(Feature Photo: Helen with Koukoundi Women, Upper Volta 1979. Photo by Richard Henderson)
Readers may question the “playful” changes in terms of personal reference in this essay. My sense is that doing this makes the writing less painful and the reading less monotonous.
One comment at the outset: “Subjectivity and Objectivity are two transposable sides of the coin of the human condition”. This fact makes ruminating about Helen worthwhile.
Why do a Symposium for Helen Henderson? I have strong views on this, but that must go Footnote. 1
I will address this question: How did Helen become the person we knew at BARA2 in the 1980s and 90s: strong scholar/organizer dedicated to the needs and goals of “Women in Development”3? She didn’t start there: Helen, 1950s undergraduate , told close friends that her main ambition was to “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa”. 4
My view of the “how” question is — to spill all the beans right now — she learned to build strong balance between seeking greater freedoms of action , and its necessary corollary: increasing capacities for Impulse control. I see this as her key to good life, bearing in mind that mine is one-view of a “Rashomon” story: — others may see parts of it differently, but most of you don’t know the early parts at all. Here I propose eight “phases” for her history, but this construction — like any effort to constrain the story of her life — must fail, if for no better reason than — if Helen were present here today, in body, with mouth — she would demolish it with humor.
Phase One: “Limited prospects for Her Kind” (Harrisburg, PA)
To begin, Helen’s family is rooted in strong patriarchy — her Pennsylvania-German father’s father thoroughly de-selfed his wife — “Quiet, Woman!”, he would say when she tried to join in conversations — but this harsh version of family culture was altered when Helen was born, in two ways:
1-A “Late” parents in 19365
Helen’s mother Nita overtly conforms to the dominant ethic, but she also runs deep-closet resistance to male domination, aided by her own loving mother who lives just blocks away, and these two (with some others) help Helen escape the worst patriarchies that disable a self — and stimulate Helen’s creative, “actor” side6. Helen’s father Homer, only son of that strong patriarch, now a lawyer (later Judge) looks beyond his father’s views; he befriends a newsletter-writer Democrat and these two talk realities, in their evening leisure, about scheming lives in politics. When Helen reaches “the age of sense”7, they call on her to entertain them by mocking national political figures. 8. So her male elders sometimes encourage her to comment on political games. If this is “patriarchy”9, she finds escape hatches, some “new directions” to take.
1-B Quality Schooling opens many doors
Her parents place her in a remarkable private school: co-ed at the primary level, girls-only from puberty onward, and oriented toward placing their girls in good colleges. Helen performs in plays, mostly avoids the teenage “sex-game rat-race”, learns French and “serious subjects”. 10 More mysteriously, someone in this school inspires her to “fall for” an American Black man now becoming a superstar in Major-league Baseball: when Jackie Robinson breaks baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Helen — known by her friends for both wit and personal intensities, plunges into her first (if virtual) love affair: she begins creating private rituals to help Jackie’s Brooklyn Dodgers win each game, and her devotion is so strong, she convinces her mother to escort her to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where she can cheer for her hero in public. This major gain in freedom succeeds because her everyday behavior is impeccable. 11
Phase Two: Syracuse Anthropology, “real love” and Learning
2-A, She doesn’t “Go Sorority”:
In 1954 at Syracuse, Helen avoids this route into social-class fixation — instead joins rooming houses, builds life-long friendships with more diverse, intellectually challenging women.12
2-B, Thanks to introductory anthropology,
Helen takes a course where she reads Bronislaw Malinowski – a path-breaker who shows the social and psychological functions of the magical rituals Helen herself is doing to help her hero. This revelation leads her to anthropology, and to say she will “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa.” 13
2-C, Helen is “swept off her feet” by an actual male,
a graduate student in psychology, tall, handsome, articulate, witty, an active and overt breaker of “social conventions”. 14 This man is engaging, except in bed where his view is purely “What’s in this for ME?” He openly boasts of his greedy consumption of female bodies15, and he soon jilts Helen and departs to northern New York State with a job as high-school psychological counselor.
Heartbroken Helen applies to graduate schools in Anthro and is accepted at Berkeley in the spring of 1958, when this man calls her on the telephone: he is now in trouble for getting one of his female students pregnant, and he asks Helen if she will marry him — this will help him in a court case; Helen replies, “I’m going to Berkeley”, ends the call. Her room-mate sees her distraught, says, “Why don’t you just go up there and marry him?”, Helen bawls in reply, “He’s not good enough for me!” 16
Phase Three: Berkeley Breeds Team-Work
Helen arrives in Berkeley late August 1958, and one of the first people she meets is fellow newcomer, me.
3-A Dick is different:
Compared with her previous actual lover, Dick is bright perhaps but not “charismatic-brilliant”, quiet, courteous, friendly, interested, but — as in fact a person sexually scarred — cautious with other people. Early 1950s, he read an essay 17 where the writer took a moral stance, drawing a contrast between a man who boasts, “Today I required seven women for my pleasure”, against a man who says, “Today I gave one woman pleasure”. Dick has taken this ideal to heart, but he’s not over-confident regarding his skills.18
3-B: Educational Skills differ:
Helen’s Syracuse provides interesting anthropology at the time, but my New Mexico training is stronger, in light of what we both encounter now at Berkeley. New Mexico in 1958 has provided a link to Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, then-new integrator of social and behavioral sciences.19 At Berkeley we now enter an extension of this dynamo — David Schneider, Robert Murphy, Tom Fallers and Clifford Geertz. I am ready for them; Helen, at first, not so much.20
3-C: Co-Residents, co-students, co-Lovers, co-spouses:
In our first days in Berkeley Helen and I each take a room in the same “Berkeley Shingle” rooming house.21 We grow familiar by walking to school together, sharing food, and by Christmas we engage in love: I have never met anyone like her – open-faced, socially outgoing, excited to explore all kinds of ideas – morally alert and strikingly witty in ways both startling and endearing. From her side, she perhaps thinks I “Know Everything”, and I am gentle, a friendly person. We both actively seek to please the other.22
We co-participate in seminars, in which I star while she first finds hardship. 23 But by Spring we are each established, and I am told to apply for a Ford Foundation Research Grant. In August, we marry and have reception at the home of Professor David M. Schneider. It looks like Helen will meet her treasured goal: she has married an anthropologist, and these two will go to Africa!
