Learning Feminisms with Helen Henderson

 

 

(Above: Helen with Koukoundi Women, Upper Volta 1979.  Photo by Richard Henderson)

[Note:  this version of my essay was presented at the University of Aricona School of Anthropology Symposium held in Helen’s honor September 8, 2017.  Many thanks to Diane Austin who organized it all, and to everyone who participated.  I have subsequently added a few footnotes where these seem appropriate.  RNH]

My aim  here is to shed light on matters of gender,  a central political problem of our time — from the far reaches of the globe right down to this room.1 I will also guess about Helen’s and my own “experiential feminisms”.

I will not discuss Helen’s career at BARA  — (see my website).  Here I explore her deeper historyhow she came to be her BARA persona.  How did Helen become the BARA babe we knew in the 1980s and 90s2:  strong scholar/organizer pursuing needs and goals of  “Women in Development”?  She didn’t start there: 1950s undergraduate  Helen told close friends that her main life’s ambition was to “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa”.

My over-view of the “how” question is, in general:  she learned to build strong balance between seeking greater freedoms of action — along the distinctively feminist lines of expanding social cooperation —  and the necessary corollary of freedom:  increasing one’s capacities for Impulse control.

Helen conquers another moment with humor.

I  propose Eight Phases”, knowing if Helen were present here today, she’d likely just demolish it with humor (then, hopefully,  we could talk about it some more).

 

Phase One: “Limited prospects” (Harrisburg, PA)

Strong family patriarchy:  her Pennsylvania-German father’s father would de-self his wife — “Quiet, Woman!”, he’d say when she tried to speak socially  — but this harsh family culture  moderated when Helen was born:

She came late to The Kreiders of Harrisburg, in 1936;3

Helen in Classy Costume, 1942

Helen’s mother Nita — now doing her life’s-work as mother — conformed to the ethics of Kreider House , but also ran deep-closet resistance to male power, aided by her own loving mother who lived just blocks away.  These two helped  Helen escape the worst de-selfings of patriarchy, forging Helen’s creative, “actor” side4.

Helen (age 4) and Nita with giant snow-man

Helen’s father Homer,  only son of the patriarch, a lawyer (later Judge), moved somewhat beyond his father’s views;  he and his best friend would enjoy evenings talking “real-politique”, and when Helen reached “the age of sense”5, they let her entertain them by mocking national political figures.6.  So within this “patriarchy”7,  Helen found some “new directions”  — quietly cooperating with the less powerful, entertaining the more . But Helen’s mother also didn’t teach her manual skills.  Nita’s social class standards, and her methods of deception toward males, worked to fix Helen’s gender categories.8

Her “Katherine Sweeney Day School”

Katherine Sweeney Day School Yearbook 1954, Helen’s senior year: commentaries on her character…

was Co-ed at primary levels, girls-only at puberty, aiming to place girls in good colleges. Helen acted in plays, avoided teenage “sex-games”, learned French and “serious subjects”. The school was near Kreider house, so Helen would “host” her friends. She enlarged her cooperative circles — but within a mainly gender-restricted frame. (Her mother drove a car, but never taught Helen to drive, which seems curious).9

More mysterious: someone in this school inspired Helen to “identify with” an American Black man now becoming a Major-league Baseball super-star:  when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,  Helen plunged into her first (if virtual) love affair: she created private rituals to help the Brooklyn Dodgers win, then convinced her mother to take her  all the way to Brooklyn, where she could cheer her hero in public. This major gain in freedom — both in thought and action –could work because her everyday behavior was impeccable. 10

Phase Two:  Syracuse Anthropology and Learning

She Avoided Sororities:

At Syracuse in 1954, Helen joined rooming houses, built life-long friendships with diverse, intellectually challenging women.  Her social relationships proliferated.11

In introductory  anthropology,

She read Bronislaw Malinowski, who explained the social-and-psychological functions of those magical rituals she was doing. Grasping this propelled  her  into this major, and to say she would “marry an anthropologist and go to Africa.”  Not feminist, but her perspectives greatly widened. 12

Helen was “swept off her feet”

Just-jilted Helen, Syracuse NY

by a graduate student in psychology, tall, handsome, articulate, clever, overt breaker of “social conventions”.13  Engaging, except in intimate social interactions, where his view was purely “What’s in this for ME?” He openly bragged of “consuming” eager female bodies14, and soon jilted Helen,  departing to northern New York State as a high-school psychologist.

Heartbroken Helen applied to Anthro graduate schools, accepted at Berkeley spring 1958, when the jilter called her:  one of his female students was now pregnant, so would Helen please marry him right away!  Helen replied, “I’m going to Berkeley”, hung up the phone.  Her room-mate, seeing her distraught, said, “Why don’t you just go up there and marry him?”; Helen bawled, “He’s not good enough for me!”  Definitely a proto-feminist step. 15

Phase Three:  A Team Forms at Berkeley

Arriving there late August  1958, one of the first people Helen met was me.

