Eggan, Fred, 1906-1991

Alternative names
Birth 1906-09-12
Death 1991-05-07

Biographical notes:

Fred Eggan was born in Seattle, Washington on September 12, 1906. His parents, Alfred J. and Olive Smith Eggan, later relocated to Lake Forest, Illinois, a north suburb of Chicago.

In 1923 Eggan came to the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and continued on to earn an M.A. in psychology with a minor in anthropology in 1928. His master's thesis was entitled "An Experimental Study of Attitudes toward Race and Nationality." From 1928 to 1930 he taught psychology, sociology, and history at Wentworth Junior College and Military Academy in Missouri. During this interval he maintained his connection with the University of Chicago by working summers with Fay-Cooper Cole at Native American archaeological sites in Illinois.

In 1930 Eggan returned to the University of Chicago as a doctoral student in anthropology, completing his dissertation in 1933. Following post-doctoral field research in the Philippines he assumed an instructorship at the university, part-time for the Extension program and part-time for the Department of Anthropology. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1940 and associate professor in 1948. Not long after his promotion to associate professor he received a full professorship. He chaired the Department of Anthropology from 1948 to 1952 and again from 1961 to 1963. He was appointed the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology in 1963.

Eggan is credited with having achieved a synthesis between the British and American schools of anthropological study. The British school, as exemplified by Eggan's first mentor A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, was then dominated by the synchronic analysis of the function of cultural institutions. In contrast, American anthropologists, including Eggan's teachers Fay-Cooper Cole and Robert Redfield, focused on processes of diachronic culture change. Eggan united these two perspectives by attending to both structure and history using a method of analysis he called "controlled comparison." Based on results achieved by this method, Eggan's most important publication, Social Organization of the Western Pueblos, hypothesized that variations in the social structures of linguistically and culturally related Native American groups were the result of the varied historical circumstances experienced by each group. By applying this same method in his later work on the impact of modernity and Western culture on indigenous Philippine groups, Eggan formulated an inverse corollary: that differing social structures cause different linguistic and cultural groups to respond differently to the same historical circumstances. These insights concerning the interdependence of social structures and historical processes remain at the forefront of contemporary anthropological theory.

When Eggan enrolled as a graduate student in 1930, the Department of Anthropology had just become independent from the Department of Sociology, with Fay-Cooper Cole, Edward Sapir, and Robert Redfield as the core faculty. Sapir soon left the department and was replaced by A. R. Radcliffe-Brown in 1931. Eggan became Radcliffe-Brown's first research assistant in 1931-1932 and began research on kinship and social organization of northern Native American tribes. Under Radcliffe-Brown, Eggan completed a report on the southeast, plains and southwestern tribes.

Eggan continued field research on native North America in 1932 when he was awarded a Laboratory of Anthropology Field Training Fellowship to support his work on the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona. There he met Don Talayesva, an informant with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. Eggan based his doctoral dissertation, which he completed in 1933, on research from this field work. Social Organization of the Western Pueblos, published in 1950 by the University of Chicago Press, represents a substantially revised version of this work. Eggan balanced his studies of the southwest with his later work on the Philippines, returning to the Southwest almost every year until he retired.

While waiting for final arrangements for a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in Australia, Eggan resumed field study among the Hopi at Oraibi and Second Mesa, Arizona. It was at this time, in the winter of 1933-1934, that Eggan began an association with John Collier and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Collier invited Eggan to participate in a conference between the Bureau and the Navajo regarding sheep reduction and soil conservation. Later in his career, Eggan continued his involvement with the Bureau, serving as an expert witness in Southwestern Native American land claim cases.

Returning to Chicago in the spring of 1934, Eggan learned that funds he was slated to receive could no longer cover the cost of field research in Australia. As an alternative, he arranged to go to the Philippines. Fay-Cooper Cole had worked there under the auspices of the Field Museum in 1907-1908, and wanted Eggan to record changes in Tinguian culture since the time of his original research.

In the late 1930s Eggan developed his field material from North America and published on the Hopi, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Choctaw. In 1941 he completed his first work on the Philippines, "Some Aspects of Cultural Change in the Northern Philippines." In 1938 he married Dorothy Way who was to become an anthropologist of the Hopi and Eggan's professional partner. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown left the University of Chicago for Oxford in 1937. In honor of his departure, Eggan edited Social Anthropology of North American Tribes.

In 1941-1942 Eggan's earlier acquaintance with John Collier led to participation in a pilot study on food and nutrition in the Southwest among Native American and Spanish-American communities. Graduate students conducted the research for this project under the direction of Eggan and Michael Pijoan, M.D. In October of 1942 Eggan was called to Washington to work for the Board of Economic Warfare. Three months later he was Chief of Research in the Office of Special Services for the Philippine government in exile. While carrying out research requested by President Quezon at the Library of Congress, Eggan again worked with Filipinos he had met on his first trip to the Philippines in the mid 1930s . After six months in this capacity, he attended the School for Military Government at Charlottesville, Virginia in preparation for setting up the Civil Affairs Training Program for the Far East at the University of Chicago. Eggan, as a Captain in the army, then returned to the University of Chicago to direct the Program from August 1943 to August 1945.

During and after World War II, Eggan's interests focused on the Philippines, although he still published on Native American subjects. Financed by a Fulbright grant, Fred and Dorothy Eggan spent the year 1949-1950 at the University of the Philippines. In 1953 Eggan won a Guggenheim Fellowship to further his work on the Sagada Igorots. That same year the Philippine Studies Program at the University of Chicago began operations. Eggan established the Philippine Studies Program with money from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and directed the program until 1977.

In 1958-1959 Eggan was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California. At the Center, among other projects, he prepared a report on the social and ceremonial organization of the Sagada Igorots.

After the early 1960s Eggan concentrated his efforts on teaching. In 1961 he participated in the first Peace Corps training program at Pennsylvania State University for the Bikol region and Bisayas in the Philippines. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1963. In 1965 his wife Dorothy died.

Four years later Eggan married his second wife, Joan Rosenfeld. In 1970 Eggan was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He retired from teaching at the University in 1974, but stayed on to manage the final projects of the Philippine Studies Program until 1977. He made his last visit to the Philippines in 1975. Late in 1986 he and his wife, Joan, moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continued work until his death in 1991.

From the guide to the Eggan, Fred. Papers, 1870-1991(inclusive), (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)


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Ark ID:


  • Zuni Indians
  • Bontoks (Philippine people)
  • Ibaloi language
  • Choctaw Indians
  • Gaddang (Philippine people)
  • Filipinos--Social life and customs
  • Zuni Indians--Claims
  • Isneg (Philippine people)
  • Hopi Indians--Claims
  • Ilokanos (Philippine people)
  • Indian architecture
  • Indians of North America--Food
  • Hopi Indians
  • Arapaho Indians
  • Kankanay language
  • Kalinga (Philippine people)
  • Ethnology
  • Navajo Indians
  • Tasaday (Philippine people)
  • Ilongot (Philippine people)
  • Tinguian (Philippine people)
  • Tiwa Indians
  • Sami (European people)
  • Indians of North America
  • Anthropologists
  • Navajo Indians--Claims
  • Tewa Indians
  • Food habits


not available for this record


  • Philippines (as recorded)
  • North America (as recorded)
  • Chaco Canyon (N.M.) (as recorded)