Phase Four: “The best-laid plans o’ mice and men gang oft agley” (Robert Burns said that); “The shit hit the fan” (Dick Henderson said that…)
Married in the summer of 1959, we enter bad scenes in early Fall. Dick, now confident but chronically afraid of authority, impulsively shortcuts his way, submitting his research-grant application without consulting the residing Professor whose “research territory” he hopes to explore.24 Stark rebuke from authority produces catastrophic my-brain-body collapse.25
Helen’s response to this is to stand by me, and “get tough” (typical and crucial for her): she does outstanding work and gets her M.A. degree with direction to proceed toward Ph.D.26 A Ph.D. of her own becomes a strong goal, another degree of freedom obtained through self-control. 27
Despite my own injuries28, key Berkeley Professors stand up for me, so that by Spring, I both pass my oral qualifying exams for the Ph.D.29, and get a Ford Foundation grant to go to Africa to study “A City in Transition”. This gift comes directly from the hands of the magisterial political scientist James Coleman, who smilingly says to me, “Why don’t you go to Onitsha? They say it’s split right down the middle!”.
Phase Five: Damaged/Supportive Spouses, “Strong-Male” Cultures
So walking-wounded husband and his wife go to Nigeria in late summer 1960.30
5-A The Blob faces Tough People:
Dick enters Onitsha a passive, anxious, and nearly inarticulate blob, but we are well received – most Onitsha people welcome Americans in the Fall of 1960 – and Helen works stabilizing presence. They like her more than they do me, for good reason: she is congenial and socially quite adept, while my life-recovery task is to change from friendly-smiling blank who shuts down when confronted, into someone more active, aggressive, and self-assertive. Luckily, many Igbo-speaking people act like top-notch psychotherapists for me; They can’t “cure” my problems, but they push me hard.31
5-B What research focus for Helen?
Helen’s role is undefined, but we were told at Berkeley, by our closest Professor: “Don’t study women; WOMEN HAVE NO CULTURE.” Helen now finds most Igbo women much less garrulous with her than the men: men openly tell her to leave the room when “important matters” are discussed; she resists, but stark male/female divisions persist.32
Then we meet Robert and Barbara LeVine33, who guide us to study the tradition of Onitsha child socialization. Helen hires unmarried girls of Onitsha Inland Town so she can consult the considerable population of mature “Ndi-Onicha” women living there. I too explore this, and so we are both brought into serious issues of gender.34
But Helen also takes her typewriter into the Onitsha Customary Courthouse, where she spends part of many months reading and recording Onitsha Customary Court cases35 dating back to 1910, where she encounters Onitsha women bringing court-cases against men, some of them testifying “I was the MAN who did this….” Some distinct points of gender interest enter our data sets. 36
5-C, System Complexities change foci, strengthen “Male”:
My original Ford Foundation research aim was to study a “city that is split right down the middle”, and so this city was in 1960: the native residents — in one of whose villages we now reside –- call themselves “Onitsha Ibos”, or “Ndi-Onicha”, and in opposition they call the immigrants to the 20th-
century city, “Ndi-Igbo”, a pejorative term meaning “Igbo people” 37, see them as “free-loaders” intruding in “our homeland”. The immigrants, in contrast, call themselves “Non-Onitsha Ibos”, and are grasping power in Onitsha politics38. We begin our work by trying to research both sides39.
Six months into our stay, the Onitsha King (Obi) – sacred head of the “Onitsha Ibos” — dies, setting in motion an interregnum contest that pervades our time, first, drawing us into ever-deeper research about the past, since the “TRADITIONAL” ways of succession to Throne now become pivotal issues, politically charged.
This pulls us decisively into the orbit of the “Onitsha Ibos”, who now see ME as deserving respect and interest40, while I deal with “Non-Onitsha Ibos” less often, and these contacts turn more impersonal and antagonistic.41. But the upshot is important: Dick becomes much more like “an Igbo man”: confident, increasingly confrontational.42 Helen’s 1962 cartoon illustrates the process.
Another massive change is Nigeria, this “New Nation”, moving slowly but with momentum, toward Falling Apart.43
All three of these very complex system-changes challenge our research focus, and we struggle to grasp the floods.44
To summarize “Context Number Five”: we both mature greatly, stay bonded45, Helen’s role becomes more secondary, Dick’s character waxes stronger, a more “Assertive Man”. This continues back in Berkeley, though Dick’s temper moderates as he completes his dissertation in the spring of 1963. Helen eases Dick’s moods while she studies toward her Ph.D. exams .46
Phase Six: Shape-changing Husband, Diminished Faculty Wife
Above, the back side of 360 Edwards Street — here facing the rest of Yale Campus running downhill to the south — which provided an apartment home for us for almost seven years (1964-70).49
Helen’s social standing now shrinks: she becomes “Faculty Wife”, quite “out of the picture” in the Yale Academic Scene. Dick struggles at first, but works intensely , single-mindedly, gains regard as “a very good teacher”. The “aura” of merely being a Yale Professor is impressive, and Dick’s somewhat enhanced charisma thrills and stimulates this long-hesitant but always yearning young man. His yearnings intensify, and eventually he acts on them (and enters new enthralling “places”).
Helen and I co-publish our first paper in 1966, a monograph on Onitsha Child-training for Ibadan University Press. This careful and competent piece shows little of the focus on female tactics and goals that will later erupt in her work.50 By 1964, she is surely aware of being “diminished”51, and I sense her tension-levels rising as she works toward her Qualifying exams at Berkeley — which she does accomplish there, and at home begins writing her dissertation.
