role of women in society

Why Franz Boas, Father of Modern Anthropology, was a Champion of Equality

“There are two things to which I am devoted: absolute academic and spiritual freedom, and the subordination of the state to the interests of the individual; expressed in other forms, the furthering of conditions in which the individual can develop to the best of his ability—as far as it is possible with a full understanding of the fetters imposed upon us by tradition; and the fight against all forms of power policy of states or private organizations. This means a devotion to principles of true democracy. I object to teaching of slogans intended to befog the mind, of whatever kind they may be.” (From a letter from Boas to John Dewey on 11/6/39)

Although he’s called the “Father of Modern Anthropology”, Franz Boas (1858-1942) isn’t as famous as some of his contemporaries, or even some of his students, like Margaret Mead, who once gave George W. Bush a B+ in her class. That’s largely because he cared much more about scientific and personal integrity than about fame or personal ambition. His refusal to accept the limited role of women in society is another reason that his theories are still relevant today.

One of the most important concepts he introduced was cultural relativism, which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or better than others because we all view and judge the world with a perspective created by our own cultural conditioning. In Boas’ day, orthogeneticists believed that all societies progressed through the same sequential stages towards “progress”. For example, they argued that although the Intuit and German cultures were contemporaries, the German culture was at a later, more advanced stage of cultural evolution.

Boas, in opposition to many other scientists of his day, adhered to three scientific principles. The first was that science begins with questions, not answers or value judgments. The second was that science is dispassionate inquiry rather than ideology tinged with emotional prejudice, and the third was that the nature of science is inferential and judicious. He used these principles in scientific inquiry to make a great contribution to the social debate between nature and nurture.

In an experiment he conducted to determine whether bodily forms are also subject to processes of change, he studies 17, 821 people of seven ethnic/national groups. He found that the average cranial sizes of immigrants were significantly different from members of the same group who had been born in the United States. He also found that the cranial sizes of children born within ten years of their mothers’ arrival to the U.S. were different from those born more than ten years after their arrival.

This experiment clearly demonstrated that traits such as cranial size were not only inherited, but could also be affected and influenced by the environment. The results of this experiment led to his argument that any differences between races were not immutable. In a 1963 book titled “Race: The History of an Idea in America, author Thomas Gossett wrote that

“It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.”

Boas proved himself to be a man who lived according to his convictions on more than one occasion. For example, in 1892, he and another member of the Clark College faculty resigned to protest infringement of academic freedom by its president, G.Stanley Hall. In 1897, while with the American Museum of Natural History, he attempted to organize Native American exhibits according to cultural context rather than along evolutionary lines. That brought him into conflict with the President of the Museum, Morris Jesup, and its director, Hermon Bumpus who wanted the exhibits to express how much further behind in the evolutionary scale those cultures were compared to U.S. culture. Unable to reform the system or increase its educational potential, he resigned from the museum and never worked at another.

To his credit and the great benefit of science, Boas remained critical of his own work, and often, upon discovering new evidence, modified his own theories. For example, his study of the Tsimshian and Tlingit tribes on the northern coast of British Columbia revealed that their social organization consisted of matrilineal clans. The Nootkaand Salish tribes on the southern coast had a patrilineal social structure. The Kwakiutl tribe lived between the two and had a mixture of elements within their social structure. Before marriage, a man assumed his wife’s father’s name and family crest, his children taking them on as well. Boas at first thought that the Kwakiutl were evolving towards a patrilineal social structure, but later reversed himself, concluding that the evolution was in fact AWAY from a patrilineal structure towards a matrilineal one, learned from their northern neighbors.

Boas spent the final years of his career as a beloved and highly influential professor at Columbia University. Through his students, many of whom went on to found anthropology departments and research programmes inspired by their mentor, Boas profoundly influenced the development of anthropology. Among his most significant students were  A. L. Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, and Zora Neale Hurston, who all had their impact on Motherhood.

Because in much the same way that his work disproved many racist theories, his actions also helped discredit sexist ones, thereby changing the role of women in society. Before his death in 1942, he entrusted his female colleague Helen Codere with editing and publishing his manuscripts.

