Ruth Murray Underhill papers , 1959-1965

Overview of the Collection

Underhill, Ruth Murray, 1884-1984
Ruth Murray Underhill papers
1959-1965 (inclusive)
3.5 linear feet, (3 containers)
Collection Number
Ax 570
Ruth Murray Underhill (1884-1984) was a social worker, anthropologist, and teacher. She studied the Papago tribe of Southern Arizona while attending Columbia University. The collection includes her manuscripts, minor correspondence, and mementos of George W. Ingalls (1838-1920), Indian agent and superintendent of religious work among Indians for the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

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

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Ruth Murray Underhill was born in Ossining, New York, an wealthy suburb outside of New York City, on August 22, 1884. She was the oldest of four children born to Abram Sutton Underhill and Anna Taber Murray. At age sixteen, she traveled with her family across Europe, which sparked her interest in languages and human culture. After graduating from Vassar College in 1905, with a degree in English, Underhill taught Latin at a boys military academy in Ossining.

Underhill became interested in social issues and became a social worker in Boston, working for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Shortly after, she worked at a settlement house in Brooklyn, where she decided that social work did not change society as much as she would have liked. Taking a break for two years, she traveled Europe, returning to New York City where she continued social work. After World War I, Underhill worked for the Red Cross in Italy, helping Italian orphans.

For a brief time, Underhill was married, but quickly divorced. By 1930, Underhill began attending Columbia University, taking various classes until she found an interest in anthropology. Under the direction of Franz Boas, the head of the department, and Ruth Benedict, a professor, Underhill studied the Papago tribe of Southern Arizona. At the same time, she assisted at the anthropology department at Barnard College. In 1934, Underhill received her PhD from Columbia.

While studying the Papago, Ruth Underhill learned their language. She was adept at learning languages, as she learned French, German, Spanish and Italian before studying the Native American tribal language of the Papago. The tribe did not have a written language, so Underhill wrote each word phonetically, and also translated the writings to English. She wrote several books from the information gathered on the tribe, which were published a few years later. After three summers studying the Papago, her fellowship funding ended and she decided to work for the federal government.

Working first as a soil conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Underhill soon began work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an anthropological consultant. From 1942 to 1948, she supervised Indian education. Her work at the department focused on a study of the Mohave tribe, but later included brief studies of almost every tribe in the United States. Underhill wrote pamphlets for the Bureau, as well as continuing her professional writing.

In the late 1940s, Underhill accepted a position as an anthropology professor at the University of Denver. She wrote many books, articles and other publications while teaching. After retirement in 1952, Underhill continued to write and lecture across the country. Ruth Murray Underhill died on August 15, 1984.

Source: Paton, Pat. "Ruth Underhill Remembered: A Backwards Glance into the Life of a Noted Anthropologist." Colorado Heritage, 1985 (1): 14-21.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Ruth Murray Underhill Papers consist of various versions and states of research material for three books. Also included are her manuscripts, minor correspondence, and mementos of George W. Ingalls (1838-1920), Indian agent and superintendent of religious work among Indians for the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The major Ingalls manuscript, "Customs and Legends of the Indians," told by Ingalls and written by Vernille DeWitt-Warr about 1915, is included in the collection.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Indians of North America--West (U.S.)--Religion
  • Tohono O'Odham Indians
  • Women anthropologists--United States

Personal Names

  • Ingalls, George W., 1838-1921
  • Underhill, Ruth Murray, 1884-1984

Form or Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts for publication