6-A, New directions in consciousness for Dick
A fundamental point in our joint history is that Helen and I always differed profoundly, I think, in one very important way: She was not interested in exploring the wilderness of her own consciousness.52 Dick is a polar opposite: “opening the doors of perception” became a life-long goal for me as early as 1951. 53 So when psychedelics blossom among the students at yale in the mid-1960s, Dick leaps right in, and Revelations — social and psychological transformations — immediately occur (and are permanent). Helen is just “not interested”; not hostile to it, but I’m sure somewhat perplexed — she simply does not want to explore these domains. Here she leans more toward impulse control, while I lean sharply toward greater degrees of freedom.54
6-B, Multi-dimensional Personal/Social/Political/Cultural Dynamics
When “Yellow Submarine” comes to Yale, I and most of my fellow students view it High; and as this social milieu lurches toward what becomes known as “Hippiedom” — my earlier attitude (that a man should “try to please ONE woman) becomes, “I should try to please MORE”. I begin to spread my new charismas, quietly, sure that this is a positive good for all who participate, while Helen’s signals imply no interest in these things.55
To set aside my “present-tense” fiction for a moment: this Great Transformation of the 1960s decisively challenged previous “hard-science” views of “reality”, carrying large numbers of (mostly young) human beings into new interior places in their own brains: they saw “new realities” that demanded new perspectives on “consciousness”, while many science professors at the time denied consciousness any “reality” status at all. Fifty years later, our neurological sciences are probing many aspects of this vast domain, often using psychedelics as critical tools. In the 1960s, however, this uncontrolled, “free-enterprise” populist consumption launched movements that helped validate diverse and often weird notions of “Alternative Realities”, assisting the spread of degrees of cognitive disorder far beyond their previous containments in the various religions of the past. Today these myriad forms of cognitive (and moral) chaos are so thoroughly unleashed by the Internet that they threaten to undermine “reality” everywhere:
Below: “How America Lost its Mind”, by Kurt Andersen (illustration R. Kikuo Johnson), The Atlantic September 2017 Issue:
At Left, Haight-Ashbury 1967; at right, USA 2017
Back in the 1960s, as my personal ways at Yale veer out of moral balance (as opposed to my cognitive balance, which in fact improves), many wider world-contexts spin out of balance too. These contexts become multiple, and impossible for us to ignore; I can only outline them briefly here.
The Vietnam War: by 1966, massive resistance spreads in our cities against the War; both of us become actively involved in opposition. 56.
Collapse of Nigeria: the Biafra War: By 1966-7, two military coups end the New Nation, as Igbo speakers decide to secede. Both Helen and I choose to work for these people we had lived among, and this absorbs increaing amounts of our time.57 We do meetings in New York organizing the academic community; these fail, but there we meet Anne-Marie Shimony, Head of the Anthropology Department at Wellesley College; in 1968 she offers Helen a teaching job at Wellesley (which of course she accepts.) This means she must commute by train, which she does, at first using mainly teaching materials I ‘ve amassed at Yale.58
By this time (Spring 1968) Helen is pregnant ,
so in New Haven, we go to Lamaze classes as she blooms out in many ways.59 When our twin sons are born February 7, 1969, both of us are magically transformed into loving parents, major social/psychological changes I will not venture to describe60.
A UC-Berkeley Ultimatum Awaits her:
When Helen and the babes arrive home a week later, I present a letter just arrived for her from Berkeley Department of anthropology officials: “You will submit to us your completed dissertation by the end of this May, or you will be dropped from our Ph.D. Program, Period.” So we both mobilize to achieve this immediate goal.61 Helen’s task concentrates both our minds.62
Helen defends her Dissertation at Berkeley, and they accept it without revisions. Helen’s Thesis Advisor, Bill Bascom, observes to her: “This is a Feminist Tract.” Helen does not know exactly what he means nor do I, but we now turn in relief to the numerous other distractions now absorbing our lives.
“The Feminist Tract”: Some Details
This 526-page volume begins with a broad survey/assessment of the varieties of Anthropological approaches to religion, overviews general patterns in “traditional” West African religious systems, then dives into the religious beliefs and sociopolitical structures of Ndi-Onicha in their prehistorical ecological situation. As she proceeds, she draws continual comparisons and contrasts of the statuses and roles of males vs females. As she proceeds she observes that “Some major social structural variables in Onitsha lay a basis for the active role of women in Onitsha society” (in a system where women are, broadly, demeaned).
This structural background in hand, she delves into the variety of roles Onitsha women play in the rich field of ritual processes, first a chapter on the broad domain of ritual in Onitsha and then a very close study of that immense social and cultural domain of death and funerary ritual in all its profound detail. She considers the range of beliefs regarding female (and male) identities, the shrines and other objects controlled by women (and men)63, how rights and duties, beliefs and obligations are distributed, enacted and disputed during the elaborate stages of Death, Burial, Lamentation, and Reincarnation. In every ritual context, the powers and limitations of various women-identities — as Wives, Mothers, Daughters, traders, and others, and the social groups that form collectivities around these selves are measured and compared — the ranges and limitations of women’s power, how distinctive strengths may imply weaknesses in other social contexts. Then finally, she conducts a substantial comparative survey of other Igbo groups64. The entire work is a tour-de-force, given the data available at the time.
