Theodora Kroeber

Last updated

Theodora Kroeber
Theodora Kroeber - 1970, Photographed by Paul Bishop.jpg
Kroeber, photographed in 1970
Theodora Covel Kracaw

(1897-03-24)March 24, 1897
DiedJuly 4, 1979(1979-07-04) (aged 82)
Alma mater UC Berkeley
OccupationWriter, Anthropologist
Spouse(s)Clifton Spencer Brown 1921–1923, Alfred Louis Kroeber 1926–1960, John Harrison Quinn 1969–1979
Children Karl, Ursula, Ted, Clifton

Theodora Covel Kracaw Kroeber Quinn (March 24, 1897 – July 4, 1979) was an American writer and anthropologist, best known for her accounts of several Native Californian cultures. [1] Born in Denver, Colorado, Kroeber grew up in the mining town of Telluride, before enrolling in the University of California, Berkeley, for undergraduate and graduate studies. Married once in 1921 and widowed in 1923, in 1926 she married anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. She had two children with Kroeber, and two others from her first marriage. The Kroebers traveled together to many of Alfred's field sites, including an archaeological dig in Peru. Nine years after Alfred's death in 1960, Theodora Kroeber married artist John Quinn.

Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology and cultural anthropology study the norms and values of societies. Linguistic anthropology studies how language affects social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans.

Denver State capital and consolidated city-county in Colorado

Denver, officially the City and County of Denver, is the capital and most populous municipality of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Denver downtown district is immediately east of the confluence of Cherry Creek with the South Platte River, approximately 12 mi (19 km) east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is named after James W. Denver, a governor of the Kansas Territory, and it is nicknamed the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. The 105th meridian west of Greenwich, the longitudinal reference for the Mountain Time Zone, passes directly through Denver Union Station.

Colorado State of the United States of America

Colorado is a state of the Western United States encompassing most of the southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. It is the 8th most extensive and 21st most populous U.S. state. The estimated population of Colorado was 5,695,564 on July 1, 2018, an increase of 13.25% since the 2010 United States Census.


Theodora Kroeber began writing professionally late in her life, after her children had grown up. She released a collection of translated Native American traditional narratives in 1959, and in 1961 published Ishi in Two Worlds , an account of Ishi, the last member of the Yahi people of Northern California whom Alfred Kroeber had befriended and studied between 1911 and 1916. This volume sold widely, and received high praise from commentators for its writing. Kroeber published several other works in her later years, including a collaboration with her daughter Ursula K. Le Guin and several anthropological texts. She served as a Regent of the University of California for a year before her death in 1979.

The traditional narratives of Native California are the folklore and mythology of the native people of California. For many historic nations of California, there is only a fragmentary record of their traditions. Spanish missions in California from the 18th century Christianized many of these traditions, and the remaining groups were mostly assimilated to US culture by the early 20th century. While there are sparse records from the 18th century, most material was collected during the 19th and the early 20th centuries.

<i>Ishi in Two Worlds</i>

Ishi in Two Worlds is a biographical account of Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi Native American people. Written by American author Theodora Kroeber, it was first published in 1961. Ishi had been found alone and starving outside Oroville, California, in 1911. He was befriended by the anthropologists Alfred Louis Kroeber and Thomas Waterman, who took him to the Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco. There, he was studied by the anthropologists, before his death in 1916. Theodora Kroeber married Alfred Kroeber in 1926. Though she had never met Ishi, she decided to write a biography of him because her husband did not feel able to do so.

Ursula K. Le Guin American writer

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an American author. She was best known for her works of speculative fiction, including the science fiction works set in the Hainish Universe and the fantasy series of Earthsea. First published in 1959, her literary career spanned nearly sixty years, during which she released more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to many volumes of poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children's books. Frequently described as author of science fiction, Le Guin has said she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist", and has been called a "major voice in American Letters".

