Boas-Rukeyser Collection


Date: ca. 1862-1940 | Size: 3.75 Linear feet


Material collected by Muriel Rukeyser in the late 1940s and 1950s for a proposed biography of Franz Boas, including original manuscript materials of Boas, correspondence between Boas and Rukeyser, biographical data, early family letters and documents relating to him, school and military records, family reminiscences of Boas, and some professional correspondence. There is also material specifically related to the publication of Rukeyser's biography, including notes, a synopsis of the book, and correspondence with publishers and funding agencies. There are also some of Boas' and others' publications.

Background note

Born in Minden, Germany, on July 8, 1858, the anthropologist Franz Boas was the son of the merchant Meier Boas and his wife, Sophie Meyer. Raised in the radical and tradition of German Judaism, Franz's youth was steeped in politically liberal beliefs and a largely secular outlook that he carried with him from university through his emigration to the United States.

At the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn, Boas studied physics and geography before completing a doctorate in physical geography at Kiel in 1881. Intending on testing then-current theories of environmental determinism, he signed on to an anthropological expedition to Baffin Island in 1883-1884, expecting that he would document the close adaptative fit of Central Eskimo cultures to their extreme climate. His experiences in the arctic, however, led him to the contrary conclusion: that social traditions, not environmental, exerted a dominant influence over human societies, and from this point onward, he was led to pursue the cultural over than physical dimensions of humanity.

Although he returned to Berlin after the expedition, Boas emigrated to the United States in 1885 to assume an editorial position with the journal Science, hoping to use it as a stepping-stone to an academic appointment. In 1886, he embarked upon a second major field excursion into what would become his most famous ethnographic project, working among the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) Indians of the Northwest Coast, after which he secured his first academic position in 1889, at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. After three years at Clark and a failed appointment at the Field Museum in Chicago in 1892 (during which he played a part in organizing the anthropological exhibits for the Columbian World's Fair), Boas moved to New York City.

The restless activity of Boas's early years slowed in New York. Hired by the American Museum of Natural History (1895-1905), which became the recipient of the amazingly rich anthropological collections he accumulated on the Northwest Coast, Boas began to teach classes at Columbia University in 1896, where three years later he was appointed Professor of Anthropology. For the next 37 years, Boas ruled the anthropological roost at Columbia, accruing unprecedented power in his discipline, wielding grants, recommendations, and appointments with remarkable dexterity, and collecting about him a remarkable group of younger scholars as students and colleagues.

Distancing himself from some of the main currents of contemporary anthropological thought in the United States, and particularly from the evolutionist assumptions that riddled the discipline, Boas championed an anthropology that viewed human cultures as shaped more by historical "tradition" than biological propensity. Claiming to resist any overarching, synthetic theories of human relations, and particularly evolutionary theories of sociocultural development, Boas laid the theoretical groundwork for what became modern cultural relativism. In the process, he helped to clarify the demarcation between the concepts of culture and race and its expression in the divergence of the four fields in anthropology -- linguistics, ethnography, physical anthropology, and archaeology.

Boas's relatively few forays into physical anthropology included a pioneering anthropometric study in 1910-1911, demonstrating that the alleged mental and physical inferiority of immigrants disappeared statistically by the second generation. Opposed to immigration quotas and disdainful of the claims to science used to justify them, Boas was a consistent, strident opponent of racial determinism in intellect or behavior. A committed, politically active Socialist, he was frequently an outspoken critic of American policy. During the First World War, he spoke out against the treatment of German Americans and "enemy aliens" -- to the point of putting himself at risk -- and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany proved an even greater crusade. Despite his age, Boas took an active role in the anti-fascist struggle in the United States and was involved with numerous committees to assist refugee scholars. He was equally ardent in his efforts to criticize racial and ethnic bigotry in the United States.