This valuable contribution should obviously have immediate publication, but Dick now turns instead to his own Grand (and necessary) Operation65. Helen’s distractions at this time are even more complex. So despite the strong positive reception Helen’s work receives in universities along the eastern corridor, we miss the implications — both and each are too intently focused on Other Things. So66, the reach of her work remains limited.67
6-C, Distractions Accumulate, Yale Tenure Prospects Vanish
Shortly after Helen’s Ph.D. is affirmed, our now-four family flies to England for Archival work on early-historic Onitsha.68 This project digs both of us deeper into the historical side of our research, Dick finding goldmines that greatly enrich his forthcoming book.69
On campus, distractions accumulate: undergraduate women are admitted to Yale, and graduate women (and some faculty wives) become openly “feminist” in aggressive, political ways. Some new visiting faculty women seem hostile. 70 Rioting breaks out in New Haven against the Vietnam war, as Helen stays with the boys in our hillside home71 while Dick goes to “combat center”72. Helen attends the historic March on Washington with strong-feminist-anthropologist June Nash.73
Dick’s own activism in so many extra-academic contexts undermines his rapport with pivotal faculty members who had previously wanted to support tenure, and in 1971 tenure is denied.74 This means that he must job-search, which he does, giving talks in various venues. 75 Prospects near the East Coast are inviting, but these entail Chairmanship of Departments, jobs that Dick knows in his heart he simply is not competent to do. So he leaps at an offer from Arizona, explaining to Helen why he can’t stay East, but in reality he hardly consults her at all.76
Phase Seven: Wellesley Professor Becomes Tucson “Faculty Wife”
Here, Helen first works to get her sons established in the local school, while Dick begins offering new courses, often on subjects for which he has done little preparation. His reputation as a teacher begins to decline (over a period of some years). His new “book on the City of Onitsha” sprawls out in too many research-demanding directions and he loses focus77, while gaining a reputation as “The Hippie Professor” (with much of the self-indulgence that label implies).
The University has something like a “Nepotism Rule”78 and Helen arouses no interest in the Department. 79 So she begins extending her networks wherever she can find people whose interests correlate with her own. First, she finds fellow-mothers who share her desires to open the eyes of their children — for example she and a new friend design and conduct a course on Religions of the World for their Sunday-school class at the Unitarian-Universalist Church80. Second, she builds networks among female professors81, and briefly lands a job teaching at Pima Community College — but full-time doors there are effectively closed. She then commutes for a while to teach at ASU.82 She is not wasting her time: she meets new worlds riding on that slow-bus to Tempe, enlarging her grasp of “American Culture”: she brings back new ideas to her boys, including new views of “the West”.83 We also travel together to visit my brother and parents in San Diego, richly rewarding times.
I should not exaggerate the negativities of Dick’s behavior from 1972-75. It is not all bad, but the missteps are numerous The worst of these is plunging into an affair in 1975 with an undergraduate who is taking a course from him. This marks the nadir of Dick’s tumblings: marijuana, peyote and acid trips continue, and he sinks into what he finally discovers is a very deep hole. I begin to climb out84, and finally in anguish, with one decisive step I approach Helen and confess to her what I have been doing, saying I need her help. Her response is explosive.85 Gradually I calm her, and vow to change my behavior — which I do.86
At this point, our futures are in question. She learns that her old job in Wellesley is no longer available87. And both of us do intensely love our Wonder-Boys; I could not imagine any separation here. Are they not a delightfully happy pair? 88 And I do change: I begin to focus on her wants and needs more strongly than on mine (which have anyway seldom suffered much since 1972). Crucially, I begin to work hard on impulse-control89.
In the summer of 1976, we embark on a “round-the-Four-corners-states” trip with our boys, plus the two Shimony sons from Wellesley, six of us in our Toyota Corolla station wagon, on what becomes a transformative adventure for us all. We camp out in tents along the way, and immerse ourselves in the truly Awesome Creation that is the Colorado Plateau. This is another step that changes our lives.90
Phase Eight: “Who Do You Know that You Can Use?”
Through our Tucson years, Helen has been recruiting local helpers, so when the Arid Lands Niger Natural Resources Program goes into action in 1977 she learns about it quickly. While most of those commanding the project neither speak French nor know much about West Africa91, Helen has both of these skills, but when she offers them the bosses in charge show minimal interest.
We meet a man at a party, where he takes keen interest in Helen. She learns that he works for the project, and consults him. He says, “Who do you know that you can use?” Helen says, “I couldn’t do something like that, ‘use’ somebody.” Her new adviser ignores this and repeats the question. Helen considers various Washington DC connections we might have, and can only recall one: “Well, we know Allan Hoben, he works with AID.” Her new advisor replies, “That is the man who has the job of evaluating this project!”
We are old friends of the Hobens, from our old Berkeley cohort. 92. I telephone Allan and report our problem, hear that he will soon fly from DC to California and can stop awhile Tucson. We set a date, invite Arid Lands Niger Project officials to join us for a party, and they come in large numbers. Allan circulates freely through the crowd, never mentioning Helen, and a week or so later Helen is invited into the project.
Here marks a major change in Helen, and here also my task for this Symposium largely ends. It remains to say: Helen now “gets going”, and93 goes off to Africa, while Dick remains at home in charge of her boys (now eight years old), who worry about her and also suffer my initially-lousy cooking. 94
From Helen we receive many air-mail letters, which reveal a strikingly different person: no longer much joking, more contemplative, exploring the many meanings of working alone in the field, no longer fretting her “inadequacies”. The tales she tells show that she has found “new ways”.95
In the Fall of1978, Arid Lands again sends her to West Africa, this time to Upper Volta96 to work in a remote village for an AID project concerned with the productive activities of women. I follow her there in December97, where I find her highly respected by everyone, from top AID people in Ouagadougou98 to the small children of Koukoundi, who tend to gather round. I can see I am dealing with a new Force of Nature.99
Helen and I acted as a team for about 45 years, so the growth of our particular versions of “feminism” was in part a joint effort. The team faced dissolution only once, and that too was a “feminist learning experience” for each of us.
Afterwords: Helen’s Book Project and the Research Trip to Onitsha in 1992
Aside from her ongoing work at BARA, Helen continued considering a return to Onitsha, now intending to explore the contemporary lives of Ndi-Onicha women. When our Onitsha relative Nneka Umunna told us she wanted to go there in order to perform the Ikwa-Ozu (“Second Burial”, “Lamentation”) of her mother’s mother Nne-Si, we decided that now was our time to return: with Nneka’s help we could organize meetings for Helen with important people who could further her efforts, as well as observing and recording the funeral.
