Ruth Landes

Ruth Landes
Born(1908-10-08)October 8, 1908
Died(1991-02-11)February 11, 1991 (Aged 82)
EducationPh.D., Columbia University (1935)

Ruth Landes (October 8, 1908 in New York City – February 11, 1991 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) was an American cultural anthropologist best known for studies on Brazilian candomblé cults and her published study on the topic, City of Women (1947). Landes is recognized by some as a pioneer in the study of race and gender relations.[1][2]

Early life

Ruth Schlossberg was born in Manhattan, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father was Joseph Schlossberg, a co-founder and long-term secretary-general [3] of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.[4]


Landes received her B.A. in Sociology from New York University in 1928, and a master's degree from The New York School of Social Work (now part of Columbia University) in 1929, before studying for her doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University. She earned her Ph.D. in 1935 under the mentorship of Ruth Benedict, a pioneer in the field of anthropology and student of Franz Boas.[5] Benedict had a profound influence on Landes.[6] She was enthralled by the way in which Benedict taught her classes, and with the way she forced the students to think in an unconventional way. Landes also stated that she was never as happy studying anthropology as when she was studying with Benedict and Boas. Landes has recorded that the friendship between herself and Benedict was one of the most meaningful friendships of her life; it was a friendship that encouraged her to expand her thoughts about anthropology and question the social norms of society.[6]

Field studies

Ruth Landes with Claude Lévi-Strauss and other researchers at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, 1930s

Landes began researching the social organization and religious practices of marginalized subjects with her masters thesis on Black Jews in Harlem. Seeking to enhance her analysis of this group, she contacted Professor Boas, who suggested she move into the field of anthropology.[7] Under Benedict's tutelage, Landes shifted her focus toward Native Americans - the more traditional anthropological subjects. Between 1932 and 1936, she undertook field work with the Ojibwa of Ontario and Minnesota, the Santee Dakota in Minnesota, and the Potawatomi in Kansas. Using her notes from these trips, Landes produced a large body of written research, including the landmark texts Ojibwa Sociology (1937), Ojibwa Woman (1938), and, much later, Ojibwa Religion and the Midewiwin (1968) and The Mystic Lake Sioux (1968). In Ojibwa Sociology and Ojibwa Woman, Landes provides notes on kinship, religious rites and social organization, and in the latter, through the tales of chief informant Maggie Wilson, reported how women navigated within gender roles to assert their economic and social autonomy. In Ojibwa Religion and The Mystic Lake Sioux, Landes discussed her subjects' strategies to maintain religious and cultural beliefs and practices, while also responding to rapid changes in their cultural and political environment.

In 1938-1939, Ruth Landes worked in Bahia, Brazil, to study religious syncretism and identity construction among Afro-Brazilian candomblé practitioners. She wrote that the women-centered sphere of candomblé was a source of power for certain disenfranchised blacks and a creative outlet for what she called "passive homosexuals".[8] In her published work on these findings, City of Women (1947), Landes discussed how racial politics in Brazil shape many candomblé practices. She returned to Brazil in 1966 to study the effects of urban development in Rio de Janeiro.[9]


For much of her professional career, Ruth Landes held a number of contract research positions. In 1939, she became a researcher for Gunnar Myrdal's study of African Americans. In 1941, she became research director for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. In 1941-1945, she was the representative for African-American and Mexican-American Affairs on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Committee on Fair Employment Practices. At the same time, she began to study the Acadians of Louisiana. In 1948-1951, she was study director of the American Jewish Commission in New York. She was a consultant on Jewish families of New York for Ruth Benedict's Research in Contemporary Cultures during 1949-1951. In 1950-1952, Landes studied problems of immigrants of Asian and African descent in the United Kingdom. During 1946-1947 and again in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Landes lived in California and, through several consultantships, became involved with the study of Hispanic/Latino culture. At the same time, she began cross-cultural studies on minority education and the processes and effects of aging. In 1968, she began an investigation of bilingualism and bi-culturalism that developed from her interest in Quebec nationalism in Canada. The project took her to Spain and Nevada to study the Basques, to Switzerland to examine the four language groups there, and to South Africa to study the interaction of Africans, English-speakers, and Afrikaans-speakers. She resumed interest in the Acadians of Louisiana in 1963.