As a mentor, Boas had a reputation of being directive, at times overbearing, and at the same time of doing too little to prepare his students for the rigors of fieldwork. The extraordinary number of students coming out of Columbia under his care, however, has arguably done as much to extend the Boasian approach than Boas's own writing. Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Elsie Clews Parsons, Alfred Kroeber, Frank Speck, Edward Sapir, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Deloria, Melville Herskovits, Leslie Spier, Paul Radin, and Ashley Montagu are all students of Boas. Many continued in the same intellectual stream, some diverged, yet all bore traces of Boas's influence. He left a mark as well on the institutions of the discipline, as one of the founders of the American Anthropological Association and of the International Journal of American Linguistics.

Scope and content

Material collected by Muriel Rukeyser in the late 1940s and 1950s for a proposed biography of Franz Boas.

Series I comprises letters to and from Boas, biographical material, early family letters and documents relating to Boas, school and military records, reminiscences of Boas by the family, and professional correspondence and related activities, and is fully processed. Series II comprises materials relating to the biography itself, and is not processed. Series III comprises publications concerning Boas, and is not processed. Series IV comprises reprints of Boas's works in chronological order.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information


Gift of William Rukeyser, 1983 (accession number 1983-1515ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: Boas-Rukeyser Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Online finding aid generated from paper finding aid (see Series I, "Table of Contents") by rsc, 2002. Encoding was made possible by a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. Reprocessed into series by Paul Sutherland, 2022, reflecting the arrangement described in original paper finding aid. Paper finding aid describes a box of newspaper clippings, which was not found in the collection in 2022; it is possible this was unlabeled as such and processed as Series IX of the Franz Boas Personal and Professional Papers (Mss.B.B61p).

Related material

The American Council of Learned Societies Committee on Native American Languages, Franz Boas Collection of Materials for American Linguistics ( Mss 497.3.B63c ) is a large collection of primary materials on Native American languages assembled, in part, under Boas's supervision, and including a large quantity of material written by Boas himself.

Boas appears as a correspondent in numerous APS collections, and in addition to its rich collections for the history of anthropology, the library houses the papers of several of Boas's former students and proteges, including Frank Speck ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 126 ), Elsie Clews Parsons ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 29 ), John Alden Mason ( Mss. B M384 ), Paul Radin ( Mss. 497.3 R114 ), and Ashley Montagu ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 109 ).

The APS also houses a microfilm (372.3, reel 1) of original materials in the Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., relating to Boas's trips to Baffin Island (N.W.T.) and British Columbia, during which he studied and collected cultural materials, 1885-1909.

The papers of Boas's son Ernst Boas ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 10 ) are housed at the APS. A physician, Ernst Boas shared his father's liberal political outlook and activist social views.

Other Franz Boas Collections
Franz Boas Papers, 1862-1942 (Mss B B61) View Collection
Franz Boas Professional Papers, ca. 1860-1942 (Mss B B61p) View Collection
Boas Family Papers, 1862-1942 (Mss B B61f) View Collection
Franz Boas field notebooks and anthropometric data, ca. 1883-1912 (Mss B B61.5) View Collection


Rohner, Ronald P., ed., The Ethnography of Franz Boas: Letters and Diaries of Franz Boas, Written on the Northwest Coast from 1886 to 1931 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1969). Call no.: B B61e.r

Stocking, George, ed., The Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883-1911: A Franz Boas Reader (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1974). Call no.: 572.081 B63s

Cole, Douglas, Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1859-1906 (Seattle: Univ. of Washington, 1999).

Boas, Franz, The Mind of Primitive Man (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1911). Call no.: 572 B63m

Boas, Franz, Ethnology of the Kwakiutl (Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office, 1921). Call no.: 572.97 B63e

Boas, Franz, Primitive Art (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1927). Call no.: 571.7 B63p

Boas, Franz, ed., General Anthropology (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1938). Call no.: 572 B63g.r

Boas, Franz, Race, Language and Culture (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1940). Call no.: 572.081 B63r

Indexing Terms


  • Clippings.


  • Anthropologists -- United States.