The story of this journey belongs elsewhere100. Let it suffice here to observe: the research process began very well, but ended abruptly in our second night in Onitsha when Helen, escorting a group of women uphill from our house along a deeply pot-holed road in deep darkness, fell into a large drainage ditch and broke her ankle. 101 After desperate searching through the darkened city102, we found her a haven at St. Charles Borromeo Hospital (where they had a generator and therefore electric light). The patterns of our entire stay in Onitsha were drastically transformed, and Helen’s plans for book research completely disrupted (though we continued making efforts relating to it into the early 2000s).103
- We live in a world where some people still think that menstruating women give off dangerous toxic fumes — “bleeding in their whatevers” is one obvious example; that menstrual blood can drive away thunderstorms, that sex with a virgin can cure a man’s STDs; that a raped, unwilling woman can’t get pregnant; that if pregnant women have bad thoughts, these will ruin their babies; that women can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, think too much – it makes them angry and infertile. These are just a small sample; we live in a world where sociopolitical policies and practices still find strong grounds in such nonsense, and all of this — beliefs, policies, practices — must change. Return ↩
- Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona Return ↩
- a field still largely ruled by men, but not entirely, in part thanks to her. Return ↩
- I have this on direct authority of more than one of them. Return ↩
- Homer and Nita thought they would never have children; 40-year-old Nita’s husband’s father (the patriarch), a homeopathic doctor, insisted she merely had “a floating kidney”; Helen’s birth disconfirmed this hypothesis. Return ↩
- One of Nita’s (only slightly realized) ambitions was to do eccentric things: for example, she would amuse her husband’s colleagues at parties by playing the role of a gypsy fortune-teller. Return ↩
- Here we’re looking somewhat later, to her teens Return ↩
- One memorable act was to don her father’s suit-jacket and walk downstairs for her “Dwight Eisenhower Press Conference”, aping the great man’s way of avoiding Preess Corps questions by elaborately meandering speech. Return ↩
- And throughout her father’s lifetime to some extent it was. Return ↩
- This school was located close by Kreider house, so Helen could “host” her friends, with a “stage” at recess or lunch. Return ↩
- Obviously, this was an unlikely “first-love”-engagement for a middle-class white girl in the early 1950s: a strong “skewing of consciousness” away from her family. Her father, and most other relatives, were quite racist, and shocked by this “craze”, but her mother trusted, hence actively supported her daughter. Later, when one of her college roommates visited the family while these rituals continued, Helen’s father took her aside and expressed his worry — this strangeness, what “mental disorders” may they be suffering? Return ↩
- She briefly palled around a bit with Joyce Carol Oates (they would ditch P.E.), and while Helen planned to write her “Great American Novel”, Joyce Carol of course did (and more than once). Return ↩
- Some might sneer at such talk a bit in 2017, but for her at the time this is both perspective-expansion and forging a new long-term goal. Dick worships Malinowski — he’s on my screen-saver! — and partly for this reason. Return ↩
- When Helen questioned his slugging down gin while driving his VW bug (tossing the empties out on the streets as he went), he replied “because driving is so boring”. Return ↩
- He drew for her a quite sophisticated cartoon, displaying himself as a “Yogurth Beast” eating his way through an eager crowd of “shmoo-like” beings, hopping-ready to be chewed alive into his gut. Return ↩
- Here, Helen “put down” her feelings, focused instead on interpersonal commitment, and she never recontacted this person, though for a time she retained that “Yogurth Beast” cartoon — she later showed it to me. He also appeared on the national news a few times, as a fringe New-Age Guru. Return ↩
- In a Magazine, Esquire, I think Return ↩
- Thus making – – it seems to me – – one small but not insignificant step in his own direction toward feminism, a “freeing of action” away from then-more standard style and also a mini-movement toward impulse control (female wants are imperative before anything should happen). Return ↩
- Harry Basehart arrived at UNM in 1955; he was deeply invested in research on African societies and cultures, and as his student I was committed both to going there and to this “newly systematic social science”. Return ↩
- I also had a decent grounding in linguistics, which Helen lacked and which she did not get even at Berkeley, which had a separate Linguistics Department. This weakness remained a limitation for her in all her fieldwork. Return ↩
- This was a redwood-covered and redwood-tree-yarded, 3-storey building containing a mix of male and female students and former-student hangers-on. People on each floor shared bathrooms, and on my second-floor we shared a kitchen as well. Helen moved into the third floor and had her own kitchen. Return ↩
- By 1962, Berkeley Shingle — 2533 Hillegass Avenue — was gone, replaced by a Modernist apartment building where — I learned — Aldous Huxley had resided in his last days “on earth”. Return ↩
- Our two introductory seminars illustrate this: (1) an innovative, very sophisticated seminar co-taught by the prominent sociologist Reinhard Bendix (Max-Weber-oriented) and anthropologist Lloyd (“Tom”) Fallers (closely linked to Africanist British social anthropology), this seminar examining the grand subject of the History of Social thought, and (2) in another context we both took a seminar on hominid evolution co-taught by an elder Theodore McCown and then young-buck Sherburn Washburn (he full of startling new ideas and knowledge on that subject). We both fell into these tsunamis of ideas, but Helen was in far more danger of drowning than I was. Helen was not ready for the History of Social Thought seminar –- she flunked it, while I starred; however, she gained real respect when she wrote a paper for the physical anthropology course on the subject of human “cold adaptation”, which showed she could do original research – this one could have been published in the Kroeber Anthropology Papers, it was that new and cogent. Return ↩
- Today this behavior still baffles me; I clearly remember Tom Fallers — the best advisor a person could have — after approving the essay, he smilingly urged me: “Go and see Bill!” I just couldn’t walk to his office. The fact was, he was a kindly man. I think the stark politics of the Department at this time — between “Young Turks” and “Old-timers” — frightened me, so I froze. Return ↩