Early life, education, and first marriage

Theodora Covel Kracaw was born on March 24, 1897, in Denver, Colorado, and lived there for her first four years. She grew up in the mining town of Telluride, where her parents, Phebe Jane Kracaw (née Johnston) and Charles Emmett Kracaw, were owners of a general store. [1] [2] [3] According to her family, Charles' family were recent Polish migrants who had come to the US via Germany and England, while Phebe had grown up in Wyoming. Theodora was the youngest of three Kracaw children; she had two brothers, five and ten years years older than she was. [1] All of the children attended schools in Telluride. Theodora's brothers would go on to become physicians. Theodora, who described herself as a shy and introverted person, would later say that her childhood was a happy one. [1] Her family name "Kracaw" led to her being nicknamed "Krakie" by her friends. [4]

Telluride, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States

Telluride is the county seat and most populous town of San Miguel County in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Colorado. The town is a former silver mining camp on the San Miguel River in the western San Juan Mountains. The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875 and early settlement of what is now Telluride followed. The town itself was founded in 1878 as "Columbia", but due to confusion with a California town of the same name, was renamed Telluride in 1887, for the gold telluride minerals found in other parts of Colorado. These telluride minerals were never found near Telluride, but the area's mines for some years provided zinc, lead, copper, silver, and other gold ores.

Kracaw graduated from high school in 1915. In the same year, her family left Colorado and moved to Orland, California, since the lower elevation there was expected to benefit her father's health. However, her father suffered setbacks in his business, and facing both blindness and tuberculosis, he committed suicide in 1917. [1] Kracaw enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1915. She considered majoring in economics and English literature before deciding on psychology. [5] She made a number of lifelong friends during her undergraduate years, including Jean Macfarlane, whose interest in psychology drove Kracaw to select that discipline for her major. [5] She graduated cum laude in 1921, and began graduate study at UC Berkeley. Her Master's thesis studied ten families in San Francisco that had been clients of a juvenile court. She volunteered as a probation officer, and was required to meet and report on the families she was studying. She would later write that she struggled to be objective in writing about these families. [6] Kracaw received her Master's degree in clinical psychology in 1920. [2] [4]

Orland, California City in California, United States

Orland is a city in Glenn County, California. The population was 7,291 at the 2010 census up from 6,281 at the 2000 census, making Orland the most populous and fastest growing city in Glenn County. Orland is located 16 miles (26 km) north of Willows, at an elevation of 259 feet. Interstate 5, (north–south) passes west of the downtown area while State Route 32 (east–west) passes through downtown.

Tuberculosis infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

In July 1921, Kracaw married Clifton Spencer Brown, who was at UC Berkeley for graduate studies in law. [2] [6] Brown was suffering from pneumonia that he had contracted in France during World War I. [6] The couple had two children, Clifton II and Theodore. The couple were in Santa Fe when Brown died in October 1923. [6] Theodora moved back to Berkeley, to the home of Brown's widowed mother, who encouraged her to return to graduate school. [6] While living in Santa Fe, she had developed an interest in Native American art and culture, and she decided to study anthropology at UC Berkeley. [2] [6]

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Santa Fe, New Mexico State capital city in New Mexico, United States

Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and the seat of Santa Fe County.

Berkeley, California City in California, United States

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

Second marriage

Having chosen anthropology, Theodora went to consult Alfred Louis Kroeber, a leading American anthropologist of his generation, and the head of the anthropology department at UC Berkeley. [7] [8] Though she had previously taken classes from Alfred Kroeber's assistant Thomas Waterman, this was the first time Theodora met Alfred. [4] [6] She later took a seminar class with him, and married him in March 1926. [2] [6] Alfred Kroeber, 21 years older than Theodora, had also been previously married: his wife had died of tuberculosis in 1913. Alfred adopted Theodora's two sons, giving them his last name. [9] The couple had two more children together, Karl and Ursula. Karl, Clifton, and Theodore later became professors, of English, history, and psychology, respectively, while Ursula became well-known as an author under her married name Ursula K. Le Guin. [4] [9]

Seminar form of academic instruction

A seminar is a form of academic instruction, either at an academic institution or offered by a commercial or professional organization. It has the function of bringing together small groups for recurring meetings, focusing each time on some particular subject, in which everyone present is requested to participate. This is often accomplished through an ongoing Socratic dialogue with a seminar leader or instructor, or through a more formal presentation of research. It is essentially a place where assigned readings are discussed, questions can be raised and debates can be conducted.