Personal Name(s)

  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887
  • Bandelier, Adolph Francis Alphonse, 1840-1914
  • Baur, Georg, 1859-1898
  • Benedict, Ruth, 1887-1948
  • Benedict, Stanley R. (Stanley Rossiter), 1884-1936
  • Boas, Franz, 1858-1942
  • Bogoras, Waldemar, 1865-1936
  • Brinton, Daniel G. (Daniel Garrison), 1837-1899
  • Butler, Nicholas Murray, 1862-1947
  • Cattell, James McKeen, 1860-1944
  • Champion, Martha
  • Clarke, Hans Thacher, 1887-1972
  • Dakin, H. D. (Henry Drysdale), 1880-1952
  • Dorsey, James Owen, -- 1848-1895.
  • Goldenweiser, Alexander, 1880-1940
  • Hale, Horatio, 1817-1896
  • James, William, 1842-1910
  • Kroeber, A. L. (Alfred Louis), 1876-1960
  • Laufer , Berthold, 1874-1934
  • Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978
  • Nuttall, Zelia, -- 1858-1933.
  • Rukeyser, Muriel, 1913-1980
  • Tozzer, Alfred M. -- (Alfred Marston), -- 1877-1954.
  • Tylor, Edward B. (Edward Burnett), 1832-1917


  • Anthropology -- United States -- History.
  • Authors and publishers.

Collection overview

ca. 1862-1940 box 1-3

Letters to and from Boas, biographical material, early family letters and documents relating to Boas, school and military records, reminiscences of Boas by the family, and professional correspondence and related activities.

  box 3
  box 4
1881-1943 box 5-9

Apparently Boas's own collection of reprints, and occassionally newspaper clippings, of his articles published during his career and immediately posthumously. Ordered chronologically. Some items have brief annotations on first pages. Some items missing as of 2022. Numbered 1-610a, and 1943 #1-4.

Detailed Inventory

Series I. Original manuscript materials
ca. 1862-1940 box 1-3

Letters to and from Boas, biographical material, early family letters and documents relating to Boas, school and military records, reminiscences of Boas by the family, and professional correspondence and related activities.

Processing information: Prior to 2022, catalogued as a series titled "Boas-Rukeyser Collection". Contains materials listed in boxes 1 and 2 of the original table of contents, kept within the series.

Table of Contents

Printed table of contents. Produced by the APS during Edward Carter's librarianship (ca. 1980-2002). Describes this series in detail, and the general contents of other series.

American Anthropological Assoc.
American Folk-Lore Society -- W. W.Newell
American Museum of Natural History -- Albert S. Bickmore
Andree, Richard
Andrew?, R
Averkieva, Julia
Baird, Spencer F.
Bakwin, Harry
Bandelier, Ad F
Bastian, Adolph
Baur, Georg - Synopsis of letters

Summaries of letters. Originals are in possession of Frances Baur Henkel, Erie, Pennsylvania, as of creation of these summaries.

Beckwith, Martha Warren
Benedict, Ruth
Benedict, Stanley

Letters from: Lafayette B. Mendel, H. H. Dale, Otto Folen.

Berle, Adolf A. Jr.
Beynon, William
Bilden, Rudiger
Black, Algernon D
Blooah, Charles G
Boas, Ernst - "Franz Boas: His work as described by some of his contemporaries" n.d.
post 1946 
Boas, Franz - Arctic Expedition - Reminiscence written for children, n.d.

Essay (67 p.); sketch, by Boas?

Provenance: Acquired September 1983.

Boas, Franz - Biographical - Reminiscences of relatives
Boas, Franz - Biographical materials
Boas, Franz - Birthday greetings
1907, 1939, 1941 
Boas, Franz - Family - Letters & documents
Boas, Franz - Military records
Boas, Franz - Poetry
Boas, Franz - Portrait

Small print of portrait by Winifred Smith Rieber. Copy of Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery object COO.661 CU. Portrait created 1934, this copy Christmas 1935.