- So our first year of marriage becomes not much a love-nest and more a vale of depression, as I sank into more or less full verbal collapse. I only guess what this was like for Helen; she stood with me, but must have thought to herself, “What have I got into with this wrecked, disabled man?” Return ↩
- One pertinent aspect of Berkeley’s Graduate Program during this time was a definitely “feminist” perspective. Our 1958 cohort was half male and half female, and my sense was that the Professors I knew well were impartial. Return ↩
- A standard mantra of Helen’s was “Character is fate” — a revealing comment about what people can (or maybe can’t) do about what may befall them — and she clearly had a sense of what her own character should be. Return ↩
- I have always sensed real brain damage from this event. Return ↩
- Here you may conjur a wooden Zombie getting very polite applause for bumbling and largely silent stand-up farce. Return ↩
- We had no time to research Igbo culture, but stopping enroute in Helen’s hometown Harrisburg, Helen’s grandmother, who everyone regarded (with good reason) as a warm-heart-saint, smiled in meeting me and gave advice: “Be sure to stay away from the Blacks!” Return ↩
- We now met new social, cultural, and personal forces. The late Stanley Diamond, a gifted anthropologist who knew and admired the Igbo earlier, observed in a paper – he was drawing a contrast between the modern world ruled largely by what he called “dissociated men”, who turn real living action into abstractions, with people -– as he put it, “Reality BLAZES for them”. We now dealt with many people obviously alive with, and expressive of, their emotions. And over the course of nearly two years, it changed us. But it changed me much more, I think. Helen didn’t have to go so far. Return ↩
- Since she lacked language facility, she found it hard to engage women. It did seem that most women had much less to say. This was an illusion, but a real gulf in Western Education access for women made it seem so, and she did not succeed in breaking these barriers. Return ↩
- Workers on the Six Cultures Study of Child Socialization at Harvard under John Whiting. Return ↩
- I of course was searching what I imagined as everything pertinent to a “study of the City” — a goal which was, as any normal thinker would have warned, was “biting off far more than I could chew”. From the men (including some men boasting more degrees of formal education than I) I got long, often very philosophical discourses on just about everything); from most of the women, Helen received much less, almost entirely interpreted by girls of lesser education than the young men I worked with. In one of our audio-taped discussions, she complained about this women’s lack of a tendency to elaborate reflectively on details of their remembered lives. We both remembered the “Women-have-no-culture” mantra that a Berkeley professor had given us. (Employment-age men were in a minority among our prime research population because most of them were working in Civil Service jobs elsewhere in Nigeria.) Return ↩
- A very substantial corpus, all of the books somewhat–termite-ridden but on the whole legible. Return ↩
- These were “seeds” for future thought. At home in Onitsha, Helen largely managed our house-flat with the help of a “Small Boy” (age 27) from far Igbo bush, as a benefit of which she became a fine cook of Igbo food — a skill highly worth knowing. Return ↩
- These latter mainly came from nearby towns and spoke differing dialects of the Igbo language. Return ↩
- Power in which had previously been angled by British authorities toward the “natives'” favor Return ↩
- and in fact I persisted in this aim for many struggling, eventually partly “wasted” years. Return ↩
- “Ndi-Onicha” thought I might have hidden connections with the still-influential British officials who continued to occupy decisive positions in the Government which would stand to resolve the issue of who the next king would be. Return ↩
- This was partly due to big changes on the international level too complex to discuss here. Colonial Collapse was everywhere: Patrice Lumumba was killed in the Congo, and local protesters gathered on the streets of Onitsha, held militant marches, and European]-looking people became open targets of abuse. Return ↩
- “Be assertive, don’t back down, be bold and open, call a spade a spade!” This new-selfing was a lifelong change, if later placed under better impulse control. Return ↩
- we watched, but largely failed to see that future train-wreck coming. Return ↩
- Helen continues her court cases, and she also becomes the primary typist of our many fieldnotes. Helen’s mother Nita would have been appalled to learn this; Nita always warned Helen: “Don’t let any man know that you can type!” But I think Helen enjoyed this; it took her into worlds of male activity otherwise closed. Return ↩
- Our fieldwork experts always told us that husband-wife fieldwork is a supreme test for any marriage. Return ↩
- Clifford Geertz was there, she took a course from him. Geertz participated in progressive national-political protestsin Berkeley at that time, but we stayed single-minded, side-showed these oppositions to the “House Un-American Activities Committee”, budding “Free Speech movements, the stirring of “Black Power movements, etc. Return ↩
- When the offer arrives, Dick naively asks Sherry Washburn, “Is this a good job?”; Washburn shakes his head in disgust, “Of Course it is!” Return ↩
- Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington was in the works as we traveled, but we had eyes only for New Haven; our (Casper-)Wyoming Bucking-Horse license-plates brought astonishment everywhere we went. Return ↩
- this 19th-Century Mansion had been converted into a number of apartments, reserved mainly for visiting faculty. Our rooms were inside the white structure at top right, part of the 4th-level “Servants’ Quarters”, while six or seven other renters lived about, including in the former kitchen at far right base, which still had the remnants of a dumb-waiter that led upstairs to what was once the “dining room”. (the Fire-escape ladder was added after we had moved out.) For a considerable time Helen acted as “Super” for this building, a task she performed quite effectively and memorably including some marvelous cartoon-notices that gave gentle direction to new residents (some of whom were outlandish by Yale standards). Thrilling memories reside in this house; at one point, an undergraduate friend and I successfully brewed multi-bottles of sparkling hard cider in the basement, while a huge oil-burning furnace chugged fiercely nearby — observe the mighty chimney serving it at top right. Return ↩
- While writing this paper, I have examined it carefully for evidence of Helen’s distinctive views, but found little – she provided lots of data (as did I), but very little perspective on female power. Return ↩