Karl Kroeber was an American literary scholar, known for his writing on the English Romantics and American Indian literature. He was the son of Theodora and Alfred L. Kroeber, both anthropologists. His most recent book was an account of his father's work with Ishi: Ishi in Three Centuries.

In June 1926 the Kroebers left their children with Theodora's mother, and went on an eight-month field trip to an archaeological dig in Peru's Nazca valley. It was Theodora's first visit to an archaeological site. While there, she worked on recognizing and cataloging specimens. [9] She would accompany Alfred on another trip to Peru in 1942, and other trips studying the Yurok and Mohave peoples. [4] Also in 1926, she published her first academic work, a paper examining ethnological data analysis, in the journal The American Anthropologist . [4] [10] On their return from Peru, Alfred encouraged Theodora to continue working on her doctorate, but she declined, as she felt she had too many responsibilities. She would later say that she had no ambition "in the public sense of ambition". [9] When they were not traveling, the Kroebers spent most of the year in a large redwood house facing the San Francisco bay that Alfred was particularly attached to: they would both live in the same house until their deaths. They spent the summers in an old farmhouse they had bought in the Napa valley on a 40-acre ranch named "Kishamish". Alfred's friends among the Native Americans were frequent visitors to this house. [3] [9] [11] During the academic year, Theodora kept in contact with Alfred's academic acquaintances when the couple entertained them at their house in Berkeley. [2]

Writing career

Kroeber began writing seriously once again after her husband had retired and her children were all grown, at approximately the same time that Ursula also began writing professionally. [9] [12] Between 1955 and 1956, a year the Kroebers spent at Stanford University, she wrote a novel about Telluride. This piece was never published, but helped her establish a habit of writing a little bit every day. [1] In 1959, the year she turned 62, she published The Inland Whale, a retelling of California Native American legends that she had selected in the belief that they exhibited a certain originality. [13] A review of this volume stated that Kroeber had made the legends accessible to a general audience, by "translating freely in her own sensitive, almost lyrical style." [13]

Alfred Kroeber and Ishi, pictured in 1911. Ishi.jpg
Alfred Kroeber and Ishi, pictured in 1911.

Kroeber spent the next two years exploring the literature about Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi people, who had been found starving in Oroville, California in 1911. He had been brought to UC Berkeley, where he was studied and befriended by Alfred Kroeber and his associates. [14] Ishi had died of tuberculosis in 1916, and Theodora undertook to write an account of his life, believing that Alfred could not bring himself to do so. [14] Ishi in Two Worlds was published in 1961, a year after Alfred's death. Kroeber found the book difficult to write because of its challenging subject material: it recounted the destruction of the Yahi people by white settlers and Ishi's many years spent largely in solitude. [2] [14] She released a version of the story for children in 1964, which she found even harder, as she struggled to present death to an audience largely shielded from it. [14]

Ishi in Two Worlds became an immediate success, and established Kroeber's reputation for anthropological writing. [14] Described as a classic, it was translated into nine languages. [14] It had sold half a million copies by 1976, [4] and a million copies by 2001, at which point it was still in print. [12] Reviewers said that she had a talent for "making us part of a life we never took part in." [14] A 1979 commentary described it as the most widely read book about a Native American subject, calling it a "beautifully written story" that was "evocative of Yahi culture". [4] A 1980 obituary stated that Ishi in Two Worlds had probably been read by more people than had ever read Alfred Kroeber's works. [3] The book was twice adapted for the screen, as Ishi: The Last of His Tribe in 1978, [15] and as The Last of His Tribe in 1992. [16] An anthology about Ishi and his relationship with Alfred Kroeber, coedited by Kroeber's sons Karl and Clifton, was released in 2013. [8]

