La Barre, Weston, 1911-1996

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Weston La Barre (1911-1996) was an anthropology professor at Duke University from 1946 to 1977. Prior to coming to Duke, La Barre worked in military intelligence in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

From the description of Weston La Barre papers, 1930-1996. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 57757579

Ashley Montagu, born Israel Ehrenberg on June 28, 1905, was a British-American anthropologist, specializing in the areas of race and gender issues, as well as a prolific speaker and author, publishing over 50 books in his lifetime. The son of Jewish tailor Charles Ehrenberg and his wife, Mary Plot Ehrenberg, Montagu was born and raised in London's working class East End neighborhood. Although the reasoning behind his name change was never revealed, it may have been due to anti-Semitic prejudice faced by many East End Jews during his childhood, and Montagu might have felt the need to distance himself from his parents’ Russian and Polish backgrounds.

Montagu earned his undergraduate degree from University College London in psychology and anthropology. After studying anthropology at the London School of Economics under Bronislaw Malinowski, Montagu left England for the United States. He arrived at New York City in 1927 and began taking graduate classes at Columbia University. Montagu then traveled to Italy in 1928, where he took classes in ethnography and anthropology at the University of Florence. Upon his return to the United States in 1931, while working as an assistant professor of anthropology at New York University, Montagu married Marjorie Peakes. The couple would have two daughters, Audrey and Barbara, as well as a son, Geoffrey. In 1934 Montagu returned to Columbia University, culminating his postgraduate work at Columbia in 1936 with his dissertation, Coming into being among the Australian Aborigines: A study of the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia, produced under the direction of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. Based largely on his dissertation, Montagu’s first book, Coming into Being among the Australian Aborigines, was published in 1937. After he completed his education, Montagu taught anatomy at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia in 1938 and became an American citizen in 1940. It was during his time at Hahnemann that he began to produce work relating to race, resulting in his seminal work, Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, published in 1942. The work controversially advanced the argument that race was a social construct imposed upon a complex biological substratum and demolished the arguments for inherent inequality between human populations. The influential nature of Man’s Most Dangerous Myth led to Montagu’s service on the 4th United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) task force, in 1949. The ten member UNESCO committee, composed of such world-renowned social scientists as Claude Levi-Strauss and E. Franklin Frazier, was created to collect information about the problem of race and to establish educational programs to disseminate its findings. The resultant document, authored by Montagu, the group’s rapporteur, was published as the “Statement on Race” in 1951. The Committee’s final statement on race asserted: 1)All mankind belong to the same species and that the differences between groups are few compared to all of the genetic similarities. 2)That Race designates a group with high frequency of physical characteristics or particular genetic trait and that these traits fluctuate or even disappear over time. 3)The way in which people are grouped does not reflect the capacity or character traits of a particular group. The differences between races are physical and have no correlation with other traits like intelligence.

Upon leaving Hahnemann Medical College in 1949, Montagu moved to Rutgers University, where he was a professor of anthropology and head of the department from 1949 to 1955. While at Rutgers, Montagu wrote perhaps his most famous work, The Natural Superiority of Women, published in 1953. Examining the differences between the sexes anthropologically, Montagu concluded that women were the superior sex because they possessed a better capability to survive both as individuals and in groups- talents necessary for an advancing society. Based on these conclusions, he suggested that women receive equal pay for equal work, a controversial stance at the time.

With his prolific writing skills to rely on financially, and facing strong backlash for his openly liberal views and anti-McCarthy public statements, Montagu accepted a forced retirement from Rutgers in 1955 at the age of 50. Though retired from academic life, he continued to lecture at such institutions as Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Santa Barbara, and New York University. Settling in Princeton, New Jersey, Montagu’s work took up a more humanist element with Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, his effort to encourage parents to take a more physical role in raising their children and especially to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies. Published during that same year, Montagu’s book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, a history of the life of disfigured Briton Joseph Merrick, inspired a Tony winning play and later a motion picture. He continued publishing through the 1980s, including The Nature of Human Aggression (1976) and Growing Young (1981), while making numerous and notable television appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show as well as the Phil Donahue Show.

In his lifetime, Montagu received many major awards, among them the American Association of Humanists’ 1995 Man of the Year award, the Darwin Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologist in 1994, and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Anthropological Association in 1987. Montagu maintained an active schedule of lecturing and gardening around his Princeton, New Jersey, home until he was hospitalized in March 1999; he died on November 26, 1999 from heart disease, at the age of ninety-four. He was survived by his wife of sixty-eight years, Marjorie, as well as his son and two daughters.

From the guide to the Ashley Montagu papers, 1927-1999, 1927-1999, (American Philosophical Society)

Weston La Barre was born on December 13, 1911, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Until about the age of 30, La Barre sometimes went by the names "I. Weston LaBarrer" and "Raoul La Barre" before using "Weston La Barre" exclusively. La Barre attended Princeton University and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1933. He then attended Yale University and received his Ph.D. degree in 1937. La Barre conducted a number of anthropological field trips beginning in 1935, when he studied Kiowa Indians. He conducted research on peyote in 1936, which grew into his dissertation and later his book, The Peyote Cult . In 1937, La Barre traveled to Bolivia to research the Aymara.

La Barre began teaching in 1939 at Rutgers University, the same year he married Maurine Boie, a social worker. After World War II broke out, the La Barres moved to Utah to work for the War Relocation Authority. After a short period, Weston La Barre joined the Navy and was trained a parachutist. He was assigned to parachute into an area of Laos because of his previous study of Southeast Asian ethnography. However, due to changes caused by the newly created Office of Strategic Services, La Barre spent several months each in Calcutta, Kunming, and Chungking before being moved to Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for nine months. He then returned to the United States and worked with the Atlantic Fleet before commissioned out of the naval reserve in 1946.