- Though in fact she made contributions in several domains, acquired more life-long friends while drawing her social-commentary cartoons along the way. Return ↩
- I have lots of evidence for this from my own viewpoint, though others who knew her may remember differently. One example, but in retrospect, typical: when Helen’s Alzheimer’s became obvious after 2000, she steadfastly refused to face it: looking into that prospect was just off-limits. This is just one case example among many. Return ↩
- As a late-teen-ager in an Air Force barrack, Dick read Sigmund Freud and Aldous Huxley, and Huxley’s views became an obsession, opening new directions to follow. I yearned for Peyote in 1950s New Mexico, but had no clue where or how to find it. Return ↩
- The obvious self-transformations experienced by many at this time shocked the public in the 1960s (including government officials who proceeded to demonize all psychedelics), and I find it gratifying — albeit 50 years late — to see widespread scientific recognition of their value. Return ↩
- I’m confident this is accurate, based on her reactions to my occasional hinting expressions made at that time, but I may rationalize, our distance was rising . Return ↩
- We both do workshops and marches against the Vietnam War, which intensified through all our remaining years at Yale. ((I helped monitor massive, potentially explosive demonstrations on campus. Helen worked locally in support of anti-war candidates, and went to Washington for one massive rally, riding in June Nash’s car. June Nash, one of the earliest and strongest true feminists I met, sometimes extended herself so much that she forgot “trivial things”, to her misfortune. On this occasion, June had forgotten to update her vehicle registration and when a D.C. policeman stopped her car; she and Helen ended up at a police station where a fine was assessed, but neither Helen nor June had thought to bring money. June was bound for Jail until Helen remembered a friend in Bethesda who she called and who came promptly providing Bail. Return ↩
- in 1968 Helen and I organized a Relief Fund for Biafran Children and I organized both protests against Federal Policies toward the Biafra War, and a symposium offering prominent speakers on the topic. I also provided substantial research materials to a student group at Yale wanting to research the issue, but “their house burned down”, along with the documents inside it. Return ↩
- Hillary Clinton was there; ’68 was her junior year, when she supported Eugene McCarthy for President. Helen voted for him; I thought that foolish, and was right, given the outcome. (I have no idea if Wellesley campus politics that Fall touched Helen in any way.) Hillary spoke at her own graduation in 1969, receiving a 2 minute ovation. (I don’t think Helen attended that event.) Return ↩
- At one class — these are held for new parents to prepare for childbirth– Helen, far advanced by this time, asks me, “Are those others as big as I am?” Yes, I reply (though they aren’t, not nearly). Later, as she’s examined by her main doctor, he observes bruskly, “Too Many Limbs”; she is X-rayed, then he cryptically states, “Two complete fetal skeletons.” This was definitely a “Doctor of Few Words”, but also competent in his job. Helen also “bloomed” in warmth, calm, and energy in these times. Return ↩
- Beyond saying that our bonds both intensify and expand Return ↩
- We obtained new space in our 3rd-floor “Servants’ Quarters” residence:: while we both willingly attended the needs of our two new homebodies, we must also write our necessary books.My “King in Every Man”, poking along like a lumbering tortoise, must awake, while Helen had her Deadline. Since work-time became critical, we moved the boys’ beds into a separate room with a Monitor telling us when they were awake. Return ↩
- She wrote, I criticized. I poorly remember most of this time, but I do vividly recall the Deadline Night, May 30, 1969, when the entire manuscript was finished: a Friday, so Helen’s working typist (Evelyn Middleton, our Anthropology Departmental Secretary), was gone. Helen collapsed well into the night when she finished the Ending, so I sat down and — I swear this is true, though it’s hard to believe even for me — I typed out the last remaining text of her manuscript, quite a number of pages without error — though normally I am a rather sloppy typist. We then mailed the full, errorless Dissertation off to Berkeley on Saturday. Return ↩
- The religious “identities” of women have permanence beyond death (as do those of men); mothers may be incorporated into shrines (like men). Men are required to bring in ghosts of their mothers (as well as those of their sisters/daughters). Powers of influence flow through ancestral women to their descendants. Return ↩
- and even briefly considers the Yoruba. In all these cases she asks what factors appear to favor political strength in one domain, for example (Collective Wives), and weakness in another (lineage Daughters), and so on. Return ↩
- Putting together The King in Every Man was a huge logistic task. In 1970 “cut and paste” editing really meant that — processes were glacially slow, and scholars working solo faced extended delays. It was “one thing after another” I made most of my own diagrams. Return ↩
- although it can be found in Microfilm Return ↩
- I am struck by this today, as I read in a wide-ranging new volume, Being and Becoming: Gender, Cutlure and Shifting Identity in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Chinyere Ukpokolo (an Igbo woman) and published in 2016 by University of Ibadan Press. For example, in a brilliant article by Sabine Jell-Bahlsen dealing with a masquerade in an Igbo village, I see residues of the doors Helen opened in 1969: Sabine-Bahlsen closely examines and and analyses complex rituals, largely controlled by men, yet shows how their social and cultural implications also enhance important powers of women. Many of the exciting research directions explored in this book have roots in Helen’s focus on Igbo (and also Yoruba) women. (Our son Michael and I began to edit and transpose it some years ago, and in 2016 we published our edited version in Helen’s Chapter of this larger, Onitsha-oriented document, in which you are reading a page right now — amightytree.org. Return ↩
- The great symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas found us an apartment there. We had an au pair from New Haven, Barbara Tapper, who tended our two strapping boys; Helen would work in one archive, I in another. We also took a side-trip motoring past Stonehenge and through Ireland at this time, powerfully bonding our group. Return ↩
- I alluded earlier to the ill-prepared nature of our initial research due to sudden shifts in research subject. Here we obtained necessary background materials available only in England. Return ↩