Dick was ,

Compared with her previous male attachment, bright perhaps but quiet, courteous, friendly, interested, cautious with other people.  I had learned that considering female wants was imperative in intimate-social situations — note the qualifiers ( I still had much more to learn).

Educational Skills :

Helen’s Syracuse gave good grounding, but my New Mexico graduate training was stronger, in light of what we now encountered  at Berkeley16, where we entered a  new-theory dynamo — David Schneider, Robert Murphy, Lloyd Fallers and Clifford Geertz. I was ready for them; Helen, not so much — she needed some assistance at first. 17.

We became Co-Residents,

each of us taking a room in the same “Berkeley Shingle” rooming house. 18  We grew close walking to school together, talking science, sharing food, and by Christmas  sharing love: I had never met anyone like her – open, socially outgoing, excited to explore ideas – morally alert, witty in ways both startling and endearing. The only odd thing I noticed, she bit her fingernails down to the nub.   She perhaps thought I “Knew Everything”, and I seemed a gentle,  friendly person.  We both actively sought to please the other.19

The Newlyweds with Addie and David Schneider, Berkeley CA August 1959

Working together20,  we both established ourselves in the Department by Spring 1959.  I applied for a Ford Foundation Research Grant.  We married in August, received at the home of Professor Schneider. It looked like Helen would meet her goal: she had married an anthropologist, and we two would go to Africa!

Phase Four: Trouble comes to Paradise

The “Honeymoon”

Helen Agate Beach State Park, August 1959

I Think I decided what we would do — drive out camping along coastal California.  Helen complied.21   We went to a campground on the coast, pitched our tent and settled in for the night.  It may have rained a bit.  A stray kitten entered our tent:  it was coughing, obviously sick.  Helen wanted  to keep it (she loved cats).  I was allergic to cats at the time,  and  I must have just said, No.  No memory of this conversation, but I was adamant the cat had to go.

Next morning, Helen, now silent, pensive,  said to me, “Will we be happy?” She seemed more distant as we drove further up the coast.  Guessing her viewpoint at that moment: a late-1950s version of “Am I stuck here in patriarchy once more?”  Dick’s learning here, nil beyond “I guess she’s realizing marriage is a big step for her.”

A recent New York Times essay put the situation well:

“Why you will marry the wrong person” (Alain Botton, NYT May 2016

“Strong Male” Collapse

In the first half of this phase, Helen may have learned not to idealize any male.  In the second half, she confronted more serious shortcomings.

In this altered frame of view, Helen saw her new spouse enter full psychological-academic collapse in the fall  of 1959 (due to my carelessness in complex intra-departmental politics). She stood by me, but — in light of now-obvious flaws — a Ph.D. of her own became  a strong goal  — definitely a step toward “feminism”.22

Despite the collapse, I won a Ford Foundation grant to go to Africa to study “A City in Transition”.  This came directly from the hands of the great political scientist James Coleman, who smilingly said, “Why don’t you go to Onitsha? They say it’s split right down the middle!”.23

 

Phase Five: Onitsha, Nigeria: Uncertain Spouses in “Strong-Male” Cultures

Awta (“Arrow”) Age-Grade men escort the mighty Ijele masquerade, Onitsha Inland Town, Nigeria 1961)

 

So walking-wounded husband and now ambitious wife went to Nigeria in late summer 1960.24

Dick entered Onitsha anxious, but we were well received – most Onitsha people welcomed Americans in 1960 – and they liked Helen — she was socially adept, while my task was to change from friendly-smiling blank who shut down when confronted, into someone more active, aggressive, self-assertive.  Fortunately, many Igbo-speakers behaved like psychotherapists, pushing me in directions of strength.25

The whole city was “split down the middle”: there was the “Inland Town”, a coherent, tradition-celebrating community organized by ancient “village-groups” in the Igbo manner, but also diversely structured and stratified, with titled chiefs and ruling “King” (the Obi). They called themselves “Onitsha Ibos”. We moved into this group, eager to learn more about them. 26 Nearly surrounding this “Inland Town” was a much larger city, called the “Waterside”, most of these people called themselves “Non-Onitsha Ibos”, hyper-democratic, hyper-Christian, rejected Kingship and traditions, mostly traders, aggressively doing their things.27

What tasks for Helen?

“Women’s Wing” of major political party donates cow for public sacrifice, March 1961

We were told at Berkeley: “Don’t study women; WOMEN HAVE NO CULTURE.” We carried these blinders with us, and for various reasons never completely lost them.  We were guided to study the tradition of Onitsha child-training28, which we did; and we could see that women held powers in some contexts, but for various reasons Helen found it very difficult to draw women out.29

But she also took her typewriter into the Onitsha Customary Courthouse, where she spent many

Onitsha Customary Court in action, 1961

months reading and recording Court cases dating back to  1910, where she found Onitsha women bringing charges against men, some of them  testifying “I was the MAN who did this….”  Some distinct points of gender interest arose  — women could be more complex.30

Big Deaths:

Obi Okosi II corpse on display, March 1961

Almost at once, in February 1961, two deaths: one mainly local — the Onitsha King died — and one hugely international — Patrice Lumumba, the former head of newly-independent Belgian Congo, was murdered by servers of Belgian interests.

