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Gene Weltfish Pawnee field notes

Identifier: Ayer-Modern-MS-Weltfish

Notice of Culturally Sensitive Indigenous Materials

This collection contains content identified by the library as Culturally Sensitive to Indigenous People(s): Descriptions of Pawnee ceremonies and dances. For more information please see the Newberry Library’s policy on Access to Culturally Sensitive Indigenous Materials.

Scope and Content of the Collection

Field notes mainly documenting the economic year cycle of a Skidi Pawnee village in Nebraska in 1867, compiled during the summer of 1935 by Gene Weltfish through oral interviews with older Pawnee in Oklahoma.

Notes on the seasonal economy discuss typical household routines in the early spring, a tribal wood-gathering expedition, organizing for the summer hunt, the buffalo hunt and the activities of those who stayed behind, the summer encampment, the harvest, and the winter hunt. Also documented are ceremonies including the Big Doctor performance and dances (Iruska war dance, whistle dance, buffalo dance, bear dance). There are also plans of the Skidi village; notes on the people in Mark Evarts' childhood household; descriptions of other village households; notes on suicide and other unbalanced mental states, doctoring, and the resolution of disputes; and a recounting of the illness, death, and burial of the head chief, and the succession of his son.


  • Creation: 1935



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Gene Weltfish Pawnee field notes are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Gene Weltfish Pawnee field notes are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Gene Weltfish

American anthropologist known for her cultural and linguistic studies among the Pawnee Indians.

Originally named Regina, Gene Weltfish was born Aug. 7, 1902, on the lower east side of New York City. Following the death of her father, Weltfish went to work at age fourteen, but continued her education part-time, completing her high school degree in 1919. Weltfish attended Hunter College and later transferred to Barnard College, where she majored in philosophy and was introduced to anthropology in a course taught by Franz Boas. Graduating in 1925, Weltfish entered the graduate program in anthropology at Columbia, where in 1929 she completed her degree requirements, including a dissertation on the interrelationship of technique and design in North American Indian basketry. Unable to afford the publication of her dissertation as then required by Columbia, Weltfish did not receive her formal degree until 1950.

With her fellow graduate student and husband, Alexander Lesser, Weltfish traveled in 1928 to Oklahoma. There she began her linguistic studies among the Pawnee. Every summer, and for an entire year in 1930, Weltfish lived with the tribe, learning to weave baskets and sharing the daily lives of the women. In 1935 when Weltfish returned to the Pawnee, she set out to reconstruct the seasonal cycles of the Skidi Pawnee in Nebraska for the year 1867. She was assisted in this effort by Mark Evarts, an elderly Pawnee whose childhood was spent in Nebraska.

Weltfish returned to Columbia in the fall of 1936 to teach in the graduate anthropology program. There she taught the traditional courses and added some of her own, on invention and technology, and race relations. She also participated in the development of the School of General Studies, where she offered a wide range of anthropological courses.

During the war while Weltfish remained at Columbia, she also fought racial prejudice and lobbied for equal rights for women, authoring a pamphlet, "The Races of Mankind," at the request of the U.S.O., giving many speeches across the country, appearing on radio programs, etc. Her beliefs, activities, and the organizations she had joined in the 1940's caused her to fall victim to the anti-Communist fervor of the early 1950's. Weltfish lost her Columbia position and she was not able to obtain another teaching post for nine years.

In 1954 at the invitation of a former student, Weltfish spent four years at the University of Nebraska researching the historical, archaeological, and ethnological records of the Pawnee. She correlated this information with her 1930's field work to portray everyday life of the tribe through the seasons of one year in an influential and widely read book, The Lost Universe (1965).

From 1961 to 1972, Weltfish taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University, retiring as a full professor at age seventy. Hers was an active retirement and she taught at various universities until her death on Aug. 2, 1980.


0.6 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


Field notes (1935) of Franz Boas trained anthropologist and linguist Gene Weltfish, documenting her study of Pawnee lifeways and religion. These volumes of notes focus on the yearly economic lifecycle of the Pawnee as it would have been lived in the late 19th century.


Organized in eleven volumes by Weltfish, and preceded by a table of contents.

Collection Stack Location

3a 57 5


Gift of Murray L. Wax, 1996.

Processed by

Martha Briggs, 2001.

Inventory of the Gene Weltfish Pawnee field notes, 1935
Martha Briggs
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States