You can find more on this period of history, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.

role of women in society
Franz Boas, performang a Hamatsa dance. Hamatsa is Kwakwaka’wakw secret society of British Columbia, most likely a cannibal society


baby care methods

Sir Truby Kings’ Baby Care Methods: Teaching an Infant to Stick to Your Schedule

“Children should be seen, not heard.”

said Sir Frederick Truby King (1858 –1938). He is credited as a child welfare reformer as well as a surgeon specializing in baby care methods. From a young age, King did not appreciate undisciplined behavior. He was able to change the model parenting style by emphasizing the ideals of discipline and detachment. Although he retired in 1927, his baby care methods continued in popularity, finding favor in post-war Western countries at least until the 1950s.  What were his theories and why did he have lasting influence, even today?

King carried out his ideals by emphasizing the importance of keeping a schedule for a child’s daily routine. Additionally, he was instrumental in implementing many advancements that were able to improve childhood nutrition. However, despite the advancements King made, many of his baby care methods were controversial. Unlike most parents of the day, King believed that the formative months of a child’s development were for eating, sleeping and growing rather than for bonding with the child.

A Routine of Discipline and Detachment Were the Pillars of His Baby Care Methods

Truby King’s method of raising children involved doing everything according to a routine, ignoring the wants of the child and sticking solely to the routine in place. In order to utilize baby care methods as a means to regulate behavior, King suggested implementing a uniform schedule in which each aspect of the baby’s life was controlled. This included specific times for feeding, sleeping, bathing and bowel movements. Jock Mc Culloch states in his book “Colonial Psychiatry and the African Mind“, that King believed that at the age of six weeks, toilet training should commence and be continued until the child was sufficiently trained.

Cuddling with an infant was not to exceed 10 minutes per day and there was a specific hour set aside for holding the child; this was the only time the parent was allowed to hold the child. If an infant started crying, the parents were supposed to let him or her cry without giving additional attention. The concept behind these baby care methods is that after a few days, the baby would fall into this routine and would sleep through the night, making the parent’s lives much easier. Other aspects of Truby King’s method include letting the child play by himself and bringing the child outside for some fresh air, regardless of the temperature outside.

According to McCulloch, King believed that children should be subjected to unrelenting discipline, as exhibited by his strict schedule for infant care. Without discipline children would become spoiled, leading them to develop into

“unproductive and self-indulgent adults,”

and without regulation of bowel movements, constipation would lead to

“sexual precocity and possibly to masturbation”

While it may seem that King’s methods of infant care were harsh and emphasized few interactions between the mother and child, King also stressed the importance of these interactions. He believed that without any parental interactions, babies would become flabby and inert and could develop rickets or marasmus (Bryder 2003, ), Linda Bryder states in her book “A Voice for Mothers“,  that according to King’s method  the amount of care given by a parent to their child should not be lacking but rather controlled and consistent.

The Importance of Childhood Nutrition in His Baby Care Methods

Within the framework of his baby care methods, nutrition was an extremely important aspect of helping a child develop into a successful adult. King’s developed a very strict method of infant feeding. It required feeding the child every three or four hours, without allowing any food in between or at night. This procedure was to begin a few hours after the mother gave birth to her child. Nurses in hospitals were taught to encourage recent mothers to breastfeed their infants, as King believed that breastfeeding

“foster[ed] the highest development of maternal love and devotion”.

One of King’s slogans was

“breast fed is best fed”

Norah Lewis states that in addition to breastfeeding, King emphasized a modified form of cow’s milk produced specifically in order to fit the growing needs of babies. He was able to persuade milk companies to produce this modified milk product. A composure of four formulas of artificial milks designed to be scientifically identical to the mother’s milk were recommended by King. These four included top milk, fresh milk, sweetened condensed milk and dried milk (Lewis 1979).

King also stressed the dangers of overfeeding an infant, which he believed was more common and more detrimental than underfeeding, although his views on this subject were considered controversial.

Influence of Truby King on generations to come

Sir Frederick Truby King’s baby care methods have proved to be efficient over the years. He was after all a famous health reformer in New Zealand and Director of Child Welfare. He and his work at the The Plunket Society have been credited with lowering infant mortality, though it has since been argued that this was due less to its specific baby care methods than to its general raising of awareness of childcare.

But many of his methods were highly controversial. Even back in his days.  For instance, his beliefs on “humanized” milk where the protein is reduced to 1.4% to match breast milk. The general pediatric consensus was against him at the time.  But he was controversial on other levels. In 1914 the physician Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett already publicly opposed his stance that higher education for women was detrimental to their maternal functions and hence to the human race.

It is now quite painful to observe that he has greatly influenced several generations of women, particularly with his ‘guidelines’ on the restriction of mother-child bonding…

You can find more on the history of baby care, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.

baby care methods
Frederic Truby King. Source Wikimedia