Death of the Obi set in motion an interregnum that absorbed our time, drawing us into deeper research about the past.31.

Meanwhile in the Waterside, due to the death of Lumumba many “Non-Onitsha Ibos” I encountered would accost me with anger.32. I became tougher (and also angrier, myself).

 

24 Mba Road 1962 Helen tracking world events…

Further complicating things, the “New Nation” of Nigeria was slowly tearing apart.33

Helen’s 1962 cartoon of Demanding Dick, 24 Mba Road office scene

 

 

 

The upshot of all this was important in terms of feminism:  I  became increasingly confrontational, an angry man. Helen’s 1962 cartoon here illustrates our situation. (A bit “intimidating“, one might say.)34

Christmastime in our basement apartment, Berkeley 1962

Returning to Berkeley,  Helen’s relationship with the more  “Assertive Man” moderated as Dick finished his dissertation in the spring of 1963, while

Helen detects the preposterous….

Helen worked to prepare for her own Ph.D. exams .35

I then landed a job teaching at Yale and we drove across country to New Haven, Connecticut and searched for housing there.

Phase Six: The “Magical Mystery Tour”:  Life in New Haven, 1963-72

360 Edwards St., New Haven Victorian Mansion converted as apartments for visiting faculty (et al)

Here, the back side of 360 Edwards Street, facing the rest of Yale Campus, running downhill to the south for many blocks — this provided an apartment for us for almost seven years (1964-70). Details in footnote. 36

Helen at a party for Anthro graduate students, 360 edwards St, 1965

While Helen was now a “Faculty Wife”, we  widened circles of interesting friends. Our lives intensified in many directions between 1963 and 66: I had to learn how to teach, and I did. We both worked Onitsha stuff into publication. Helen studied for her Berkeley Qualifying exams, passed them, returned home to start her dissertation.

From 1967,

we engaged many activities far beyond “academic”: local, state,  national, international politics — labor issues, black power, marching against the Vietnam War; the Civil War in Nigeria. Our Biafra efforts failed, but we met Anne-Marie Shimony, Head of Anthropology at Wellesley College, and in 1968 she offered Helen a job teaching at Wellesley (which of course Helen took.) This meant Helen commuted to Boston every week.37

Helen and I  differed profoundly in one crucial way:  I think she avoided exploring the wilderness of her own consciousness.38  I was a polar opposite: “opening the doors of perception” became my  goal years before we met.39

Kurt Anderson, Atlantic Sep 2017: “How America Lost its Mind”

So when psychedelics flowered at Yale in the mid-1960s, I leapt right in, and revelations permanently changed me. Helen  leaned toward impulse control — social science categories,  while I leaned sharply toward greater degrees of freedom — Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.40

Psychedelics have an important role in this phase of American history, but we can’t discuss it here.  Kurt Anderson blames psychedelics for American descent into our current chaos;  Beverly Seckinger has just finished her film on  “Hippy Family Values”, which I recommend to you all.

 By Spring in 1968, Helen was pregnant.

February 1969: Becoming acquainted with one of the lads in Grace New Haven Hospital

blooming out in many ways,41 and when twin sons  Kevin and Michael were born February 7, 1969, both parents were magically transformed.42.

They arrived home a week later, to a letter from Berkeley:  “Submit your completed dissertation  end of May, or you will be permanently dropped from our Program!”  This concentrated our minds, and we both mobilized. By the end of May her completed dissertation was mailed to Berkeley, she went there, defended it, her thesis advisor commented:   “This is a Feminist Tract.”  We both wondered what he meant, but  now returned to the other distractions absorbing our lives.

“The Feminist Tract”: 

See the website Appendix.  I will simply say this:  The entire work is a tour-de-force comparing  Igbo women’s differing ways and means of access to political power during the early historical period.43

From 1969 to 1971, the grand flood of activities

must be relegated to footnotes.44 45

In 1971, Dick was denied tenure at Yale.

Tie-dyed Dick with lads, New Haven 1971

Helen and lads with Judge Kreider in his chambers, Harrisburg PA 1971

I job-searched. Prospects near the East Coast were inviting, but these required me becoming Chair of Department, jobs that, I knew, I simply could not do. I wanted to go somewhere calmer.  So I flew to New Mexico and Arizona for interviews. 46
So I leapt at an offer from Arizona. And here is a mystery:  how did Helen and I discuss why I couldn’t stay East? I think I hardly consulted her at all, yet, I also have no memory of her disagreeing with this decision in any obvious way,47 and we moved as a family in June 1972.  I’ll return to this point later.

Phase Seven:  Wellesley Professor Becomes  Tucson “Faculty Wife”

Helen and a lad, summer arts class, St. Mark’s Church 1974

The University  of Arizona had something like a “Nepotism Rule”48 and Helen aroused no interest in the Anthro Department. 49

Here, she first got her sons established in local schools, while I soon became known as “the Hippie Professor”.50

So Helen began extending social networks where she could find people whose interests related to her own.  She located fellow-mothers who shared her desires to open the eyes of their children —  for example, she and a friend designed and taught a course  on Religions of the World for their class at Unitarian-Universalist Church.51.

