LAURA THOMPSON
1905 - 2000

"ANTHROPOLOGIST TO STUDY IN GUAM" proclaimed the Guam Recorder in headline news in November 1938. The article went on to state:

Dr. Laura M. Thompson, research associate in anthropology at the University of Hawaii, arrived October 18 on the Chaumont to do field work in applied anthropology for the U.S. Naval Government. This work is being sponsored by the University of Hawaii and the Institute of Pacific Relations of Honolulu.

Not really a newspaper, the Guam Recorder was the only news sheet in circulation on Guam in those pre-World War II days. It sold for ten cents a copy. Eager readers additionally learned that:

A graduate of Mills College, Oakland, California, Dr. Thompson has further studied at Radcliffe College, Columbia, and the University of California. She received her Ph.D. degree from the latter. In addition she did research work in the libraries of Germany and field work in the South Seas for the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, T.H. [Territory of Hawaii]. She has lectured at Columbia, Yale, the University of Berlin, the University of Hawaii, Sarah Lawrence College and the Hawaiian Academy of Arts, mostly on the results of her field work.

While on Guam, Laura Thompson served as a special consultant to Captain James T. Alexander, U.S. Naval Governor of Guam. Her task, after six months of residence on the island, was to recommend ways in which the educational system of Guam and the welfare of the local residents under U.S. Navy rule might be improved. Laura Thompson illustrates her approach to anthropological fieldwork in a vignette from the Guam study. It is described as follows in her soon-to-be-released autobiography:

"Where are you going?" they called to Maria, medicine woman and midwife, as she sauntered down the Pacific oceanfront roadway in Merizo village toward my comfortable quarters at the end of a double row of thatch roof houses.

"I'm going to sing lullabys to Dr. Thompson," laughed Maria. "She wants to know everything!"

I was privileged to help facilitate Laura Thompson's triumphal return visit to Guam in April 1987, when she was the invited keynote speaker of the annual Research Conference of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Guam. In her keynote address, entitled "Talking Stones," (published in Glimpses of Guam and Micronesia, Vol. 27, No. 4, December 1987), she explained that ingenuity and wit within Chamorro culture, when examined over time, illustrate precise strategies for coping with and adjusting to realities of daily life. Such strategies are . . . "within reach of almost everyone at any time and place, . . . may be rated among Guam's greatest treasures to lighten human life, and can be considered a gift to all mankind."

It was also my privilege to help facilitate Laura Thompson's very special return visit to Merizo village in the south of Guam, where she lived in 1938-39 while conducting her study. In Merizo in 1987 she was reunited with her principal research aide, Rosa Aguigui, whom she had not seen for 48 years. In a heartwarming encounter, the two women embraced and reached for each others' faces tenderly. "You're so beautiful; you're still young." "No, you, you." "Did you ever get married?" "Yes. You?" "Yes. Children?" "No. You?" "No." "Can you remember the house where you stayed then? It's gone now." "Really?" "Can you remember all those older people we used to call on every day?" "Yes." "You know, they are all dead now . . ." The dialogue continued, heartfelt shared recollections of life in the south of Guam in another era, and those of us watching wept unashamed.

Although I know Laura Thompson's Guam materials best, because we here consult her publications about Guam on a regular basis in our teaching and research activities, she has undertaken extensive research in many other cultural settings. In Fiji, she studied interisland trading systems and ceremonial exchange. Her work with Native Americans is also of particular merit. She helped to document what she calls "brilliant and durable" Native American cultures, especially in the context of their unique environments and group problem-solving devices.

In the course of her distinguished career as an anthropologist, Laura Thompson has been a field worker par excellence, an archaeological researcher, an ethnohistorian, a teacher, an advisor to governments and the private sector, and above all, a humanist. As she points out in her forthcoming autobiography:

We must face the facts, search beyond the Dream, adjust our sights, change our emphases, and consciously work together to develop a global perspective, whole-earth ecological ethics, and practical programs designed to use all the relevant sciences on behalf of the human potential.

Laura M. Thompson's diverse and multifaceted contributions to the discipline of anthropology are indicated in part by her many books: Archaeology of the Mariana Islands (1932); Fijian Frontier (1940); Southern Lau, Fiji: An Ethnography (1940); Guam and Its People (1940); The Hopi Way (with Alice Joseph) (1944); The Native Culture of the Mariana Islands (1945); Culture in Crisis: A Study of the Hopi Indians (1950); Personality and Government (1951); Toward a Science of Mankind (1961); and The Secret of Culture (1969).

Rebecca A. Stephenson, University of Guam (Fall 1990 Newsletter)