Kroeber published several other works in the years that followed, including a short story and two novels in addition to her anthropological writings. [4] After his death in 1960, Theodora wrote a biography of her husband titled Alfred Kroeber, A Personal Configuration that was published in 1970, [2] which was described as a "sensitive biography with her inimitable phraseology and setting of mood". [14] An obituary stated that this biography was just as important a work from an anthropologist's perspective as Ishi in Two Worlds. [4] After completing the children's version of Ishi in Two Worlds, she collaborated with Robert Heizer, an anthropologist at UC Berkeley, to publish two pictorial accounts of Native Americans in California: Almost Ancestors, released in 1968, and Drawn from Life, released in 1976. These books collated images from various sources with text written by Kroeber. [17] She also wrote the forewords to two collections of Alfred's writings, published in 1976 and 1989, [17] and collaborated with her daughter on Tillai and Tylissos, a poetry collection released in 1979. [18]

Later life

In 1969, Kroeber married John Quinn, who was working at the time for the Sierra Club. Quinn had been one of the editors for Almost Ancestors. [2] [4] Quinn, an artist and psychotherapist, was several decades younger than Kroeber. She reflected on this age gap, and the fact that she had been much younger than her second husband, in a 1976 essay. [19] Quinn encouraged her to complete her biography of Alfred, which she was having trouble with when she had met Quinn. [4] Ten years later, when Kroeber's health was declining, Quinn encouraged her to write a short autobiography, that was printed privately after her death. [3] [4]

Kroeber described her political views as those of an "old thirties liberal". She was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party, and she participated in peace rallies in her final years. [19] In 1977 she was offered a position on the University of California Board of Regents by California Governor Jerry Brown. [2] [3] She held the position for a year before she resigned, stating that the position was exhausting her. [2] Her last act in that position was to send a memorandum to the rest of the board, challenging the University's involvement in research into nuclear weapons, and stating that the board had an "unblushing commitment [...] to the development of science and the practice of war, of human and earth destruction". [3] [19] On July 4, 1979, she died of cancer in her Berkeley home. [2] [4]

Selected works

Related Research Articles

Edward Sapir American linguist and anthropologist

Edward Sapir was an American anthropologist-linguist, who is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the early development of the discipline of linguistics.

<i>Always Coming Home</i> novel by Ursula K. Le Guin in the form of an anthropologist’s record of the life and society of the fictional Kesh people, who “might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California”

Always Coming Home is a 1985 science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is written in parts narrative, pseudo-textbook and pseudo-anthropologist's record. It describes the life and society of the Kesh people, a cultural group who live in the distant future long after modern society has collapsed.

Alfred L. Kroeber American anthropologist

Alfred Louis Kroeber was an American cultural anthropologist. He received his Ph.D. under Franz Boas at Columbia University in 1901, the first doctorate in anthropology awarded by Columbia. He was also the first professor appointed to the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He played an integral role in the early days of its Museum of Anthropology, where he served as director from 1909 through 1947. Kroeber provided detailed information about Ishi, the last surviving member of the Yahi people, whom he studied over a period of years. He was the father of the acclaimed novelist, poet, and writer of short stories Ursula K. Le Guin.

Yana people ethnic group

The Yana are a group of Native Americans indigenous to Northern California in the central Sierra Nevada, on the western side of the range. Their lands, prior to invasion, bordered the Yuba and Feather rivers. They were nearly destroyed during the California Genocide in the latter half of the 19th century.

Stephen Powers American journalist, ethnographer, and historian of Native American tribes in California

Stephen Powers (1840–1904) was an American journalist, ethnographer, and historian of Native American tribes in California. He traveled extensively to study and learn about their cultures, and wrote notable accounts of them. His articles were first published over a series of years in the Overland Monthly journal, but collected in The Tribes of California (1877) published by the US Geological Survey.

Mohave traditional narratives include myths, legends, tales, and oral histories preserved by the Mohave people on the lower Colorado River in southeastern California, western Arizona, and southern Nevada.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a professor of Anthropology and director of the program in Medical Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is known for her writing on the anthropology of the body, hunger, illness, medicine, psychiatry, mental illness, social suffering, violence and genocide. In 2009 her investigation of an international ring of organ sellers based in New York, New Jersey and Israel led to a number of arrests by the FBI.

Dorothy Demetracopolou Lee (1905–1975) was an American anthropologist, author and philosopher of cultural anthropology. Born in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, she was Greek by birth and was educated, married, and raised her four children in the U.S.

Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology anthropology museum in California, United States

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology is an anthropology museum located in Berkeley, California on the University of California, Berkeley campus.

Ishi Wilderness

The Ishi Wilderness is a 41,339 acre wilderness area located on the Lassen National Forest in the Shasta Cascade foothills of northern California, United States. The Ishi Wilderness is located approximately twenty miles east of Red Bluff, California. The wilderness was created when the US Congress passed the California Wilderness Act of 1984. The land is etched by wind and water, and dotted with basalt outcroppings, caves, and unusual pillar lava formations. The land is a series of east-west running ridges framed by rugged river canyons, with the highest ridges attaining elevations of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Deer Creek and Mill Creek are the principal drainages and flow into the Sacramento River.

Robert Fleming Heizer was an archaeologist who conducted extensive fieldwork and reporting in California, the Southwestern United States, and the Great Basin.

The Last of His Tribe is a 1992 American made-for-television drama film based on the book Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber which relates the experiences of her husband Alfred L. Kroeber who made friends with Ishi, thought to be the last of his people, the Yahi tribe. Jon Voight stars as Kroeber and Graham Greene as Ishi. Harry Hook directed the film.

Ishi: The Last of His Tribe (1978) is a made-for-television biopic based on the book Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber. The book relates the experiences of her husband Alfred L. Kroeber who made friends with Ishi, thought to be the last of his people, the Yahi tribe.

Jean Walker Macfarlane (1894–1989) was an American psychologist. She was born in Selma, California. In 1922 she earned a doctoral degree in psychology at Berkeley; she was the second person ever to do so, the first being Olga Bridgman in 1915. In 1927 Macfarlane founded Berkeley's Institute of Human Development, originally called the Institute of Child Welfare.

George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library Specialist anthropology library

The George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library is one of the subject specialty libraries at University of California, Berkeley, and is one of only three anthropology libraries at American research universities. The other two are at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. All three universities have specialized anthropology libraries and museums in support of their anthropology departments.

Lila Morris ONeale cultural anthropologist from US

Lila Morris O'Neale was an American anthropologist and historian of textiles. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1931 for her research on prehistoric textiles in Peru.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Buzaljko 1989, p. 187.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Finding Aid to the Theodora Kroeber Papers, 1881–1983 (bulk 1960–1979)". Online Archive of California. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Elsasser, Albert B. (March 1980). "Obituary – Theodora Kroeber-Quinn 1897 – 1979". The American Anthropologist. 82 (1): 114–115. JSTOR   676133.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Mandelbaum, David (1979). "Memorial to Theodora Kroeber Quinn (1897–1979)" (PDF). Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 1 (2): 237–239. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  5. 1 2 Buzaljko 1989, pp. 187–188.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Buzaljko 1989, p. 188.
  7. Buzaljko 1989, pp. 188–189.
  8. 1 2 Japenga, Ann (August 29, 2003). "Revisiting Ishi". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Buzaljko 1989, p. 189.
  10. Clements, Forrest E.; Schenck, Sara M.; Brown, Theodora K. (October 1926). "A New Objective Method for Showing Special Relationships". American Anthropologist. 28 (4): 585–604. JSTOR   661296.
  11. Reid, Suzanne Elizabeth (1997). Presenting Ursula Le Guin. Twayne. p. 3. ISBN   978-0-8057-4609-9.
  12. 1 2 Justice, Faith L. (January 23, 2001). "Ursula K. Le Guin". Salon. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  13. 1 2 Buzaljko 1989, pp. 189–190.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Buzaljko 1989, p. 190.
  15. O'Connor, John J. (December 20, 1978). "TV: 'Ishi,' a Chronicle Of the Yahi Indian Tribe". New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  16. Higgins, Bill (March 20, 1992). "Makers of HBO's 'Tribe' Given a Warm Reception". The Los Angeles Times .
  17. 1 2 Buzaljko 1989, pp. 190–191.
  18. Reid, Suzanne Elizabeth (1997). Presenting Ursula Le Guin. Twayne. pp. 93–94. ISBN   978-0-8057-4609-9.
  19. 1 2 3 Buzaljko 1989, p. 191.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Buzaljko 1989, pp. 192–193.