Fenton, William N. 1908-2005
FENTON, William N. 1908-2005
(William Nelson Fenton)
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born December 15, 1908, in New Rochelle, NY; died June 17, 2005, in Cooperstown, NY. Ethnologist, anthropologist, museum director, and author. Fenton was most noted as an expert on the Iroquois people, about whom he published many books. He first became interested in the Iroquois when he was a boy. His father collected Seneca art and took his son to live with the tribe at the Allegany Reservation in New York State. While there, Fenton learned the Iroquois language and became enamored with the tribe's culture. He went on to study anthropology in school, earning a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1931 and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1937. He then taught at St. Lawrence University for three years before joining the Smithsonian Institution as an associate anthropologist in 1939. Later, he became a research associate for the ethnogeographic board and senior ethnologist for the Bureau of American Ethnology during much of the 1940s. A two-year period with the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council as executive secretary for anthropology and psychology was followed by his association with the New York State Museum and Science Service. Here he served as assistant commissioner from 1954 to 1968 and was director of the institution's collection, including a number of important Iroquois artifacts. His last association was with the State University of New York at Albany, where he was a research professor until 1976 and distinguished professor of anthropology from 1976 until his 1979 retirement. As a scholar and museum director, Fenton was praised by the Iroquois tribes for helping to preserve their culture, but he was also sometimes criticized for publishing information about sacred Iroquois rituals and for keeping tribal artifacts at the museum instead of returning them to the Iroquois people. Fenton was the author of many scholarly texts, including Masked Medicine Societies of the Iroquois (1941), American Indian and White Relations to 1830: Needs and Opportunities for Study (1957), The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy (1998), The Little Water Medicine Society of the Senecas (2002), and Memoirs of an Iroquoianist (2004).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2005, section 2, p. 10.
New York Times, June 23, 2005, p. C20.