|From||United States of America|
|Birth||1922, Weehawken, Hudson County, New Jersey, USA|
|Death||1987, Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA (aged 65 years)|
Eleanor Burke Leacock (July 2, 1922 – April 2, 1987) was an anthropologist and social theorist who made major contributions to the study of egalitarian societies, the de/evolution of the status of women in society, Algonkian ethnohistory, historical materialism and the feminist movement.
Early life and education
Leacock was born on July 2, 1922, in New Jersey. Her mother Lily was a mathematician and her father was the literary critic, philosopher, and writer Kenneth Burke. Leacock did her undergraduate work at Barnard College and Radcliffe College and completed her graduate training at Columbia University. At Radcliffe, she was introduced by Carleton S. Coon to the neo-evolutionary thought of V. Gordon Childe and C. Daryll Forde. She also became involved in studying Lewis H. Morgan and Karl Marx and in radical student politics. In 1941, she married filmmaker Richard Leacock, whom she had met while attending Radcliffe College. They had four children. The marriage broke up in 1962. Her second husband (from 1966) was civil rights and union activist James Haughton.
Her doctoral work, advised by William Duncan Strong and Gene Weltfish, comprised ethnohistorical research and fieldwork in Labrador among the Montagnais-Naskapi people. Her interviews and research found against the 'normative' view, proposed by ethnographers Frank Speck and Loren Eisley, that Montagnais-Naskapi had traditionally observed 'private' land tenure practices, and demonstrated instead that attitudes and practices regarding land had been transformed by colonial contact and the fur trade.
She was at Bank Street College of Education as Senior Research Associate, 1958–1965, and at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in the social sciences department, 1963–1972. She struggled to get a full-time job during the 1950s due to her outspoken political views. She taught as an adjunct for decades before being appointed, in 1972, professor and chair of anthropology at City College and Graduate Faculty of City University of New York. Although highly qualified, Leacock credited her CCNY appointment to the rise of the Women's Movement and social pressure felt by City College to (finally) diversify its faculty. Her appointment coincided with the publication of her celebrated introduction to Frederick Engels' The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. In that introduction, she cited contemporary research to further explicate Engels' theory that "the historic defeat of the female sex" and subjugation of women began with the stratification of society, the widespread practice of private property, and the emergence of a state.
One of Leacock's most fruitful contributions to the field of anthropology was her essay entitled "Interpreting the Origins of Gender Inequality: Conceptual and Historical Problems" (1983), in which discusses gender inequalities.
Leacock died on April 2, 1987, in Hawaii.
Works and publications
- dissertation, The Montagnais "Hunting Territory" and the Fur Trade (American Anthropological Association (Memoir 78))
- Teaching and Learning in City Schools: A Comparative Study (NY: Basic Books, 1969)
- editor, A Culture of Poverty: Critique (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1971)
- Myths of Male Dominance (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1981)
- editor, then-recent edition, Morgan, Ancient Society
- editor, then-recent edition, Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
- editor with Nancy Lurie, North American Indians in Historical Perspective (NY: Random House, 1971)
- author, essay, "Women's Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution", Current Anthropology (1978, volume 19, issue 2)