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Beth Sorensen
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Ruth Cooperman Greenberg, of Los Angeles, California, has given a trust of $1,250,000 to Reed College to endow the Ruth C. Greenberg Chair in American Indian Studies in Reed's anthropology department.

Greenberg has long been associated with Reed College through her late husband, Mayer Greenberg, who was a trustee of Reed College from 1971 until his death in 1974. Her son, 1962 Reed alumnus Dan Greenberg, became a Reed trustee in 1974 and is now chairman of the Campaign for Reed College.

Ruth Greenberg has contributed significantly to the preservation of American Indian culture, most notably through the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. She is also well known as a basketmaker; her small baskets, woven from materials gathered in the wild, have been collected by several museums. When she sat down with her son to talk about her estate, "the two places that mattered most were the Smithsonian and Reed," she said. "When the idea of an endowed chair emerged, I was delighted."

"Over the past 60 years, the Reed faculty has made a remarkable investment in North American Indian studies and has compelling reasons to continue and enhance its achievements," said Robert Brightman '73, associate professor of anthropology. American Indians today, he noted, have become active in legal, political, and economic issues including land claims, linguistic and cultural revitalization, education, reservation gambling, and the environment. "They are thus to be understood both as participants in a distinct culture and as participants in contemporary American society. The subject is central to modern anthropology, and student interest in it is very high at Reed."

Funds from the endowment will allow the chair holder to conduct more research and often to share research projects with students. Like any endowed professorship, it will also relieve budget pressures and help attract superior faculty and students. Most fundamentally, Brightman said, "by naming a chair, Reed makes a public statement that this discipline is important for the institution."

Reed College has a powerful legacy in anthropology and studies in Native Americans that goes back to the work of Franz Boas, a German immigrant who had worked as a student with Eskimos in Baffinland and Northwest Coast Indians in British Columbia and went on to establish the first anthropology department in the nation at Columbia University.

The Reed College faculty hired Boas's first doctoral student, Alexander Goldenweiser, who came to Reed and established the anthropological study of North American Indians in 1934. Author of two textbooks, the second of which he completed at Reed in 1937, he wrote widely, conducted ethnographic research with the Iroquois, and made extensive use of his work in his courses on anthropology, sociology, and social theory. The first Reed thesis on American Indians, a comparison of Mayan and Pueblo Indian societies, was written under his supervision in 1936. After four years at Reed, Goldenweiser was replaced by Morris Opler, another graduate of Boas's program at Columbia, who supervised three Reed theses on American Indian topics.

North American Indian anthropology emerged as a central subject in Reed's anthropology curriculum with the 1948 appointment of the late David French, who was to teach at Reed for 40 years. An undergraduate student of Opler's, a Columbia Ph.D. who studied with early Boas student Ruth Benedict, French undertook research with the Wasco and Sahaptin Indians of Oregon's Warm Springs reservation, with language and linguistics his major focus. He involved many Reed students in the various facets of his research, and eight senior theses resulted; 20 percent of Reed seniors' theses in anthropology have had American Indians as their subject matter. Many Reed students in language and literature also pursued linguistic studies with French, including noted Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, who wrote his thesis on Indian mythology.

Additional research at Warm Springs was done independently by French's widow and collaborator, Kathrine French, another Columbia graduate who continues to serve as a source of inspiration to Reed students and faculty. The Warm Springs Indians continue to use the linguistic materials including the first-ever dictionary of their language that the Frenches and their Reed successors, including Reed alumnus Robert Moore, collected.

Following French's retirement in 1988, Reed's courses on North American Indian anthropology and the Algonquian language family have been taught by professors that include Brightman, another former student of French's.