Philleo Nash was born on October 25, 1909, in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. He studied at the University of Wisconsin, taking a year off to study music at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. On his return to the University of Wisconsin, Nash completed his undergraduate degree in anthropology (1932) and went on to the University of Chicago for a Ph.D. in anthropology (1937). His doctoral dissertation explored the concepts of revivalism and social change with a focus on the Klamath Ghost Dance activities of the 1870s.
Nash held positions in teaching as well as in government and his family business. He was a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Toronto (1937-1941). He also lectured at the University of Wisconsin (1941-1942) and at American University in Washington, D.C. (1971-1977).
From 1942 to 1953, Nash served in various positions in the federal government, first in the Office of War Information and later as Assistant to President Truman, focusing on minority affairs and as liaison to the Department of the Interior. During this period in Washington, Nash also acted as President of the Georgetown Day School (1945-1952), where he was one of the founders of this racially integrated cooperative school. In 1953, Nash returned to Wisconsin where his interest in politics continued, and he became Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin from 1959 to 1961. In 1961, he returned to Washington, DC as U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a position he held until 1966.
Following his work as Commissioner, Nash remained in Washington where he acted as a consultant in applied anthropology and held offices in various associations including hte Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). During all the years of professional responsibilities, Nash also held positions in the family business, Biron Cranberry Company. He returned to Wisconsin in 1977 to be President and Manager of the Company.
Throughout his life Nash was active in various associations for science and anthropology. He was awarded the AAA's Distinguished Service Award in 1984. In 1986, the SfAA presented him with the Bronislaw Malinowski Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship and long term commitment in applying the social sciences to contemporary issues.
Philleo Nash died in 1987. Some years before his death Nash sent his archaeological research material from the Pound Village Site (1938-1939) to Toronto and his research material from the DuBay Village Site (1940) to the Milwaukee Public Museum. According to the terms of his will, his government and political papers are housed at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
Reference: Landman, Ruth H. and Katherine S. Halpern (eds.). Applied Anthropologist and Public Servant: the Life and Work of Philleo Nash. NAPA Bulletin #7. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1989.