Day 29 of Colorization Project – June 5
Born on this day in 1887 in New York City, Ruth Fulton Benedict, was an American anthropologist whose theories left a profound imprint on cultural anthropology particularly around the area of culture and personality.
Photographer: World Telegram unknown staff photographer – Library of Congress Ruth Fulton Benedict – 1937, Coloured by Loredana Crupi
Benedict is celebrated not only as an anthropologist but also as a feminist and a poet. Benedict felt that “the feminist movement needed heroines.” She wrote in her journal about the struggles confronting women of her generation who, like herself, were struggling to break the chains of societal expectations. Benedict was interested in the lives of women of influence and explored this in her biography, New Women of Three Centuries, which looked at the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft, 18th century writer and advocate of women’s rights; Margaret Fuller, who was enmeshed in Italy’s fight for independence, and Olive Schreiner, who fought against racism in South Africa.
She met and developed close ties with Margaret Mead. Together they collaborated on essays and books, including Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. They were particularly influential in regard to race, deviancy, and the importance of culture in shaping personality. Benedict’s classic work Patterns of Culture, the result of approximately ten years of work conducted among Native North Americans, established the ability of individuals to change their lives. Through her work and research Benedict sought to reconstruct the values and beliefs of American society.
Patterns of Culture cemented Benedict as a leading figure in the field of anthropology. Ensuing publications, notably Race: Science and Politics and The Races of Mankind, continued to expound on the theory of the subjective nature of cultural superiority and the notion that all races are equal, quite a radical proposition in the face of prevailing, prejudiced attitudes of the mid-twentieth century. It has been translated into 14 languages.
In 1946, Benedict published The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, another groundbreaking work that explored American attitudes toward Japan after World War II.
In that same year, Benedict received both the American Design Award for war service and the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women.
Benedict was a contributor to many journals and periodicals, including New York Herald Tribune. She was the Editor of Journal of American Folklore and also contributed poetry under pseudonyms of Ann Singleton, Ruth Stanhope, and Edgar Stanhope.
Benedict passed away from heart failure in 1948 at the age of 69 leaving behind a considerable legacy of anthropological studies.
“I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women. They have made of their lives a great adventure.” Ruth Benedict