Boas, Franz - Radio broadcast. "The Mind of Primitive Man" Moderator: Robert Redfield; with Leon Duprez (ACLU Counsel) & W. Lloyd Warner (Univ. Chicago.)
1946, 1949 
Boas, Franz - Schooling - Certificates/Diplomas
Boas, Franziska
Boas, Henry - re. Condolences on his death, 1925
Boas, Marie - re. Condolences on her death, 1930
Bolling, G M
Bogoras, Waldemar
1900, 1903 
Borbolla, D.F. Rubin de la
Brinton, Daniel G
Brooklyn Jewish Center
Buchner, M
Buckstein, Jacob
Buschman, Harold
Butler, Nicholas M
Canyes, Manuel
Carney, Mabel
Cattell, James McKeen
Chamberlain, Joseph C.
Champion, Martha
Chase, Chancellor of N.Y.Univ.
Clarke, Edwin L.
Clarke, Hans T.
Cleveland, Treadwell
Cohen, Morris R
Cole, Fay-Cooper
Collier, John
Commission Investigating Fascist Activities Edward Dahlberg
Committee on Academic Freedom
Congres International des Sciences Anthropologiques et Ethnologiques,1934
Cooper, John M
Corbin Transient Service Bureau, Kentucky

(re. Proposed survey of transient mountaineers)

Cowell, Henry
Cranmer, Dan
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-01-06
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-01-15
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-01-24
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-01-27
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-02-02
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-02-14
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-02-17
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-02-23
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-03-21
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-03-27
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-05-01
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-05-13
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-05-21
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-06-09
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-07-02
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-07-20
Cranmer, Dan: From Franz Boas. 1934-10-10
Cranmer, Dan: To Franz Boas. 1934-10-19
Cushing, Frank Hamilton
Czekanowski, Jan
Dakin, Henry D
1932, 1934 
Dawson, George M
Dixon, Roland B
Dorsey, J. Owen
1893, 1907 
Ehrenreich, P
Ellis, Havelock
Emergency Society on German & Austrian Science & Art
1920-1921 5 folder(s)

Not internally arranged. May include material on related committees. May include unrelated correspondence.

Finsch, Otto
Fletcher, Alice C
Gatschet, Albert S
Gatschet, Mrs. Albert S
The German American
Goddard, Pliny Earle
Goldenweiser, Alexander
Grasse, E
Grinnell, George B
Haddon, Alfred C
Hale, Horatio
1888, 1894 
Heger, F
Holmes, Wm. H - Berthold Laufer
Internationales Archif fur Ethnographie
Jones, William
Keller, Helen

To Ruth Benedict.

Kroeber, Alfred L
Laufer, Berthold
Livi, Ridolfo
Luschan, Felix von
1893, 1897 
Map of N. American Indian Groups

(Boas notations on paterlineal & matrilineal kinship) Native American Images note: Map of North American Indian groups

Mason, Otis
Mead, Margaret
Meyer, A B
Mooney, James
Moore, Clarence B
Motion Picture Films

Re: a film on race. Includes correspondence with Films for Democracy (Gardner Jackson, Robert K. Speer, Samuel J. Rodman, Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Walter F. Wanger) and Frontier Films.

Muller, F. Max
Myers, John L
Newell, William Wells
Nuttall, Zelia
Putnam, Frederick Ward
Ranke, F
Ratzal, F
Rink, H
Rivet, P.

Regarding contribution to Societe des Americanistes de Paris. Eloquent letter on nationalism & internationalism.

Processing information: Previously titled "Societe des Americanistes de Paris". Title updated to reflect note on folder.

Rus, W (?)
Schwatka, Frederik
Seler, Eduard
Steinen, Karl von den
Steinthal, Prof.
Tozzer, Alfred
Turner, Lucien M
Tylor, Edward B
Wilson, Daniel
Series II. Materials produced by Rukeyser for biography of Boas
  box 3

Processing information: Unprocessed.

Series III. Publications related to Boas
  box 4

Processing information: Unprocessed. The majority were removed to Printed Materials, with only incomplete items, ephemera and reprints kept here. They have not yet been catalogued in Printed Materials and an inventory will be detailed in this collection when catalogued.

Series IV. Boas-Rukeyser Reprints Collection
1881-1943 box 5-9

Apparently Boas's own collection of reprints, and occassionally newspaper clippings, of his articles published during his career and immediately posthumously. Ordered chronologically. Some items have brief annotations on first pages. Some items missing as of 2022. Numbered 1-610a, and 1943 #1-4.

Custodial history: Deposited in 1983 by William Rukeyser along with other materials comprising this larger collection.