And our own Kevin and Michael were very activie at this time.  They were three years old when we arrived in Tucson, and Helen was a strongly devoted mother for the next decade — some people thought she was too devoted, “overprotective”, she expected a lot — but I thought she was the best.  I’ll let my lads comment more about her mothering, should they care to.

Around the university, she built links with female professors52, briefly landed a job teaching at Pima Community College — but those doors were closed.  She commuted for a while to teach at ASU.53  She was not wasting her time:  she  met new worlds riding that slow-bus to Tempe, enlarging her grasp of “American Culture”: she brought back new social ideas to all of us.54

Then, In 1975, Helen faced a major crisis, caused by her husband’s wandering losses of impulse control.  (My son Kevin recently observed, “You went AWOL from the family for a while back then”.)  The fact is, she only faced it  by 1975, when I decided to tell her about my situation (too-much psychedelics, the affairs), and after she ran off in a reaction of pure rage (unique for her with me), she returned to accuse me of doing this to hurt her.  I replied, no, the opposite: I want you to know that I’m going to change!  We confronted each other.  At one point she hit me in the face with her fist, as hard as she could; I took it, said, yes, I deserve that. Do it again if you like. We then both calmed down.55

I provide these details56 because I think that moment was decisive  for our relationship:  from that point on, everything did change57. I started giving her wants priority, and58 she planned the next steps of her career.

“Six Trilobite Hunters” celebrate near Antelope Springs Utah 1976

Suspected “Mormon Patriarch” with Halen and Kevin, near Moab, Utah 1976

In the summer of 1976, the Kreider-Henderson family  embarked on a “round-the-Four-corners-states” trip with our boys plus the two Shimony sons from Wellesley, six of us in our Toyota Corona station wagon, on what

Near Utah’s Pink Sands

became a transformative adventure for us all.  We camped out in tents along the way, and immersed ourselves in the truly Awesome Creation that is the Colorado Plateau.  This was another step that changed our lives.59

 

 Phase Eight:  Helen expands her Feminist Research

Recall the political ferment brewing on the eastern seaboard when Helen’s dissertation appeared in 1969:  by 1977, this had become a dynamic feminist power group in Washington, which now pushed in new laws at the national level.   One was USAID’s creation of its Women in Development (WID) office in 1974, and this led to programs funding field research into women’s roles in  West African farming.  These programs aimed at land-grant colleges with strong agricultural faculties, so this kind of “women’s studies”  reached the UA campus in 1977 when the University of Arizona Arid Lands Studies Program was awarded a relevant grant.

Helen had local helpers,  so in 1977 she learned quickly about the  Arid Lands Niger Natural Resources Program.  While most of the men who commanded the project neither spoke French nor knew much about West Africa60, Helen, an expert in West African Anthropology,  had both the language and the area skills, but when she presented them, the bosses in charge showed little interest.

“Who do you know that you can use?”

We met a man at a party, where he took keen interest in Helen. She learned that he worked for the project, so she went to his office  and consulted him. He said, “Who do you know that you can use?”  Helen replied, “I couldn’t do something like that, ‘use’ somebody.”  He repeated the question.  Helen considered the few Washington DC connections we might have, and could only recall one:  “Well, we know Allan Hoben, he works with AID.”  Her new advisor replied, “That is the man who has  the job of evaluating this project!

Ever-brilliant Allan Hoben, Hot Springs Canyon April 1996

We were old friends of the Hobens, part of our old Berkeley cohort.61).  I telephoned Allan and reported our problem, learned he would  soon fly from DC to California, and he could  stop awhile Tucson.  We set a date, invited Arid Lands Niger Project officials to join us for a party, and  they attended in large numbers.  Allan circulated freely through the crowd, never mentioned Helen, and a week or so later Helen was invited  to join the project.

Helen in Falenko, Niger with her assistant Idi 1977

Helen now “got going”, off to Niger in West Africa, while Dick remained at home in charge of her boys (now eight years old), who worried about her a lot62.

Helen with wives of Falenko Chief, 1977

At left, Helen poses with the wives of the Falenko Chief, 1977.63

From Helen we  got air-mail letters,  from a strikingly different person:  less joking, more contemplative about working alone in the field, no longer fretting  “inadequacies”. The tales she told show that she had found “new ways”.64

“Gorko Madame” (Madame’s Man)

Helen and Dick in Koukoundi, Upper Volta Dec 1978

In  Fall 1978, Arid Lands again sent her to West Africa, this time to Upper Volta65 to work in a remote village for a project emphasizing food production by women.  I followed her in December solely for support, where I found her highly respected by everyone, from top AID people in Ouagadougou66 to small children of Koukoundi, who tended to gather round.  I could see I was dealing with a new Force of Nature.67

That new face….