In that same year, La Barre was offered a teaching position at Duke University, a position he held until 1977. During his Duke career, La Barre taught many anthropology courses on culture, religion, psychiatry, and symbolism. He was known as a popular, if difficult, professor. He co-currently taught in the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Medicine from 1956 to 1959, and was a visiting clinical professor of psychiatry at UNC from 1959 to 1969. In addition to his teaching duties, La Barre lectured at hundreds of universities and conferences and published numerous articles. He also published several books during his Duke career, including The Aymara Indians of the Lake Titicaca Plateau (1948), The Human Animal (1954), Materia Medica of the Aymara Indians (1959), They Shall Take Up Serpents: Psychology of the Southern Snake-Handling Cult (1966), The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion (1970). In 1970, he became a James B. Duke Professor of Anthropology.

La Barre retired in 1977, but continued to publish articles and books. Books published after La Barre's retirement include Culture in Context (1980), Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition About Sexuality (1985), Shadow of Childhood: Neotony and the Biology of Religion (1991), and Jonathan (1993, published under the name Jonathan Crocker).

La Barre's wife passed away in 1991. They had three children: John, David, and An. Weston La Barre passed away on March 13, 1996 in Chapel Hill. He was 84 years old.

From the guide to the Weston La Barre Papers, ., 1930-1996, (University Archives, Duke University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn RISM Vertical Files, Bulk, 1960-2000, Bulk, 1960-2000 1900-2004 New York University. Archives
referencedIn E. Adamson Hoebel Papers, 1925-1993 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf La Barre, Weston, 1911-1996. Weston La Barre papers, 1930-1996. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Hanks, Jane Richardson, 1908-. Jane Richardson Hanks Kiowa papers, 1935-1968 bulk 1935-1940. Newberry Library
creatorOf Weston La Barre Papers, ., 1930-1996 University Archives, Duke University.
referencedIn Floyd Glenn Lounsbury papers, ca. 1935-1998, Circa 1935-1998 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Wasson, R. Gordon (Robert Gordon), 1898-. Papers of R. Gordon Wasson 1931-1986. Harvard University, Botany Libraries
creatorOf Ashley Montagu papers, 1927-1999, 1927-1999 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf La Barre, Weston, 1911-1996. The Autobiography of a Kiowa Indian : Anadarko, Oklahoma / recorded by R.W. La Barre. University of California, Santa Cruz, UCSC
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abbie, Andrew Arthur, 1905-1976 person
associatedWith Askenasy, Hans, 1930- person
associatedWith Benton, William, 1900-1973 person
associatedWith Boas, Franz, 1858-1942 person
associatedWith Briffault, Robert person
associatedWith Buhler, Charlotte, 1983-1974 person
associatedWith Carpenter, Edmund, 1922-2011 person
associatedWith Clark, Wilfrid E. Le Gros, (Wilfrid Edward Le Gros), 1895-1971 person
associatedWith Devereux, George, 1908-1985. person
associatedWith Dobzhansky, Theodosius Grigorievich, 1900-1975 person
associatedWith Duke University corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Dept. of Anthropology. corporateBody
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
associatedWith Eisler, Riane Tennenhaus person
associatedWith Elkin, A. P. (Adolphus Peter), 1891-1979 person
associatedWith Evans, Bergen, 1904-1978 person
associatedWith Fenton, William N., (William Nelson), 1908-2005 person
associatedWith Freeman, Derek person
associatedWith Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980 person
associatedWith Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997. person
associatedWith Goldstein, Marcus Solomon person
associatedWith Gould, Stephen Jay person
associatedWith Haas, Mary R., (Mary Rosamond), 1910-1996 person
associatedWith Hanks, Jane Richardson, 1908- person
associatedWith Hoebel, E. Adamson (Edward Adamson), 1906-1993 person
associatedWith Keith, Arthur, Sir, 1866-1955 person
associatedWith Kluckhohn, Clyde, 1905-1960 person
associatedWith Lounsbury, Floyd Glenn person
associatedWith Matson, Floyd W. person
associatedWith McLuhan, Marshall, 1911-1980 person
associatedWith Meade, Margaret, 1901-1978 person
associatedWith Montagu, Ashley, 1905-1999 person
associatedWith Morin, Alexander J., 1920- person
associatedWith Oakley, Kenneth Page, 1911 person
associatedWith Sarton, George, 1884-1956 person
associatedWith Schultes, Richard Evans. person
associatedWith Sorokin, Pitirim Aleksandrovich, 1889-1968 person
associatedWith Stein, Howard F. person
associatedWith Sturtevant, William C. person
associatedWith Swadesh, Morris, 1909-1967 person
associatedWith United States. Navy. corporateBody
associatedWith Voegelin, C. F. (Charles Frederick), 1906-1986 person
associatedWith Wasson, R. Gordon (Robert Gordon), 1898- person
associatedWith Yerkes, Robert Mearns, 1876-1956 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Anthropology, Cultural
Anthropology, ethnography, fieldwork
Biology, genetics, eugenics
Psychology and religion
Psychotropic drugs
Race, race relations, racism
Social conditions, social advocacy, social reform
Social inequality
World War, 1939-1945


Birth 1911-12-13

Death 1996-03





Ark ID: w6hd9vf6

SNAC ID: 69610993