Ward, Martha C(oonfield)

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Ward, Martha C(oonfield)

PERSONAL: Married (divorced); children: Marlowe. Education: Oklahoma State University, B.A., 1962; Vanderbilt University, M.A., 1963; Tulane University, Ph.D., 1969.

ADDRESSES: HomeNew Orleans, LA. Office—Department of Anthropology, University of New Orleans, Lakefront, 2000 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, LA 70148. Agent—c/o Author Mail, University Press of Mississippi, 3825 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211-6492. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, university research professor of anthropology, urban studies, and women's studies. Teacher in Austria with UNO international studies program; director of field school in cultural anthropology, Brunnenburg Castle, Italy.


Them Children: A Study in Language Learning, Holt (New York, NY), 1971.

Poor Women, Powerful Men: America's Great Experiment in Family Planning, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1986.

Nest in the Wind: Adventures in Anthropology on a Tropical Island, illustrated by Nancy Zoder Dawes, Waveland Press (Prospect Heights, IL), 1989.

The Hidden Life of Tirol, Waveland Press (Prospect Heights, IL), 1993.

A World Full of Women, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1996.

A Sounding of Women: Autobiographies from Unexpected Places, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1998.

Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau (biography), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2004.

Contributor to Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

WORK IN PROGRESS: How I Got to Be White; or Confederate Daughters and Voodoo Queens.

SIDELIGHTS: Martha C. Ward's research in anthropology has taken in a wide range of subjects, including high blood pressure, family planning, and voodoo. Her book Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau is a biography of the mother and daughter who became famous as voodoo priestesses in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the nineteenth century. The volume also presents a portrait of New Orleans's complex Creole culture and functions as "a dazzling spiritual history of the city," according to Jason Berry in Chicago's Tribune Books.

The first Marie Laveau was born in 1801, the daughter of a free black woman and a French Creole father. Marie was educated at convent school and married in the Roman Catholic Church. Her first husband was a free man of color from Haiti, Jacques Paris. They had not been married long when Paris vanished and was presumed dead. After his death Marie, while remaining a practicing Catholic, began to embrace elements of voodoo as well. Voodoo, as practiced in New Orleans, is a blend of various African religions; Marie was one of the first to begin mingling voodoo and Catholicism. Ward documents Laveau's unique friendship with the Spanish priest Pere Antoine, whom she frequently joined on visits to prisons to minister to those within.

Though legend frequently depicts Laveau as a frightening or evil figure, Ward illuminates the many good works she accomplished throughout her lifetime and points out that the woman's power in a white, male-dominated culture was unprecedented. Marie's eldest daughter, who was named after her, took over the title of voodoo queen after her mother's death. Like her predecessor, the younger Laveau also proved to be a powerful woman. In fact the power of the voodoo cults was unsettling to the white ruling class, and they sought to defuse it by vilifying both the Laveaus, and voodoo in general through sensational newspaper accounts of voodoo dances and rituals. The legend of the two Maries, distorted even during their lifetimes, became greatly embellished after their deaths. Reliable documentation about the two women is difficult to come by, but as Berry noted, "If a single trait pervades these pages it is Ward's commanding persona as a guide through the spaces left by missing personal information or documents lost in time."

Discussing Voodoo Queen in the Black Issues Book Review, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu reflected, "Though the Laveaus' ghosts were slippery, Ward was able to conjure up a shimmery image of them and that image was of two strong business-savvy, spiritually powerful Creole women who lived life to the fullest." Ward has drawn praise from critics for her writing style as well as her insight into her subject. Bethany Towne, a contributor to Women's Review of Books, referred to the author's "lively and vibrant narrative voice" in her account of the two women who "challenged white supremacy and led tumultuous lives." Ward is, according to Donna Seaman in Booklist, "an indomitable researcher and inspired interpreter."



Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2004, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, review of Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau, p. 66.

Booklist, February 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 1032; October 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 302.

Bookwatch, October, 2004, review of Voodoo Queen.

Chronicle of Higher Education, July 27, 1994, Jeffrey R. Young, "Making a Career of Listening to Women Talk," p. A5.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 1997, S. Bell, review of A World Full of Women, p. 174.

Library Journal, March 15, 2004, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 90.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), March 19, 2004, Lolis Eric Elie, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 1; March 28, 2004, Michael A. Ross, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 8.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 24, 2004, Jason Berry, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 5.

Women's Review of Books, May, 2004, Bethany Towne, review of Voodoo Queen, p. 24.


University of New Orleans Web site, http://www.uno.edu/ (March 2, 2005), "Martha Ward."