Frederica de Laguna

Frederica de Laguna

Frederica ("Freddy") de Laguna (1906, Ann Arbor, MichiganOctober 6, 2004) was an American anthropologist. Her parents, Theodore Lopez de Leo de Laguna and Grace Mead Andrus, were, respectively, Spanish-American and, in Frederica's own words, "Connecticut Yankee." Both received Doctorates from Cornell and would later teach philosophy at Bryn Mawr College. On her father's side she also had French, German, and Italian ancestry.

She is most noted for her work with the Tlingit and Athapaskan peoples, as well as being one of the first female archaeologists in the United States. Margaret Mead and Dr. de Laguna were the first female anthropologists elected to the National Academy of Sciences, in 1975. Later, she was also influenced by A. Irving Hallowell.

She received a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, graduating "summa cum laude," in 1927. She then pursued a doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and took classes with Ruth Benedict and Gladys Reichard. Her doctoral research in Greenland and France was initiated by Boas's suggestion that she search for possible European paleolithic sources for Eskimo (Inuit) art styles, with an eye toward proving that the Inuit were of European, not Siberian, derivation. Around this time she also took courses at the London School of Economics with Bronislaw Malinowski and C. G. Seligman. She reports that Malinowski tormented her because of her association with his nemesis, Boas.

IIn 1929, she assisted Therkel Mathiassen at his Norse culture archaeological excavation at Inugsuk, Greenland. [cite web |url= |title=Frederica de Laguna |accessdate=2008-05-04 |] Beginning in 1930 from the Kachemak Bay area, she did archaeological fieldwork in Alaska and the Yukon. In 1930 Kaj Birket-Smith was supposed join her, but due to illness, the latter was unable to come. Thus in 1930, she went to Alaska on her own. While in Cordova, Alaska, the local marshal began to explain to her about the indigenous peoples of the area, insisting that the Eyak were a people of their own, thus introducing them to American science. In 1933 Birket-Smith was able to come, and he, Frederica, her brother Wallace de Laguna and mother Grace de Laguna as well as Norman “Sandy” Reynolds spent that summer mostly in archaeological excavations in the Prince William Sound. However, when they came to Cordova, the area was still covered with snow and ice, and archaeological work was impossible. Thus they spent the first 17 days with the Eyak, and their now extinct (as of January 21, 2008) language. Frederica and Reynolds brought their notes to the attention of Franz Boas and Edward Sapir, i.e. western academic attention for the first time. The result was that these two scholars concluded that Eyak was not an Athapaskan language, but formed an independent branch of the same language family, being also more distantly related to Tlingit. (It is curious to note that the Russians had known about them since Zaikov’s visit to Prince William Sound in 1783, but no information was passed on concerning it to the scholars of the United States after the sale of Alaska, even though Russians, e.g. Ferdinand von Wrangell (1839) and Ioann Veniaminov (1840) had published information on them).

She received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1933.

In 1936 and 1937 she did fieldwork on the Pima reservation in Arizona and with Salish, Makah, and other peoples in Washington State and on Vancouver Island.

Starting in 1938, she taught anthropology at Bryn Mawr and eventually founded the anthropology program there. She retired in 1975.

She joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942 and taught at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School for Women at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she taught cryptography. She spent most of the Second World War working for Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., and reached the rank of lieutenant commander.

Beginning in 1949, she did extensive fieldwork among the Tlingit of southeast Alaska, the work for which she is best known. She focused on the communities of Angoon and Yakutat and did some fieldwork with her former students Catherine McClellan and Marie-Françoise Guédon.

She was scientifically active until the very last days of her life. She also followed modern technology and made use of it. While aged 82, she observed the faculty of the Alaska Native Language Center use a Macintosh computer. She immediately recognized the value of this device and bought one for herself. Later, at age 92, she began to use e-mail, which she finally had to give up some months prior to her death due to her failing eyesight.


* (1956) "Chugach Prehistory: The Archaeology of Prince William Sound, Alaska." Seattle: University of Washington Press.

* (1972) "Under Mount Saint Elias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit." Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

* (1977) "Voyage to Greenland: A Personal Initiation into Anthropology." New York: W. W. Norton.

* (1995) "Tales from the Dena: Indian Stories from the Tanana, Koyukuk and Yukon Rivers." Seattle: University of Washington Press.

* (2000) "Travels among the Dena: Exploring Alaska's Yukon River." Seattle: University of Washington Press.


* de Laguna, Frederica (2004) "Becoming an Anthropologist: My Debt to European and Other Scholars Who Influenced Me." In: "Coming to Shore: Northwest Coast Ethnology, Traditions, and Visions," ed. by Marie Mauzé, Michael E. Harkin, and Sergei Kan, pp. 23-52. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

External links

* : Early Portrait of Frederica De Laguna at Alaska's Digital Archives

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