 

Helen in her Koukoundi House December 1978

 

Grinding millet with Mossi women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From this time onward, Helen was team leader and I her assistant whenever she wanted , though her main activities  now became networking with women across the country and then across the globe, always pursuing feminist goals.68

 

Further Thoughts on Our Limited “Feminisms”

By late August I thought I had good grasp of the “feminist problem” in our relationship: the basic task of each communicating our felt needs to other, and listening to these differing perspectives — “sitting in circles”, as Gloria Steinem puts it.  We never quite did this — you might say, this was our failure to gain “Second-wave Feminism” with each other.

But memory is, as anthropologists and psychologists tell us, a very deceptive thing.  Once I had reconstructed where we didn’t do these tasks, I kept thinking back to each of those major decision-points of these phases.

First, to Phase Four, the cat in the tent.  I said that I was “adamant” that the cat should go.   It was a unilateral decision.

Second, what about the monumental Phase Six decision to leave Yale and come to Tucson?  As I said, I don’t remember the details around that particular time, but searching my mind through the broader time period, two occasions  came back to me — I’m going to say 1968, but on both of them I was suffering with my own hidden turmoils, on each occasion drinking — I “blew up” so to speak.  One time I was working on “My Great Book”, and something Helen said enraged me, so I shoved our record player so hard I damaged it.  I remember feeling good doing that.   A New York Times opinion piece for August 27, 2017 notes that  It feels good to victimize others (bullying), while it hurts the victimized.  That’s how bullying perpetuates itself.

So a light went  on in my head:  I INTIMIDATED Helen on some occasions when strong conflict emerged. I  became VIOLENT — “not directly at her”:  My mother had fixed this idea in me very strongly:  don’t physically burt people, but above all don’t physically hurt a FEMALE.  (But you can “throw something”, says the angry one.)

Now I turn to the third big decision moment, in Tucson, the time of my confession in 1975, when Helen thought I was trying to hurt her by presenting my news.   Sometime well before that — 1973, 4, — our two boys were now sapient on the scene, and again, I was in hidden turmoil — Helen and I had some kind of argument in the kitchen, the boys were present, and I threw a ceramic cup, against a wall — it shattered.  For me, the memory ended there, but when we talked about this some years back, my son Michael said, “I thought you were throwing it at ME!”

So here’s the thought regarding gender, feminism:  intimidating communications are likely to damage gender, and feminist interests pursued over time.

My father did that “acting out”, a very few times I was small, but those occasions  terrified me and later I felt contempt for him.  For Helen I know that Homer, her father, did some  of that, “acting out”69  Feelings of being coerced can operate on remote — stored in the memory of the participants.

In 1987, I took training in Conflict Mediation for the local program run through the city of Tucson, then I participated in mediating local conflicts for a number of years,  including cases involving domestic violence that had been referred to us by the courts.  I think it’s accurate to  say that we found, overall, that domestic violence cases were usually not amenable to mediation, because the problem of intimidation rooted so deeply in these cases.

Jon Haukur Ingimundarson, our first Icelander student here, tells me that this “Dick-the-Intimidator” image doesn’t fit, but he only arrived in Tucson in 1983.  I’m just guessing that mermories of “acting out” may inhibit later behaviors.  At this much later date –2017 — perhaps we’ll have to wait for other voices who have not yet spoken.

(1980s “family counselling”:  “Who’s the leader in this family?” (There didn’t appear to be one.)

(Here, allow me to add another thought regarding the landmark decision made in 1972, in light of its impact on the people at this Symposium: if we had stayed in the east, Helen in 1972 at Wellesley would have become merely a part of a large crowd swarming into feminist movements at the time.  As it happened, substantially later, in Arizona from 1977 to 2001, she became immensely valuable in building strong feminisms right here in UA  Anthropology. There was a big time-gap in the politics of these two locations, and her role here was hugely important during the 1977-2001 period. I  personally am very happy we came here, but as regards Helen’s opinion on this, we may never know.)

Afterword:  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-Ci, 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, and hopefully could observe and record the funeral.

Nkisi Aroli Street; Helen fell farther down this hill. The road was heavily pot-holed.

Our Nkisi-Aroli house. Note the large drainage ditches; Helen fell uphill from here

The story of this journey belongs elsewhere70.  Let it suffice here to observe:  the research process began very well, but ended abruptly in our second night in Onitsha when Helen, accompanying a group of women walking uphill from our house along a deeply pot-holed road in pitch darkness,  fell into a large drainage ditch and broke her ankle. 71 After desperate searching through the darkened city72, her rescue party 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).73

Helen lands in the “Bishop’s Room”! With Nneka (at right), Nneka’s sister, and Francis Omekam (our main guide throughout our visit)

The Ndi-Igbo doctors at St. Charles Borromeo hospital gave Helen excellent care.

Helen escapes her confinement. Everyone remarked about her cheerfulness throughout this experience.

