Ruth Schlossberg Landes was born on October 8, 1908 in New York City. Her father was Joseph Schlossberg, an activist in the Yiddish labor socialist community and one of the founders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. She studied sociology at New York University (B.A. 1928) and social work at the New York School of Social Work, Columbia University (M.S.W. 1929). While in graduate school, Landes studied Black Jews in Harlem for her master's thesis, a topic that developed her interests in anthropology.
After graduating in 1929, she worked as a social worker in Harlem and married Victor Landes, a medical student and son of family friends. Their marriage ended after two years when she enrolled in the doctoral program in anthropology at Columbia against her husband's wishes. She kept his surname due to the stigma of being a divorced woman.
At Columbia, Landes studied under Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, her main advisor. Under the guidance of Benedict, Landes moved away from further study of African Americans to focus on Native American communities. Upon Benedict's suggestion, Landes studied the social organization of the Ojibwa in Manitou Rapids in Ontario from 1932 to 1936 for her Ph.D. fieldwork. Her dissertation,
, was published in 1937. Landes also contributed "The Ojibwa of Canada" in
Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples
(1937), a volume edited by Margaret Mead. In 1938, Landes published
(1938), a book written in collaboration with Maggie Wilson, an Ojibwa interpreter and informant.
In addition to studying the Ojibwa in Ontario, Landes also conducted fieldwork with the Chippewa of Red Lake, Minnesota in 1933, working closely with shaman or midé Will Rogers. Her book,
Ojibwa Religion and the Midéwiwin
(1968) was based largely on her research with Rogers and Maggie Wilson. In 1935 and 1936, she undertook fieldwork with the Santee Dakota in Minnesota and the Potawatomi in Kansas. Like
Ojibwa Religion and the Midéwiwin
, her books on the Santee Dakota and Potawatomi were not published until several years later—
The Mystic Lake Sioux: Sociology of the Mdewakantonwan Sioux
was published in 1968 while
The Prairie Potawatomi
was published in 1970. In between her field research in the 1930s and the publication of
The Prairie Potawatomi
, Landes returned to Kansas to study the Potawatomi in the 1950s and 1960s.
Landes's plan to continue her studies with the Potawatomi in 1937 changed when Benedict invited her to join a team of researchers from Columbia University in Brazil. Landes was to conduct research on Afro-Brazilians in Bahia, Brazil, while Walter Lipkind, Buell Quain, and Charles Wagley studied indigenous people in the Amazons. To prepare for her research, Landes was at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1937 and 1938 to consult with Robert Park and Donald Pierson and to use the university's library collections of African and African American materials. During that time, Landes also held a teaching position at Fisk and lived in the non-segregated women's residence on campus. Landes later wrote "Now, at Athens," an unpublished memoir containing fictional and true accounts of her experiences at Fisk.
From 1938 to 1939, Landes conducted fieldwork on the role of Afro-Brazilian women and homosexuals in the Candomblé religion in Bahia, Brazil. Unable to move freely by herself in Brazil as a single woman, Landes was accompanied by Edison Carneiro, a Bahian journalist and folklorist. With Carneiro as her companion, Landes was allowed access to rituals and people that would have been closed off to her otherwise. Due to her association with Carneiro, a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, Landes was suspected of being a communist and was forced to leave Bahia early. Publications from her research in Brazil include "A Cult Matriarchate and Male Homosexuality" (1940) and
City of Women
(1947). She returned to Brazil in 1966 to study the effects of urban development in Rio de Janeiro. In 1967, a Portuguese translation of
City of Women
was published, a project that Carneiro had commissioned as the first director of the Ministry of Education and Culture's Special National Agency for the Protection of Folklore.
Landes returned to New York in 1939, working briefly as a researcher for Gunnar Myrdal's study of African Americans. Unable to obtain a permanent position at a university, she worked in several other short term positions throughout most of her career. During World War II, Landes was a research director for the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (1941) and consultant for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Committee on African American and Mexican American cases (1941-44). In 1945, Landes directed a program created by Pearl S. Buck and a group of interdenominational clergy to analyze pending New York anti-discrimination legislation. She moved to California the following year to work for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Welfare Council on a study of race and youth gangs. After her contract ended, she moved back to New York and was hired as a contract researcher for the American Jewish Congress (1948-50). She also participated in Columbia University's Research in Contemporary Cultures (1949-51), studying Jewish families. She coauthored with Mark Zborowski, "Hypothesis concerning the Eastern European Jewish Family." From 1951 to 1952, Landes spent a year in London, funded by a Fulbright fellowship to study colored colonial immigrants and race relations in Great Britain.
After her fellowship ended, Landes returned to the United States and held short term appointments at several universities. She taught at the William Alanson White Psychiatric Institution in New York (1953-54), the New School for Social Research in New York (1953-55), University of Kansas (1957, 1964), University of Southern California (1957-62), Columbia University (1963), Los Angeles State College (1963), and Tulane University (1964). At Claremont Graduate School, Landes helped to develop and direct the Claremont Anthropology and Education Program (1959-62).
It was not until 1965 that Landes obtained a permanent faculty position at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario; she was recruited for the position by Richard Slobodin. Due to Ontario's age retirement law, Landes was forced to retire in 1973 at the age of 65. She continued to teach part-time until 1977, when she became professor emerita.
Landes passed away at the age of 82 on February 11, 1991.
Cole, Sally. 2003.
Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology
. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
1908 October 8
Born Ruth Schlossberg in New York City
B.A. in sociology, New York University
M.S.W., New York School of Social Work, Columbia University
Married to Victor Landes
Social worker in Harlem
Studied Black Jews in Harlem
Began graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University
Studied the Ojibwa in Ontario and Minnesota (in field periodically)
Research Fellow, Columbia University
Studied the Santee Sioux (Dakota) in Minnesota
Studied the Potawatomi in Kansas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Instructor, Brooklyn College
Instructor, Fisk University
Studied Afro-Brazilians and Candomblé in Brazil, especially at Bahia
Researcher on Gunnar Myrdal's study, “The Negro in America”
Research Director, Office of Inter American Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Representative for Negro and Mexican American Affairs, Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), President Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration
Interim Director, Committee Against Racial Discrimination, New York
Researcher, study of Mexican American youth, gangs, and families, Los Angeles Metropolitan Council
Researcher, American Jewish Congress, New York
Research consultant, study on Jewish families in New York for Research in Contemporary Cultures Project, Columbia University
Fulbright Scholar, to study colored colonial immigration into Great Britain
Lecturer, William Alanson White Psychiatric Institution, New York
Lecturer, New School for Social Research, New York
Married to Ignacio Lutero Lopez
Visiting Professor, University of Kansas
Visiting Professor, University of Southern California
Consultant, California agencies (Department of Social Work, Bureau of Mental Hygiene, Department of Education, Public Health Department) and San Francisco Police Department
Director, Geriatrics Program, Los Angeles City Health Department
Visiting Professor and Director of Anthropology and Education Program, Claremont Graduate School
Extension Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Berkeley
Extension Lecturer, Columbia University
Extension Lecturer, Los Angeles State College
Consultant, International Business Machines (IBM)
Visiting Professor, Tulane University
Professor, University of Kansas
Field work with Potawatomi in Kansas
Professor at McMaster University
Studied urban development in Rio de Janeiro
Studied bilingualism and biculturalism in Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, United States, and Canada (in Spain and the United States concentrated on Basques)
Became part-time faculty member at McMaster University
Professor Emerita, McMaster University
Award of Merit from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
1991 February 11
Died in Hamilton, Ontario
Establishment of the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund at Research Institute for the Study of Man (RISM)