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Ruth Murray Underhill papers

Identifier: Ax 570

Scope and Contents note

The Ruth Murray Underhill Papers consist of various versions and states of research material for three books. Also included are her manuscripts, minor correspondence, and mementos of George W. Ingalls (1838-1920), Indian agent and superintendent of religious work among Indians for the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The major Ingalls manuscript, "Customs and Legends of the Indians," told by Ingalls and written by Vernille DeWitt-Warr about 1915, is included in the collection.


  • Creation: 1959-1965


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical Note:

Ruth Murray Underhill was born in Ossining, New York, an wealthy suburb outside of New York City, on August 22, 1884. She was the oldest of four children born to Abram Sutton Underhill and Anna Taber Murray. At age sixteen, she traveled with her family across Europe, which sparked her interest in languages and human culture. After graduating from Vassar College in 1905, with a degree in English, Underhill taught Latin at a boys military academy in Ossining.

Underhill became interested in social issues and became a social worker in Boston, working for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Shortly after, she worked at a settlement house in Brooklyn, where she decided that social work did not change society as much as she would have liked. Taking a break for two years, she traveled Europe, returning to New York City where she continued social work. After World War I, Underhill worked for the Red Cross in Italy, helping Italian orphans.

For a brief time, Underhill was married, but quickly divorced. By 1930, Underhill began attending Columbia University, taking various classes until she found an interest in anthropology. Under the direction of Franz Boas, the head of the department, and Ruth Benedict, a professor, Underhill studied the Papago tribe of Southern Arizona. At the same time, she assisted at the anthropology department at Barnard College. In 1934, Underhill received her PhD from Columbia.

While studying the Papago, Ruth Underhill learned their language. She was adept at learning languages, as she learned French, German, Spanish and Italian before studying the Native American tribal language of the Papago. The tribe did not have a written language, so Underhill wrote each word phonetically, and also translated the writings to English. She wrote several books from the information gathered on the tribe, which were published a few years later. After three summers studying the Papago, her fellowship funding ended and she decided to work for the federal government.

Working first as a soil conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Underhill soon began work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an anthropological consultant. From 1942 to 1948, she supervised Indian education. Her work at the department focused on a study of the Mohave tribe, but later included brief studies of almost every tribe in the United States. Underhill wrote pamphlets for the Bureau, as well as continuing her professional writing.

In the late 1940s, Underhill accepted a position as an anthropology professor at the University of Denver. She wrote many books, articles and other publications while teaching. After retirement in 1952, Underhill continued to write and lecture across the country. Ruth Murray Underhill died on August 15, 1984.

Source: Paton, Pat. "Ruth Underhill Remembered: A Backwards Glance into the Life of a Noted Anthropologist." Colorado Heritage, 1985 (1): 14-21.


3.5 linear feet (3 containers)

Language of Materials



Ruth Murray Underhill (1884-1984) was a social worker, anthropologist, and teacher. She studied the Papago tribe of Southern Arizona while attending Columbia University. The collection includes her manuscripts, minor correspondence, and mementos of George W. Ingalls (1838-1920), Indian agent and superintendent of religious work among Indians for the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series I, Antelope Singer; Series II, Beaverbird; Series III, Red Man's Religion; Series IV, Corespondence; Series V, Addenda: Red Man's Religion; Series VI, Publications included in the collection; Series VII, Major G. W. Ingalls.

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Ruth Murray Underhill Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Vida Germano
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA