Luther Cressman papers , 1930-1990

Overview of the Collection

Cressman, Luther S., 1897-1994
Luther Cressman papers
1930-1990 (inclusive)
12.5 linear feet, (27 containers)
Collection Number
UA 005
Collection includes personal papers, professional papers, publications, field notes, slides and negatives, and reel-to-reel films relating to the career of Luther Cressman (1897-1994), an anthropologist and University of Oregon professor who focused on prehistoric man in Oregon.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Additional Reference Guides

See the Current Collection Guide for detailed description and requesting options.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Luther Sheeleigh Cressman was born on October 24, 1897 outside of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He began his education at Pennsylvania State University where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1918 majoring in the Classics and minoring in English poetry. He later studied at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University simultaneously. By 1925 he had been ordained an Episcopalian priest, received his Ph.D. in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology and had married Margaret Mead. In 1927 Margaret Mead met another man and asked for a divorce. The following year he married his life-long wife Dorothy Loch. In 1927 Cressman renounced the ministry and in 1929 took a position as Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Six years later his anthropological research became extensive enough to found the Department of Anthropology. Luther Cressman remained chair of the department from 1935 to his retirement in 1963.

Luther Cressman is known for many accomplishments throughout his career. He helped to organize the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural History and was the founding director of the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology. He is most known for his discovery of the sagebrush bark sandals at Fort Rock in 1938. The sandals were radiocarbon dated from 10,500 to 9,300 years old. In 1950 he founded the Oregon Coast Prehistory Program based on his interest in the prehistoric man and his migrations through Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Cressman's major publications include A Golden Journey, Klamath Prehistory, and Prehistory of the Far West. Among his other numerous accomplishments were a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Alsop King Fellowship, and the Charles E. Johnson Memorial Award. He continued to be active in his writing and research until his death in 1994.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Luther Cressman Papers, which span the years 1930-1990, consist of papers, field journals, publications, negatives, and photographs all relating to his work as an anthropologist. The collection documents his years as a professor at the University of Oregon, his involvement with other organizations, and his work after retirement. Many documents in the collection pertain to his research at Fort Rock where he discovered the sagebrush sandals considered to be the oldest known sandals in the world. The material from this research includes correspondence, publications, field notes and slides and photographs. The collection is organized into six series: personal papers, professional papers, publications, field notes, negatives and photographs, and index citation cards.

The Personal Papers series is arranged into two subseries: correspondence and Margaret Mead. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by general subject and contains incoming and outgoing letters. Researchers will be particularly interested in the Margaret Mead papers, which include media surrounding the controversy over her research in Samoa and an editorial Cressman presented in response.

The Professional Papers series is arranged into seven subseries: correspondence, Fort Rock, John Day Association, National Science Foundation, University of Oregon papers, general papers, and reference articles. The correspondence is organized into two parts, the first alphabetically by name and the second part is general correspondence arranged chronologically. The Fort Rock Cave subseries is especially interesting as this is where Cressman discovered the 9,000 year-old sandals.

The Films series contains five reel-to-reel films: three films documenting Cressman's field work, and two copies of the film, A Search for Vanished People.

The Publication series is arranged into six subseries: A Golden Journey, Klamath Prehistory, Prehistory of the Far West, minor publications, speeches, and publications about Cressman. The first three contain correspondence about publication and working and final drafts of the manuscripts. The publications about Cressman contain newspaper articles written about Luther Cressman.

The Field Notes series is arranged chronologically and contains expense books, notebooks, and loose papers from his field research. The Catlow Caves field book from 1937 has extensive research information regarding his excavations.

The Negatives and Photographs series is arranged into four subseries: negatives and photograph keys, mixed media, negatives, and photographs. The negatives are organized into three different categories: roman numeral, numbered, and general. These are especially interesting and relevant to his fieldwork. The index cards in boxes 17 and 18 provide information about the first two categories of negatives. The other negatives lack descriptions and are labeled as general. They are ordered numerically by a system used before the negatives were donated. The mixed media contains a film showing Luther Cressman's memorial service and audiotapes.

The Index Citation Cards series is arranged first by author and then by state. These cards contain information about reference articles and research locations.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Anthropologists--United States
  • Anthropologists--United States--Correspondence
  • Archaeologists--United States
  • Archaeologists--United States--Biography
  • Archaeologists--United States--Correspondence
  • Indians of North America--Oregon--Antiquities
  • Paleo-Indians--West (U.S.)

Personal Names

  • Cressman, Luther S., 1897-1994
  • Cressman, Luther S., 1897-1994
  • Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978

Corporate Names

  • University of Oregon

Geographical Names

  • Oregon--Antiquities

Form or Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Negatives
  • Videotapes