Leaving St. Charles Borromeo in Francis’s car. This vehicle took us everywhere in Onitsha that Francis deemed it was safe for us to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kristin Loftsdottir, now a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland, arrived in Tucson the late summer of 1992, as a beginning graduate student in UA Anthropology. Helen had just undergone the necessary surgeries to repair her broken ankle, and was bedridden at the time.  Kristin sent me these comments regarding what appears above:

I will never forget that moment. You invited Arni and me to come by your house. I was very stressed and everything seemed so new and a little confusing because I did not know what was expected of me. You showed us in and there Helen was sitting in her chair and when we walk in she would smile this very special smile of hers that was both so kind and so full of life and almost a little mischievous. I did not understand nearly all what she was saying and what was happening because she was talking and laughing, calling “Dick, Dick, get them this, show them that…”  It was wonderful! So welcoming, so unexpected. I did not know then of course how welcome I would feel every time in your home, how kind you both would be to me.
I remember when I stayed at your house when I did the preliminary defense. It felt like home, and l loved the bedroom I stayed with Helen’s beautiful dolls from her childhood.
Perhaps you should mention Helen as inspiration to her graduate students, her kindness toward them and how ready she was also to listen and give input. It would almost always be a cheerful moment full of laughter!

 

We visited Kristin and her family in Hafnarfjiordur in 1997, where I took this photo of them at dinner with Helen:

Appendix:  Her “Feminist Tract” — “Ritual Roles of Women in Onitsha Ibo Society” (1969)

 

Isiokwe Daughters cleanse the feet of their men (One has departed)

Senior Daughter of Umuanyo has the right to purify all lineage houses (New Yam Festival)

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).

UmuOrezeabo ritual near Shrine to Mothers (Childbirth)

Shrine to the Ancestral Daughters of Eke-na-Ubene descent group

Virginal Daughters of Umu-Anyo run in anger; one of theirs has died

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)74, how rights and duties, beliefs and obligations are distributed, enacted and disputed

Virginal Daughters of Umu-Anyo run in anger; one of theirs has died

Village Wives of Umu-EzeAroli gather for a man’s Elevation

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 groups75.  The entire work is a tour-de-force, given the data available at the time.

 

  1. 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 ↩]
  2. Bureau of  Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona. [Return ↩]
  3. Homer and Nita had feared they would never have children;  40-year-old Nita’s father-in-law (the patriarch), a homeopathic doctor, insisted she merely had “a floating kidney”, but Helen’s birth disconfirmed this hypothesis. [Return ↩]
  4. 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 ↩]
  5. Here we’re looking somewhat later, to her teens [Return ↩]
  6. 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 Press Corps questions by elaborately meandering speech. [Return ↩]
  7. And throughout her father’s lifetime to some extent it was; we heard many stories regarding his behavior, and witnessed a lot of it directly also. [Return ↩]
  8. I think she was caught up in some version of the “Feminine Mystique”.  A graduate student who met Helen’s mother briefly in New Haven referred to her as a “Painted Woman” — Nita  elaborately constructed her face. [Return ↩]
  9. Was she overprotective?  This was definitely a disadvantage for Helen in later years. [Return ↩]
  10. 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.  In 1954, when one of her Freshman 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 ↩]
  11. For example, she briefly palled around a bit with Joyce Carol Oates (they would ditch P.E. together), and  while Helen spoke of writing her own “Great American Novel”, Joyce Carol of course did (and more than once). [Return ↩]
  12. Some might sneer at such talk a bit in 2017,  but for her at the time this meant forging a new long-term goal. [Return ↩]
  13. When Helen questioned  his hitting the gin while driving his VW bug (tossing the empties out on the streets as he went), he replied “because driving is so boring”. [Return ↩]
  14. He drew for her a quite sophisticated cartoon, displaying himself as a “Yogurth Beast” eating his way through a crowd of “shmoo-like” beings, all of them hopping-ready to be chewed alive into his gut. [Return ↩]
  15. 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, and eventually “came out” as a Holocaust-Denier. [Return ↩]
  16. New Mexico in 1958 had provided a link  to Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, then-new integrator of social and behavioral sciences. Harry Basehart arrived at UNM  with a Harvard Ph.D. in 1955; he was also 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 ↩]
  17. 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 ↩]
  18. This was a redwood-shingle-sided 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 ↩]
  19. One way we did this was to go camping.  On one long trip into the Marble Mountains of Northern California, Helen spoke with passion about our “primitive” moments together. [Return ↩]
  20. We co-participated in seminars, in which I starred while she first found hardship.  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; however, she gained real respect when she wrote a paper for the hominid evolution seminar, 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 ↩]
  21. But I later learned she never cared much for camping.  Her motives for the earlier enthusiasms seem dubious. I think that while courting  she used some subtle tactics learned from her mother  — see Phase 1-A.  In later years, we camped a few times; in all these other cases  I think the social bonding made the (often uncomfortable) effort seem worthwhile to her. [Return ↩]
  22. 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. Dick’s learning from this phase remains too bottomlessly painful to analyse. [Return ↩]
  23. I think I got the grant because a pair of people would pursue it. [Return ↩]
  24. We had no time to research Igbo culture, but stopping en route in Helen’s hometown Harrisburg, Helen’s grandmother, who everyone regarded (with good reason) as a warm-heart-saint, smiled in meeting Dick and gave him  her sage advice:  “Be sure to stay away from the Blacks!” [Return ↩]
  25. Among speakers of Igbo, 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 ↩]
  26. I 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. (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 ↩]
  27. Cross-cutting this major ethnic divide was a large “Western-educated elite” — nearly all lived in the Waterside but they were strongly divided along the ethnic lines just described.  Our tack was to contact elites when we needed them, but we did not engage them everyday.  Both economically and culturally, it made sense for us to focus mainly on the Inland Town. [Return ↩]
  28. Robert and Barbara LeVine, field workers on the Six Cultures Study of Child Socialization at Harvard under John Whiting, gave us direction in this. [Return ↩]
  29. Since she lacked language facility, she found it hard to engage women. It did seem that most women she consulted had much less to say. This was an illusion, but a real gulf in Western Education access for women made it seem so, and Helen did not succeed in breaking these barriers. [Return ↩]
  30. Helen continued her court cases, and she also became the primary typist of our many field notes (though I did a lot of this also).  Helen’s mother Nita would have been appalled — she had pointedly 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 to her. [Return ↩]
  31. since the “TRADITIONAL”  procedures of succession to Throne now became  issues, politically charged; the “Onitsha Ibos” now saw me as deserving respect and interest, thinking 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 ↩]
  32. After Lumumba’s death in the Congo, local protesters gathered on the streets of Onitsha, held militant marches, and European-appearing people became open targets of abuse [Return ↩]
  33. we watched, with some dismay. Together, the national and international scenes drew us together, despite our obvious interpersonal tensions. [Return ↩]
  34. To summarize “Phase Five”:   both Helen and I matured greatly, and despite all our problems we stayed bonded (Our fieldwork experts  had told us that husband-wife fieldwork is a supreme test for any marriage, and we passed that test.) When we left Nigeria,  vacations in Rome, Cologne, and London soothed our  haggard lives . (All of this touring was financed by Helen’s mother, who as a person dedicated to the fine arts strongly urged us to tour  Rome and Florence.  Here I insert a point that is relevant in several situations of our lives together:  transitions, sharp changes in ” ritual context”, were very important  —  entering “Awesome Experiences” can make powerful healings in people’s lives; our trip to grand cities, the hill country of Orvieto, Florence et al — a tremendously stimulating but also relaxing period as anger melted in situations so different from what had gone before. See  the 29 July 2017 issue of New Scientist for a useful discussion of how “Feeling Awe Makes People Happier and Less Stressed”. [Return ↩]
  35. Clifford Geertz was there, she took a course from him.  Geertz participated in progressive national-political protests  arising in Berkeley at that time, but we stayed