- The sparkling physical anthropologist David Pilbeam joined our department, and on one (and only one) occasion I encountered his wife, who made a sarcastic remark about “my MCP”. Confused, I asked what that acronym meant; she replied, laughing along with her female cohort, “Male Chauvinist Pig!” Horrified, I leapt to defend David: “He’s no MCP!” (though in fact I knew nothing of their family relations). Calling people “pigs” still offends me. On the other side of this coin, Anthropology Department faculty considered the prospect of inviting an outstanding female anthropologist to join their ranks. The ranking members belittled her work, and rejected the prospect. Return ↩
- A faculty wife friend calmed her fears, “Don’t worry, Helen, crowds never run uphill!” Return ↩
- working as a “crowd marshall” trying to prevent the kind of disorder that will summon the National Guard troops waiting for their orders while undulating, banner-waving “Hippies” fill the New Haven Green. Return ↩
- This trip almost lands June in a DC jail, Helen stranded there.). June was one of the first (and to my mind most memorable) strong feminists ever (a brilliant progressive scholar — see her research on struggling miners in Peru). Return ↩
- I do not imply that political activities caused my failure to get tenure — that was due mainly to the always-glacial rate of Dick’s publication. The nay-sayers were right, in my opinion. Return ↩
- One of these, presenting ideas relating to “Subjectivity/Objectivity as two Transposable sides of the Coin…” was instrumental in winning me the job at Arizona, according to a personal communication from one who knew — Bill Longacre. Return ↩
- This period of deciding, then preparing to move, remains a blur in my mind. looking at photographs from that time, I think Helen is mostly pensive, not her usual smiles, but she never argued this decision, knowing perhaps that my sense of personal limitations was valid. I’m just guessing here; we had quite a fun time on our 5-day trip across the country, with “Dark Side of the Moon” musically transporting us four. Return ↩
- Having concentrated too long on “precolonial history”, he now faces vast literatures regarding the various aspects of Today. Return ↩
- excluding spouses of faculty from holding positions, though the Department of anthropology does boast one husband-wife pair of professors. Return ↩
- Feminism appeared to have little hold in 1972 Tucson, and “Faculty Wives” were of no more relevance here than at Yale. Return ↩
- Claire Scheuren was an essential support for Helen’s self-worth at this time. For the children who experienced their course, some eyes must have been widely opened indeed. Return ↩
- Myra Dinnerstein always acted as an especially valuable and influential friend. Return ↩
- That too was not a viable prospect. Return ↩
- Helen encountered some “Sons of the Pioneers” on this bus, and one time chanced to sit beside Shadow Ray, my old Casper (Wyoming) Basketbell Coach, who now Snow-birded between Wyoming and Coolidge, and spoke of old times in the Casper of 1949. Return ↩
- sometimes in my mind it feels like I’m actually ascending a pit. Return ↩
- At one point she hit me in the face with her fists, and I took it. She backed out of the driveway in her car, wheels spinning (and as she was a very poor driver at best, this was worrisome). I sought to console her, calming her nightmares by drawing her out and assuring her the dangerous male she was dreaming about is really harmless, has her interests in mind. Return ↩
- She must have sensed the worst of my problems previously, but she was definitely “in denial” until I spoke. This is another indicator of her defenses against examining inner states. Return ↩
- ironically, it had been taken by a student I earlier taught at Yale — and whose work I found shoddy, but she turned out to be a very good hire for Anne-Marie at Wellesley. Return ↩
- Recently, my son Kevin remarked that “You went AWOL from the family for a while at that time”, a reminder that emotional costs to them were present if not then obvious to me. Return ↩
- This was a continuous battle since my hormonal imbalances, richly over-indulged, still stirred strong waves in some of my emotional ponds Return ↩
- Ever since, that region has been Holy Ground for me (and Helen and I returned to it thereafter many times). See the 29 July 2017 issue of New Scientist for a useful discussion of how “Feeling Awe Makes People Happier and Less Stressed”, that is, how the experience of awesome environmental immersions — like good Psydelelics — can both expand and calm fevered brains. We never related better than after we experienced this enormous, silent, endlessly-embracing place. Return ↩
- One senior figure speaks knowingly of “The African farmer, he….”; another, possessing no facility with French whatever, creates some very comical moments: once he boldly types out a Program for a meeting with visiting Niger officials, and sprinkles his few French words through the text in bizarre fashion. Return ↩
- I gave him decisive job support in 1972 when he needed it (and he deserved it — in my experience he was one of the most brilliant anthropologists in our discipline). Return ↩
- after much networking preparation with everyone else in the project Return ↩
- My first effort was a chicken soup which I managed to burn badly on the bottom. My sons were quite courteous: “It’s all right, Dad — we’re not really hungry right now”. So I enrolled in a Chinese cooking class, learned that art from a real expert, and we three male “widowers” soon found ourselves eating very well. Return ↩
- We have somehow misplaced all these letters — I hope to find them sometime as we continue exploring her “archives”, recalling more about this time. Return ↩
- now Burkina Faso Return ↩
- My sole aim is support. Return ↩
- The Director of the project, who met her at a party, observed her in action, leaned close and said, “Vous et Unoubliable“. Return ↩
- While there I became known as “Gorko Madame” — “Madame’s Man”; Helen gained great renown in these villages for her medical expertise, –after providing “Where There is No Doctor” help to a man gored by a cow, part of her task became “no-doctor” first aid to streams of ailing people who arrived at her door. Return ↩
- see the Aftermaths Chapter in AmightyTree, where the story is outlined but not yet developed. Return ↩
- I was guiding the group along the road with our sole flashlight; Helen had left her glasses behind, and apparently “saw” the ditch as a smoother pathway. Return ↩
- One person recommended the “Evolution Hospital” where there was said to be a “good bone doctor”. Driving by there, we found a massive three-storey building, entirely dark except for what appeared to be a single candle way upstairs. Helen said to Nneka, “Please don’t put me in there!” Return ↩
- See “Scatterings of Truth” in Chapter 8 “Asides” in Amightytree, where I recount one of my own brief adventures during this time. Return ↩