Reichard, Gladys (1893–1955)

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Reichard, Gladys (1893–1955)

American anthropologist . Born Gladys Amanda Reichard on July 17, 1893, in Bangor, Pennsylvania; died of a stroke on July 25, 1955, in Flagstaff, Arizona; daughter of Dr. Noah W. Reichard and Minerva Ann (Jordan) Reichard; graduated from Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1919; studied under Franz Boas; Columbia University, A.M., 1920, Ph.D., 1925; never married; no children.

Taught in country and elementary schools (1909–15); earned Lucretia Mott fellowship for graduate study upon graduation from Swarthmore College (1919); moved to New York to study anthropology under Franz Boas at Columbia University (1919); assisted Boas in classes at Barnard College (1920–21); taught at Barnard College (1923–55); first visited Navajo reservation (1923); studied on a Guggenheim fellowship in Hamburg, Germany (1926–27); became assistant professor (1928); spent four summers living with a Navajo family (1930 on); awarded A. Cressy Morrison Prize in Natural Science by the New York Academy of Sciences (1932); ran the successful Navajo reservation Hogan School (1934); became professor of anthropology (1951).

Selected writings:

Social Life of the Navajo Indians (1928); Melanesian Design (1933); Spider Woman (1934); Navajo Shepherd and Weaver (1936); Dezba, Woman of the Desert (1939); Navajo Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1950); Navajo Grammar (1951).

Born in 1893 into an intellectual Quaker family in Bangor, Pennsylvania, Gladys Reichard was the younger of two daughters. Her mother Minerva Reichard died when Gladys was still young, and her father Noah Reichard, a respected physician, later remarried. After graduating from high school, Reichard worked as a teacher for a few years, and in 1919 graduated from Swarthmore College with honors and a fellowship for graduate work. Having acquired an interest in anthropology at Swarthmore, she moved to New York to attend Columbia University and study under the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas.

The reserved Reichard was intensely loyal to Boas on both a personal and an academic level, and he became a father figure to her. She lived in his family home for a year while doing her graduate work, and he helped her find grants, jobs, and publishers. Originally oriented toward studying the "evolution of culture," under Boas' influence Reichard turned her academic focus to linguistics. She earned her degree in 1920, assisted Boas in his instruction at Barnard College, then taught at New York's Robert Louis Stevenson School. After doing some field work with the Native American Wiyot tribe in California in the early 1920s, Reichard went back to teach at Barnard in 1923 and earned her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1925. She taught at Barnard for the rest of her life, achieving the rank of professor of anthropology in 1951.

Reichard first became acquainted with the Navajo people in 1923, through her friend Pliny Earle Goddard, curator of ethnology for the American Museum of Natural History. In 1924, she spent six weeks on the Navajo reservation studying genealogy with Goddard; the work done there formed the basis of her 1928 book on Navajo social life. Not content to simply observe and quickly construct abstract theories, Reichard reflected in her own work Boas' fastidiousness with data, as well as Goddard's ambition to understand and describe a culture as experienced by individuals.

After a few years in Germany studying on a fellowship, Reichard moved on to Idaho to analyze Coeur d'Alene grammar for the Handbook of American Indian Languages. When Goddard died suddenly in 1928, however, Reichard returned to the study of the Navajo, editing Goddard's unpublished work and spending summers on the reservation in Arizona. She learned the Navajo language and their rug-weaving techniques. Her innovative book on Navajo weaving, Spider Woman (1934), related from the perspective of the weaver, was followed by a more technical exploration of the subject, Navajo Shepherd and Weaver (1936), and a fictional work, Dezba, Woman of the Desert (1939). In 1934, she ran a federally sponsored school which successfully undertook, for the first time, to teach Navajo speakers to write their native language.

Reichard gathered 20 years of research into Navajo Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1950) and Navajo Grammar (1951). At the time, however, her work failed to achieve the fame that was enjoyed by fellow Franz Boas students Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead . In 1955, as Reichard spent yet another summer in her beloved Arizona—where she was planning to retire—she suffered two strokes about one week apart and died in Flagstaff. After her death, her work slowly gained more credit for its quality and sophistication.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Reichard, Gladys (1893–1955)

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