    single-minded, largely passive toward these oppositions to the “House Un-American Activities Committee”, budding “Free Speech” movements, the stirring of “Black Power” , etc. [Return ↩]

  36. 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 ↩]
  37. Hillary Clinton was there at the time; ’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.  Hillary spoke at her own graduation in 1969, receiving a 2 minute ovation. I don’t think Helen attended that event, and I have no idea if Wellesley campus politics touched Helen in any way. [Return ↩]
  38. I have lots of evidence for this from my own viewpoint, though others who knew her may remember differently.  One example, but I think it revealing:  when Helen’s Alzheimer’s became obvious to many after 2000, she steadfastly refused to face it: looking into that interior prospect was just off-limits.  This is just one case example among many. [Return ↩]
  39. As a late-teen-ager in an Air Force barrack, I read Sigmund Freud and Aldous Huxley, et al, and  Huxley’s views about “the doors of perception” 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 ↩]
  40. I insert this here, not quite sure how it links to our prime issue of  “feminism”, though somehow it does:  as I see it, during this time, Helen adopted strong “social-science realism” studying “women’s access to power in traditional Onitsha”, while my categories  and behavior regarding sexuality and gender, for example, widened.  Kurt  Anderson’s essay here suggests that these psychedelic “New Age” ideas:  “All you need is love”; Peace, not war, the Hippies celebrating at left, undermined America’s formerly shared views of “reality”,  thus launched all sorts of weird “alternative realities”, spreading a cognitive and moral chaos that now — seven decades later —  engulfs us all.

    He claims that, before psychedelics,  American cognitive disorders were largely confined within the “demonizing religions” of our past, but now anything or anyone can demonize (or be demonized), breeding chaos.  My take is,  it’s partly true, but 1960s “freeing of consciousness’ also helped propel a number of important movements — the massive political marches on Washington against an evil war, and  the power surge of “The Women’s Movement” itself.

