Parsons, Elsie Worthington Clews, 1874-1941

Alternative names
Birth 1875-11-27
Death 1941-12-19

Biographical notes:

Elsie Clews Parsons was a sociologist, anthropologist, and folklorist.

From the description of Papers, [ca. 1882]-1978. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122380114

From the description of Isleta sketches, [n.d.]. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 86138573

From the description of Papers, 1835-1944. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122589249


From the description of Field notebooks, 1883-1894. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309771503

Elsie Worthington Clews Parsons (1875-1941) was a sociologist, anthropologist, and folklorist. By birth and marriage, Parsons belonged to the wealthy, social, and generally conservative circles of New York City. Nevertheless, the chose to study at newly founded Barnard College (B.A. 1896) and received a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1899. In 1900 Elsie Clews married New York lawyer Herbert Parsons, who later became a Republican National Committeeman (1916-1920). They had six children, four of whom survived: Elsie ("Lissa") born in 1901, John Edward in 1903, Herbert in 1909, and Henry McIlvaine ("Mac") in 1911.

Parsons' early works were in the field of sociology and dealt primarily with gender roles, conventions of society, and the effect of society's pressures on the individual. Her works on these subjects include: The Family (1906), The Old-Fashioned Woman (1913), Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915), and Social Rule (1916). She also wrote numerous newspaper and journal articles on feminism and pacifism.

After a trip to the American Southwest with her husband in 1910, Parsons' interests turned to anthropology. She began making field trips to Arizona and New Mexico. Under the influence of her friend Franz Boas, Parsons recorded in meticulous detail data on social organization, religious practices, and folklore of the Southwest Indians. Her publications from this period include: The Social Organization of the Tewa of New Mexico (1929), Hopi and Zuni Ceremonialism (1933), and Pueblo Indian Religion (1939). Later in her career, Parsons became interested in the Spanish influence on Indian cultures. She conducted research in Mexico and in Ecuador for her final ethnographies, Mitla: Town of the Souls (1936) and Peguche (1945).

Concurrently, Parsons conducted research in folklore, concentrating on folk tales of Afro-Americans and Caribbean peoples. She travelled to the Carolinas, Cape Verde Islands, and Caribbean islands to collect tales, and she frequently funded anthropology students to collect data. Publications in this area of interest include: Folk-Lore from the Cape Verde Islands (1923), Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S.C. (1924), and Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English (3v., 1933-1943).

Elsie Clews Parsons held the office of President of the American Folklore Society (1918-1920), the American Ethnological Association (1923-1925), and the American Anthropological Association (1940-1941). She was the associate editor of the Journal of American Folklore from 1918 until her death. Parsons also gave much financial support to these groups and financed field trips by young scholars.

From the guide to the Elsie Clews Parsons Papers, 1880-1980, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Anthropology, ethnography, fieldwork
  • Folklore--Jamaica
  • Phillipine Islands--Description and travel--20th century
  • Anthropology
  • Hopi Indians--Land tenure
  • Hopi Indians
  • Taos Indians
  • Birth control
  • Hopi Indians--Rites and ceremonies
  • Indians of South America--Social life and customs
  • Indians of South America--Folklore
  • Hopi Indians--Social life and customs
  • Indians of Mexico
  • Anthropologists
  • Pacificism
  • Isleta Indians
  • Indians of North America--New Mexico
  • Pacifism
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Pueblo Indians--Folklore
  • Sleep
  • Indians of North America
  • African Americans--Folklore
  • Tewa Indians--Social life and customs
  • Greece--Description and travel--20th century
  • Blacks--Jamaica--Folklore
  • Sociology
  • Peace movements--20th century
  • Isleta art
  • Tewa Indians
  • Navajo Indians--Land tenure
  • Indians of North America--British Columbia
  • Indians of North America--Folklore
  • Indians of Mexico--Folklore
  • Southwest Indians
  • Indians of North America--Arizona
  • Quechua Indians
  • Indian art
  • Indians of Central America
  • Indians of North America--Social life and customs
  • Folk literature, American, etc
  • Indians of South America--Ecuador
  • Feminism
  • Folk literature, Jamaican
  • Pueblo Indians
  • Folklore
  • Women--Suffrage
  • Culture, community, organizations
  • Kwakiutl Indians
  • Zuni Indians
  • Ethnology
  • Hopi language--Glossaries, vocabularies, etc


  • Collector
  • Women anthropologists
  • Anthropologists--United States


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Ecuador (as recorded)
  • North America (as recorded)
  • Caribbean Area (as recorded)
  • Philippines (as recorded)
  • New Mexico (as recorded)
  • Mexico (as recorded)
  • Greece (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Southwest, New (as recorded)
  • Oaxaca (as recorded)
  • Maine (as recorded)
  • West Indies (as recorded)