Frederica de Laguna Northern Books

The Life of Frederica de Laguna - Part 3

1904-2004

In 1933, Freddy was joint leader with Kaj Birket-Smith of an archaeological-ethnological investigation of the Eyak Indians; the outcome was a joint publication, The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska (Birket-Smith and de Laguna 1938) and a double publication on the Chugach Eskimo of Prince William Sound: he wrote their ethnography (1953) and she dealt with their prehistory and mythology (1956). In 1934, the University Museum published the results of her Alaskan excavations, The Archaeology of Cook Inlet, Alaska, with a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (second revised edition, 1975, Alaska Historical Society).

A couple of years later, in 1935, Freddy led an archaeological and geological expedition on the middle and lower Yukon drainage. She traveled more than 2000 km through the interior of Alaska, in the hopes of discovering traces of the First American, or Paleo-Indians. Though this wish was thwarted, the group collected data on potential archaeological sites in the Yukon Valley and Freddy accumulated ethnographic data on the Athapaskan Indian people. The report on these archaeological activities in the Yukon Valley, The Prehistory of Northern North America as Seen from the Yukon (1947), had to wait until after the war to be published. The ethnographic data was not to be read by others until much later with the publication of Tales from the Dena (1995) and Travels Among the Dena: Exploring Alaska’s Yukon Valley (2000).  Her survey of “Matrilineal Kin Groups in Northwestern North America,” Proceedings: Northern Athapaskan Conference, 1971, vol. 1, 17-145 (1975) also derives from the information she began collecting at that time.

The Depression cut short her trips to Alaska but allowed her to go to the only other area in North America where real archaeological sequences had been established: the Southwest. Thus she was able to make personal contact with members of many different western American aboriginal communities from British Columbia to California as in 1936, she and her mother embarked on a trip to visit sites, museums and colleagues, as well as North American Indian communities. Her introduction to these people was often with the guidance of the leading scholars who knew them best: Alfred Kroeber and Ruth Benedict with her writings on patternings in psychological terms, as the ethos or personality of a culture became major influences in her thinking. She also befriended Ruth Underhill, Harold Colton, Gladys Reichard, Erna Gunther, Viola Garfield, Marian Smith, William Fenton, Harlan I. Smith, T.F. McIlwraith and Henry Collins, Irving Hallowell and his wife among others.

In 1939, Freddy was elected president of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society (1939-40) and in 1941, she became Assistant Professor at Bryn Mawr College. The U.S. entry into the Second World War, however, led to a detour in her career. In September 1942, Frederica de Laguna joined the Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade), becoming one of the first teachers at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School for Women on the Smith College Campus at Northhampton. Her specialty was communications (codes and ciphers). The following year (1943), she was transferred to Naval Intelligence in Washington D.C. where she eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander just after Japan's surrender.

After the end of the war, Freddy retired from the Navy, but left with a deep respect for the Navy, an enduring interest in ships and naval history from the time of Captain Cook to the present, and a strong contempt for institutions that were uanble to recognize the potential of women.

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