Cora Du Bois


Cora Du Bois

Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent

Susan C. Seymour

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

432 pages
22 photographs


May 2015


$39.50 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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May 2015


$39.50 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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May 2015


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About the Book

Although Cora Du Bois began her life in the early twentieth century as a lonely and awkward girl, her intellect and curiosity propelled her into a remarkable life as an anthropologist and diplomat in the vanguard of social and academic change.

Du Bois studied with Franz Boas, a founder of American anthropology, and with some of his most eminent students: Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, and Robert Lowie. During World War II, she served as a high-ranking officer for the Office of Strategic Services as the only woman to head one of the OSS branches of intelligence, Research and Analysis in Southeast Asia. After the war she joined the State Department as chief of the Southeast Asia Branch of the Division of Research for the Far East. She was also the first female full professor, with tenure, appointed at Harvard University and became president of the American Anthropological Association.

Du Bois worked to keep her public and private lives separate, especially while facing the FBI’s harassment as an opponent of U.S. engagements in Vietnam and as a “liberal” lesbian during the McCarthy era. Susan C. Seymour’s biography weaves together Du Bois’s personal and professional lives to illustrate this exceptional “first woman” and the complexities of the twentieth century that she both experienced and influenced.

Author Bio

Susan C. Seymour is the Jean M. Pitzer Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. She is the author of several books, including Women, Family, and Child Care in India: A World in Transition.


"This book, Cora Du Bois: Anthropologist, Diplomat, Agent, deserves wide readership."—Laura Nader, Los Angeles Review of Books

"In the heavens of women in early anthropology, Cora Du Bois is generally eclipsed by the more famous Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, but both her work and her life deserve our attention and admiration, and Susan Seymour gives her the biography that she merits."—Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"Seymour is a fine biographer and writer who makes the most of extraordinary sources to bring this intrepid woman to life in a readable book that belongs in all libraries."—R. Berleant-Schiller, CHOICE

"Seymour's meticulously researched biography on Cora Du Bois skillfully weaves together threads from a myriad of often obscure, intensely personal documents, to produce a magnificent reconstruction of the life and personality of this major anthropological figure."—Carol Mukhopadhyay, Association for Feminist Anthropology

"This biography of Cora Du Bois will be of interest to those concerned with the beginnings of the personality and culture school in early American anthropology; with the notable women anthropologists in this school; with the broader history of this anthropology, its central figures and its impact on theory and on fieldwork on both the west and east coasts; and with the history of science most generally of all."—Naomi Quinn, Ethos

"This book gives an excellent picture of a life, a time, and a profession."—Alice E. Schlegel, American Anthropologist

“This biography is a page-turner, with writing that is lively and vivid, and Cora’s own correspondence, journal entries, and poetry give the book a very ‘first-person’ feel. There’s a lot to learn here.”—Louise Lamphere, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, and past president of the American Anthropological Association

“Susan Seymour has produced a captivating, extremely well-written narrative that has much to offer multiple audiences that include anthropologists and students of the history of ideas and social science, but also more general readers interested in the biography of a brilliant, independent gay woman who forged an important career in an era when social obstacles made such accomplishments very rare.”—David H. Price, professor of anthropology and sociology at Saint Martin’s University and the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Series Editors’ Introduction    
Resources and Acknowledgments    
Prologue: Cora and Me    
Chapter 1. Tomgirl    
Chapter 2. Escape and Resolve    
Chapter 3. Becoming an Anthropologist    
Chapter 4. Culture and Personality    
Chapter 5. A Pioneer in Culture and Personality Research    
Chapter 6. World War II and the OSS    
Chapter 7. Disillusionment in the Cold War Era    
Chapter 8. Harvard, Crown of Roses or Thorns?    
Chapter 9. Sociocultural Change in India    
Chapter 10. Looking Inward    

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