    Freeing of consciousness may have value  — if it retains links to impulse control. But there’s part of the rub.  I take Oliver Sacks as my guide in these matters.  Sachs’s works over the past 45 years provide just one example of how far cultural-psychological understandings have progressed since that time. [Return ↩]

  41. 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 ↩]
  42. Into loving ones — major social/psychological changes,  I will not talk about here [Return ↩]
  43. She even briefly considered the Yoruba. In all these cases  she asked what factors appear to favor political weakness in one domain, for example (Collective Wives),  strengths in another (lineage Daughters), and so on.  Helen’s work received strong positive reception in universities along the eastern corridor, but so focused were each of us elsewhere that we just “let it go”. [Return ↩]
  44. Helen and I organized a Relief Fund for Biafran Children and I organized both protests on campus against Federal Policies toward the Biafra War, and a symposium offering prominent speakers on the topic.  Stanley Diamond and I tried to organize anthropologists, but this failed.   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 ↩]
  45. We both did  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 The March on Washington in 1967, 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 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 ↩]
  46. My attachments to the West have always been profound. All of my roots were in the West:  Mountain Wyoming, from the Tetons and Yellowstone to the Bighorns, Powder, North Platte and many other Rivers; the southwestern deserts from Utah to Mohave-California; Coastal California; the uplands of New Mexico. I loved them all, and never felt close to the East.  Seeing the Arizona Uplands of the Sonoran Desert around the University of Arizona, and the people working in UA Anthro at the time, enchanted me. [Return ↩]
  47. Photographs of her at this time do suggest a pensive turn, but (again, to my memory) she did not complain. [Return ↩]
  48. excluding spouses of faculty from holding positions, though the Department of anthropology did boast one husband-wife pair of professors. [Return ↩]
  49. Feminism appeared to have little hold in 1972  Tucson — “Women’s Libbers” were described dismissively, for example, and  “Faculty Wives” were of no more relevance here than at Yale. [Return ↩]
  50. I began offering new courses, often on subjects for which I had little prepared. My reluctance to deal with complex social situations marginalized me in the Department, but I interacted with some graduate students well. [Return ↩]
  51. Claire Scheuren was an essential support  for Helen’s self-worth at this time.  For the children who experienced their particular course, some eyes must have been widely opened indeed. [Return ↩]
  52. Myra Dinnerstein in the History Department, later Women’s Studies, always acted as an especially valuable  and influential friend. [Return ↩]
  53. That too was not a viable prospect [Return ↩]
  54. Including new views of “the West”. For example, Helen encountered some “Sons of the Pioneers” on this bus, and one time chanced to sit beside Shadow Ray, my old  Casper (Wyoming) Basketball Coach,  who now Snow-birded between Wyoming and Coolidge, and talked with her about old times in the Casper of 1949. She listened to radio programs from rural Arizona, and brought us all social reports. [Return ↩]
  55. This brief statement covers a bit of what was in fact a decisive year for us: we had to decide about the future of our marriage, and full commitment was the issue we  did resolve.  Loyalty accrued for good things past must also have been a strong factor in our remaining together, and abandoning psychedelics carried me out from what had become a deep hole  in my life. [Return ↩]
  56. This is viewed by some of my commenters as giving too much detail, “embarrassing”, “Sullying Helen”, “enemies will use it against you”. [Return ↩]
  57. Slowly, and through my own consistent  — and now supportive — behavior [Return ↩]
  58. I’m guessing this, because we never opened up  very much with each other [Return ↩]
  59. 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, mostly silent, endlessly-embracing place. [Return ↩]

  60. One senior figure always spoke knowingly of  “The African farmer, he….”;  another, possessing no facility with French whatever, created some very comical moments, for example when he boldly typed out a Program for a meeting with visiting Niger officials, sprinkling his few French words through the text in most bizarre fashion. [Return ↩]
  61. 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 ↩]
  62. And also suffered some very low-standard cooking –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 fairly well. [Return ↩]
  63. Helen writes, “These women are cloistered: their husband buys wood and brings water, so they remain in the compound during daylight hours. Because they are cloistered, they do not have to work in the fields. They are dressed alike, since Muslim law requires that all wives be treated equally.” [Thanks to Nancy Ferguson for unearthing this photo.] [Return ↩]
  64. We have somehow misplaced all these letters — I hope to find them sometime as we continue exploring her “archives”, recalling more about this time.  I have a copy of her report on the project (again, thanks to Nancy Ferguson). [Return ↩]
  65. Now Burkina Faso. [Return ↩]
  66. The Director of the project, who met her at a party, observed her in action, leaned close and said, “Vous et Unoubliable“. [Return ↩]
  67. 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 ↩]
  68. While I became a “bit player” after 1977, I’m proud to say we 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. [Return ↩]
  69. As Nita said, “Don’t ever let a man know that you can type” — that meant, coercion of female is likely to follow. [Return ↩]
  70. see the Aftermaths Chapter in AmightyTree, where it is outlined but not yet developed. [Return ↩]
  71. Dick 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 ↩]
  72. One person recommended the “Evolution Hospital” where there was said to be a “good bone doctor”.  Driving there, we found a massive three-storey building, entirely dark except for what appeared to be a single candle burning far upstairs.  Helen said to Nneka, “Please don’t put me in there!” [Return ↩]
  73. See “Scatterings of Truth” in Chapter 8 “Asides” in Amightytree, where Dick recounts one of his own brief adventures during this time. [Return ↩]
  74. 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 ↩]
  75. 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 ↩]