Anthropologist and folklorist who played a major role in compiling and analyzing
California Indian mythology. Born September 20, 1899, in Santa Cruz, California,
Gayton served as book review editor for the Journal of American Folklore, as vice
president of the American Folklore Society, and was elected its president in 1950. In
addition, she made significant contributions in the areas of textile research, California
ethnography, and Peruvian archaeology.
All of Gayton’s higher education was taken at the University of California, Berkeley,
from which she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology, in 1928. Her
dissertation dealt with the narcotic plant Datura and was written under the direction of
Professors A.L.Kroeber and Robert H.Lowie. She also carried out extensive ethnographic
research between 1925 and 1930 on the Yokuts and Mono of the southern San Joaquin
Valley, and published nine essays between 1929 and 1948 dealing with Yokut and Mono
myth and oral tradition. In her monumental “Yokuts and Western Mono Myths”
(coauthored with Stanley S.Newman), Gayton provides a thorough synopsis and in-depth
analysis of 214 myths and tales, 55 of which had not been published previously (Gayton
and Newman 1940). Her treatment is notable for its keen attention to narrative styles.
Gayton married anthropologist Leslie Spier in 1931. She followed Spier in his
teaching career at Yale University and the University of New Mexico and did not resume
her own professional career until 1948, when she was recruited to fill a position in the
Department of Decorative Arts at Berkeley. During her tenure at Berkeley, Gayton
published numerous articles on textile analysis and worked to further the University of
California folklife program. She was a pioneer advocate of comparative folklore studies.
In “Folklore and Anthropology” (presented in 1946 and published in 1947), she cogently
argues that American folklorists should look beyond American Indian myths to include
Oceanic, African, and Asiatic myths, and should undertake comparative, analytic studies
on already collected and published materials (Gayton 1947). For Gayton the greatest need
was for research on the roles of myth in all cultures. In terms of her own folklore
research, Gayton’s various studies of religious festivals celebrated among Azorean
Portuguese in Gustine, California, are a major triumph. Toward the end of her Berkeley
career, she conducted primary research in Gustine and the Azores, publishing three
important essays on the Festa da Serrata (cf. Gayton 1948). In her last publications, she
carefully chronicles the creation of ritual and sacred space and provides a pioneering
discussion of the impact of culture and tourism on living folk traditions. Gayton died on
September 18, 1977, in Santa Cruz.
Boyer, Ruth M. 1978. Anna Hadwick Gayton, 1899–1977. Journal of American Folklore 91:834–
Gayton, Anna Hadwick. 1947. Folklore and Anthropology. Utah Humanities Review 2:26–31.
——. 1948. The Festa da Serrata at Gustine. Western Folklore 7:25l–265.
Gayton, Anna Hadwick, and Stanley S.Newman. 1940. Yokuts and Western Mono Myths.
Anthropological Records 5:1–109.