Ruth Schlossberg Landes
Ruth Schlossberg Landes made her mark as one of the first professional female anthropologists with her work on gender and religious identity. Landes’s professional career began with a study of the Black Jews of Harlem. She is also known for her pioneer work in the anthropology of women, the anthropology of education, and the interrelations of culture and personality. Slandered by a letter from male colleagues criticizing her fieldwork methods, Landes was unable to secure a permanent teaching job for twenty years. Instead, she taught on short-term contracts and in a number of non-academic positions.
Family and Education
Ruth (Schlossberg) Landes, a social and cultural anthropologist, was born in New York City in 1908 to Joseph and Anna (Grossman) Schlossberg. Her father had emigrated from Russia to the United States as an adolescent. A self-educated man, he was the cofounder and long-term secretary-general of the union of Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Her mother was born in Ukraine, educated in Berlin, and immigrated to New York City as a young adult.
In 1928, Ruth received her B.C. from New York University and a master’s degree in social work from the same institution a year later. Her 1929 marriage ended shortly thereafter when she chose a career that her husband, a medical student, opposed. She still kept his name, Landes.
A Pioneering Woman Anthropologist
Landes belongs to the first generation of professional American female anthropologists. In 1935, she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. Her dissertation research was based on fieldwork she conducted in 1933 among the Ojibwa of Ontario, Canada. It resulted in five published monographs, including Ojibwa Sociology (1937) and The Ojibwa Woman (1938). Landes’s primary interests in anthropology continued to be the social life and religion of the Ojibwa, the Potawatomi, and the Sioux.
Landes’s professional career actually began with the Harlem project, a study of the Garvey Movement as it led to the founding of the black Jews (1929–1932). The story was published as “Negro Jews in Harlem” (1967), but the original manuscript was lost in a book burning in Nazi Germany. (The anthropologist Franz Boas had sent it in 1934 to Richard Thurnwals, the Africanist editor of Sociologus.) Landes’s continued interest in race relations brought her to conduct research among blacks in the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. She is also known for her pioneer work in the anthropology of women, the anthropology of education, and the interrelations of culture and personality. On focusing on women as one of her chief areas of research, she commented, “For me, the separate treatments of women were the accident of special materials about them that were previously neglected in the literature, and still are.”
Landes’s academic career was thwarted for more than two decades by a joint letter from the psychological anthropologist Arthur Ramos and the anthropologist Mellville Herskovitz to Gunnar Myrdal, for whom Landes worked in 1939. In the letter, they allegedly slandered her method of fieldwork she conducted in Brazil. As a result, Landes was unable to get any permanent academic position until 1965, when she was offered one at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She continued her association with McMaster University as professor emerita until her death, in 1991.
During World War II, President Roosevelt appointed Landes research director and coordinator of the Inter-American and the President’s Fair Employment Practices Commission in Washington (1941–1945). She also served as the study director of the scientific research department of the American Jewish Committee (1948–1951) and director of the Los Angeles City Health Department’s geriatric program (1958–1959). From 1953 to 1955, Landes lectured at the New School for Social Research and the William A. White Psychiatric Institute in New York. She also held temporary and summer appointments at Brooklyn College, Fiske University, Claremont University, Los Angeles State, and Tulane University.
Ruth Schlossberg Landes died in 1991.
Selected Works by Ruth Schlossberg Landes
The City of Women (1947).
Culture in American Education (1965).
“Hypothesis Concerning the Eastern European Jewish Family,” with M. Zobrowski. Psychiatry 13 (1950): 447–464.
“Negro Jews in Harlem.” Jewish Journal of Sociology 9, no. 2 (1967): 175+.
Ojibwa Sociology (1937).
The Ojibwa Woman (1938).
“Women Anthropologists in Brazil.” In Women in the Field, edited by Peggy Goldie (1970).
Park, George, and Alice Park. “Ruth Schlossberg Landes.” In Women Anthropologists: Selected Biographies, edited by Gacs Ute, Aisha Khan, Jerrie McIntrye, and Ruth Weinberg (1989).