month web page to highlight the women and events, working on behalf of the department's IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-bias) committee. The UNM Anthropology department has a strong population of women as faculty, students, and alumni who have gone on to work in the field and make significant contributions.
“In putting together the biographies for our Women's History Month page, it is striking how many leaders in feminist anthropology have worked at UNM,” noted associate professor and evolutionary anthropologist Melissa Emery Thompson. “There is no question that access to those individuals, the kind of research they have done, and the classes they have taught has built up a community that attracts other women to join the program. And many key themes in contemporary anthropology, such as social and health inequality, family and kinship, gender and sexuality, and preservation of cultural heritage are things that seem to be particularly compelling to female students at UNM.”
Among the women from UNM who have distinguished themselves in the field of Anthropology are:
Florence Hawley Ellis (1906-1991) was the first female Anthropologist at UNM (hired 1935) who was granted an honorary Doctorate of Letters by UNM.
Beverly Singer was the first Native American woman from Santa Clara Pueblo hired by the UNM Department of Anthropology, holding a joint appointment with the UNM Native American Studies Department.
Jane Lancaster, UNM Distinguished Professor Emerita of Anthropology, is a pioneer in the human evolutionary sciences.
Louise Lamphere is a pioneering feminist anthropologist and Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of New Mexico.
Linda Cordell (1943-2013) was the first woman to be Chair of the UNM Department of Anthropology (1983-1986) and has been called the “grande dame of Southwestern archaeology.”
Marta Weigle (1944-2018), University Regents Professor, who served as Department Chair for American Studies and later for Anthropology, the first gay woman to be appointed in these positions
The page also features shout-outs to Patricia Crown, Heather Edgar, Frances Hayashida, Jill Ahlberg Yohe, and many others, as well as upcoming discussions and talks this month, resources for women, biographies of famous women anthropologists, and more.
While women have faced many of the same impediments in anthropology as in other academic fields, they have made some of the most influential discoveries in our field and have been doing so for nearly a century.
“Anthropology is the study of the human condition. This is intuitively appealing for many women, especially since early scholarship in anthropology had not given much attention to women's roles in society,” Emery Thompson said. “Thus, women took up these important questions that had been overlooked about the cultural and historical context of motherhood, sexuality, women's work, and gender inequality. This kind of research continues to have important applications to human rights and social change.”
“Then again, there are many famous anthropologists, like Mary Leakey or Florence Hawley Ellis, whose work did not focus on women's issues but whose careers nevertheless paved the way for the professional recognition of women,” she continued. “I think that anthropological fieldwork ̶ whether with living humans, in archaeological sites, or with wild primates ̶ was an attractive path for women to break out of narrow constraints of what women were expected to do. And it has been said that characteristics like patience, resilience, and compassion, allowed women to be unusually successful in fieldwork settings.”
To women ̶ or men ̶ considering studying for a career in Anthropology, Emery Thompson advised, “UNM has a dynamic anthropology program that includes coursework and research in archaeology, ethnology, evolutionary anthropology, human biology, forensic anthropology, and linguistics. This includes an excellent field school in Chaco Canyon and many research labs where students can get hands-on research experience. An anthropology degree is really versatile, and our alumni are recruited into everything from non-profits to government jobs, museums, corporations, and health sciences fields.”
The origins of Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year. In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women's History Alliance)—successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week. Subsequent Presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March until 1987, when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as Women’s History Month.
Image: Anthropologist Patricia Crown in Room 28 at Chaco