Hortense Powdermaker

Anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker used her experiences of anti-Semitism and “passing” to offer new insights into how societies manage tensions between insiders and outsiders. While a student at Goucher College, Powdermaker became active in the Women’s Trade Union League. After graduating in 1919 she worked as a labor organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers while taking detailed notes on the experience. In 1925 she moved to England, where she studied under the famed anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics, earning her PhD in 1928. She did her first field study on an Irish fishing village, publishing Life in Lesu in 1933, then returned to the US, where she passed as Methodist while researching the community of Indianola, Mississippi. The resulting book, 1939’s After Freedom, was a watershed in studying race relations. She followed this with 1944’s timely Probing Our Prejudices, discussing the roots of racism and anti-Semitism, and 1950’s Hollywood: The Dream Factory. From 1938–1968 Powdermaker taught anthropology at Queens College. She served as vice president of the New York Academy of Sciences from 1944–1946 and president of the American Ethnological Society from 1946–1947. In 1968 she published her memoir, Stranger and Friend: The Way of an Anthropologist.

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Date of Birth

Philadelphia, PA
United States

Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Hortense Powdermaker." (Viewed on January 21, 2020) <https://qa.jwa.org/people/powdermaker-hortense>.


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