Benedict, Ruth (1887–1948). Encyclopedia of American Folklore

Anthropologist and folklorist. First a student of Elsie Clews Parsons at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Benedict went on to study with Franz Boas at Columbia University where she completed her doctorate in anthropology on “The Concept of the Guardian Spirit in North America.” Benedict brought to her work in the social sciences a background in the humanities. Her undergraduate degree from Vassar College in 1909 had been in literature. She remained throughout her life a poet, publishing under the pen name of Ann Singleton. Benedict was conscious of her dual approach to anthropology and folklore. In December 1947, she delivered an address as the outgoing president to the American Anthropological Association on “Anthropology and the Humanities,” in which she maintained that not only were the humanities compatible with the study of anthropology, they were necessary for the vitality of the discipline (Benedict 1948). Benedict stressed the importance of studying a culture holistically, with folklore as a vital component. She is remembered primarily for Patterns of Culture (1934), in which she discussed individual cultures as “personality writ large.” In Zuñi Mythology (1935), Benedict undertook an intensive examination of a single body of myths and folktales from a culture where “folklore [was] a living and functioning culture trait.” Benedict taught courses in folklore and anthropology at Columbia from 1926 until her death in 1948. From 1925 to 1939, she was editor of the Journal of American Folklore, and of the Memoirs of the American Folklore Society. She served as president of the American Ethnological Society (1927–1929), and of the American Anthropological Association (1946–1947). DuringWorldWar II, Benedict worked for the Office of War Information, where she began her research on Japanese national character that resulted in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt References Benedict, Ruth. 1948. Anthropology and the Humanities. American Anthropologist 50:585–593. Briscoe, Virginia Wolf. 1979. Ruth Benedict: Anthropological Folklorist. Journal of American Folklore 92:445–476. Mintz, Sydney. 1981. Ruth Benedict. In Totems and Teachers, ed. Sydel Silverman. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 141–168. Modell, Judith Schachter. 1983. Ruth Benedict: Patterns of a Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.