Until 1965, Landes's institutional affiliations consisted of fairly short-term appointments. Besides those already named, she was an instructor at Brooklyn College in 1937 and at Fisk University in 1937-1938. She was a lecturer at the William Alanson White Psychiatric Institution in New York in 1953-1954 and at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1953-1955. She was a visiting professor at the University of Kansas in 1957 and at the University of Southern California in 1957-1965. In 1959-1962, she was visiting professor and director of the anthropology and education program at the Claremont Graduate School. She was an extension lecturer at Columbia University and at Los Angeles State College in 1963, a visiting professor at Tulane University during the early months of 1964, and a visiting professor at the University of Kansas in the summer of 1964. Her association with McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, began in 1965 and continued after 1977 with her appointment as professor emerita.

Death and legacy

Ruth Landes died in Hamilton, Ontario on February 11, 1991, at the age of 82.[10] Landes' final place of work, McMaster University, has established The Ruth Landes Prize awarded each year to the student who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in anthropology.[11] Additionally, the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund[12] funds interdisciplinary scholarship on the various subjects that were of interest to her during her professional and academic career.[12] Her professional papers, photographs and collected artifacts from the field are archived in the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


Selected books

  • Ojibwa Sociology (1937)
  • The Ojibwa Woman (1938)ISBN 0-8032-7969-8
  • The City of Women (1947)ISBN 0-8263-1556-9
  • Culture in American Education: Anthropological Approaches to Minority and Dominant Groups in the Schools (1965)
  • Latin Americans of the Southwest (1965)
  • A cidade das mulheres (1967) (Portuguese translation of The City of Women.)
  • The Mystic Lake Sioux: Sociology of the Mdewakantonwan Sioux (1968)
  • Ojibwa Religion and the Midewiwin (1968)
  • The Prairie Potawatomi: Tradition and Ritual in the Twentieth Century (1970)


  1. ^ "Ruth Landes: a life in anthropology, by Sally Colle". University of Nebraska Press. Archived from the original on 2016-09-20. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  2. ^ Gondek, Abby Suzanne (2019-05-27). "Ruth Landes/'she-maverick': A Jewish gendered late style". History and Anthropology. 30 (3): 331–351. doi:10.1080/02757206.2019.1577734. ISSN 0275-7206. S2CID 150978596.
  3. ^ "Ruth Schlossberg Landes | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "Ruth Landes Is Dead; Anthropologist Was 82". The New York Times. February 24, 1991. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  5. ^ "Guide to the Collections of the National Anthropological Archives (#L1)". Archived from the original on February 6, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Cole, Sally. "Mrs Landes Meet Mrs. Benedict." American Anthropologist 104.2 (2002): 533-543. Web. 12 January 2010.
  7. ^ Cole, Sally (2002) Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology
  8. ^ Landes, Ruth (1947) City of Women
  9. ^ Glenn, James R. "Register to the Papers of Ruth Landes" (PDF). National Anthropological Archives. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  10. ^ Anthropologist Sally Cole discussed her contributions to multiple fields of scholarship in her book Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology
  11. ^ "Award Description". Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  12. ^ a b "Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund". Retrieved July 21, 2019.

External links

Media related to Ruth Landes at Wikimedia Commons

Media files used on this page

Claude Lévi-Strauss no Museu Nacional.jpg
Claude Lévi-Strauss em visita ao Museu Nacional. Fotografia, acervo do Museu Nacional/UFRJ- Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Identificados da esquerda para a direita: 1 Claude Levi-Strauss; 2 Ruth Landes, da Universidade de Columbia; 3 Charles Walter Wagley, da Universidade de Columbia; 4 Heloísa Alberto Torres, do Museu Nacional; 5 Luís de Castro Faria, do Museu Nacional; 6 Raimundo Lopes da Cunha, do Museu Nacional; 7 Edison Carneiro. Nota: No Relatório do Museu Nacional, referente ao período 1931-1940, consta que "Um grupo de antropólogos da Universidade de Columbia, discípulos do prof. F. Boas, fez estágio no Brasil durante cerca 'de dois anos, trabalhando em cooperação estreita com a Seção de Antropologia". Entre eles: Ruth Landes e Charles Wagley (MN.DR, classe 146.0, relatório 1931-1940).
ruth landes portrait