1926 - 2008
Which Radcliffe undergraduate in the mid 1940s would
not have been tempted to major in anthropology? Classes included Ernest
Hooten teaching brachiation by swinging across the pipes on the classroom
ceiling. Patrick Putnam could be found leading a line of Radcliffe women
down the corridor as he pretended to beat bushes to the sound of his
Pygmy cry while Carlton Coon, who stood at the other end of the hall,
bellowed like an elephant. Jane Goodale was intrigued by these episodes
and impressed by the fact that anthropology offered women opportunities
to explore foreign lands. (Her uncle had dropped out of Harvard to drive
Admiral Byrd's dog team in Antarctica, and she regretted that as a woman
she could not do that). But it was Carlton Coon's encouragement that
was most responsible for her choice of career. Because Coon had married
Jane's father's second cousin, he took the Radcliffe undergraduate under
his wing and became her mentor. From him she learned to be holistic,
open-minded, and empirical. "Theory comes only after the study
of facts . . . . You discover theory, you don't study it," he said.
Jane was instrumental in starting the Harvard/Radcliffe anthropology
club, called APE (for archaeology/physical anthropology/ethnology),
and served as its first president.
Upon graduating from Radcliffe in 1948, Jane entered Harvard.
Coon, who had since gone to the University of Pennsylvania, encouraged
Jane to transfer. Thus, after receiving her M.A. from Harvard in 1951,
she transferred to Penn for her Ph.D. There, while continuing to work
with Coon, and dreaming of conducting research among hunter-gatherers
in the Gobi desert, she also studied with A. Irving Hallowell, Loren
Eiseley, and Ward Goodenough. One day, while Jane was still determined
to get to Asia, Charles Mountford invited Coon to work on Melville Island
in Australia. Not able to go at that time, Coon said he would send a
substitute. Thus, in 1954, Jane went to Melville Island for ten months
to work among the Tiwi. When Jane arrived in Australia, W.E.H. Stanner
spent two days coaching her about fieldwork. She still relates to students
many of his words of advice. For example, "One day you'll wake
up and think you can't face another one of those people go. . . take
a book, sit by the river, or take a day off . . . it's normal to feel
that way." As it turned out, Jane loved living with the Tiwi, finding
their way of life remarkably compatible with her value system. She has
returned often and, by now, has spent almost four years with them.
Tiwi Wives (1971) was her first book about them. She is currently
writing another, focusing on the life-history of the community of Milikapiti.
After her Australian research, Jane returned to Penn and,
while working full time at the University Museum, completed her Ph.D.
in 1959. That year she taught at Bryn Mawr College; the next at Barnard
College and the University of Pennsylvania. She was offered jobs at
each of these schools and took the one at Bryn Mawr, where she has remained
In 1962, longing for a more challenging field experience,
Jane explored southwest New Britain with Ann Chowning, and then returned
to Bryn Mawr to write a grant for extended work in Melanesia. She spent
1963-4 among the Kaulong of New Britain, an experience that was, indeed,
her most challenging. In fact, had it been her first field experience,
she says she might have given up on anthropology. She felt that the
Kaulong, unlike the Tiwi, did not know how to relate to her and, thus,
ignored her. Attributing their behavior to their lack of contact with
outsiders, she later chose a less remote Kaulong site where she felt
less alienated. She has spent a total of three years among the Kaulong
and is presently working on a monograph about their notions of personhood.
What Jane wants most to be remembered for in anthropology
are her contributions to the study of gender, her teaching of methodology
and ethnography, and her concern with problems of ethnographic description.
According to Jane, one must have continual input of facts in order to
move forward. In that sense, she says, anthropology is a science and
its laboratory is the field.
Jane has directed eighteen Ph.D. dissertations, eleven
of which have been by students working in Oceania. All of the Oceanists
(except the three who graduated most recently) have published books.
She generously attributes even her success with students to Coon's influence.
From him she learned the importance of having someone who cares and
is supportive. What she remembers from her professors are not anthropological
facts or theories, but the qualities that make a good teacher.
Thinking of her own students, Jane says, "I am proud
of them because they are all doing so well. . . much better than I ever
did. I have received as much from them intellectually and personally
as they have from me."
Little did I know, until I interviewed Jane for this article,
that each time I develop a supportive relationship with one of my own
students I am passing on not only Jane's tradition but that of her mentor,
Carlton Coon, the man who played the African elephant in the halls of
Radcliffe almost fifty years ago!
Miriam Kahn, University of Washington (Summer 1990