Edward H. Spicer

Edward H. Spicer
Edward Holland Spicer

(1906-11-25)November 25, 1906
DiedApril 5, 1983(1983-04-05) (aged 76)

Edward Holland "Ned" Spicer was an American Anthropologist who combined the four-field approach outlined by Franz Boas and trained in structural-function approach of Radcliffe-Brown and the University of Chicago. He joined the anthropology faculty at the University of Arizona in 1946 and retired from teaching in 1976. Spicer contributed to all four field of anthropology through his study of the American Indians, the Southwest, and the clash of cultures so clearly defined in his award-winning book, Cycles of Conquest. Spicer combined the elements of historical, structural, and functional analysis to address the question of socio-cultural change. He was a teacher, researcher, editor, and practitioner, who applied his perspective to address the problems confronting the peoples he worked with. As a teacher, he pointed out the problem to his students and guided them to seek out their own solutions. In this regard, Spicer was a coach who trained generations of students and others to employ the anthropological perspective.

Early life -- growing up and education (1906 - 1924)[edit]

Edward Holland Spicer was born on November 25, 1906 in Cheltenham, PA. He was the youngest of three sons born to Robert Barclay Spicer and Margaret Jones Spicer. The Spicers’ first son died several years before Edward, known as Ned, was born. Their second son was William (Bill), who was born several years later. Ned was the youngest of the family.

In 1908, Robert, who was a Quaker, moved his family to Arden, Delaware where he took a job as editor of the Quaker journal, The Friends Intelligencia. Arden was founded in 1900 by a Quaker group as a single tax community based on the principle of Henry George. There Ned and Bill were exposed to the liberal economic and political ideas discussed in the community. They also took part in the annual summer Shakespearean Theater. Arden provided a pleasant rural setting in which the boys absorbed the skills and values of the intellectual atmosphere of the founder.

Robert was fired from his editor's post because of his ultra-liberal views. As a result, he turned to truck farming. It was here that Bill and Ned were introduced to the farming life. They helped with the daily raking and hoeing of the plants and vegetables. They tended to the animals that included goats and rabbits and helped the household out by hauling firewood for the house and water from the town pump.

In keeping with the local practice, Margaret home schooled the boys. The mothers in the community, took in the neighbor's children for schooling into their homes for a month at a time, and then switched off with another mother. Ned attended these schools until he was 13. During this period, he learned to read and developed a lifelong love for books and writing. From his father, Ned gained knowledge about philology. By the time he was 12, he was copying words and text of the Algonquin (Delaware) language. Ned also displayed a deep interest and curiosity in Nature and the natural environment in and around Arden. It was here that he spent time learning and memorizing the scientific names of local plants and animals.

At 13, he began his formal education. His parents enrolled Ned in the Friends School in nearby Wilmington. There Ned commuted from home to the school by train daily for the next 3 years. His formal education was interrupted in 1922, when his father moved the family to Louisville, Kentucky. There Robert took a job with the Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. There in Louisville, Ned was enrolled at the Louisville Male High School.

While in Louisville, Ned developed his interests in sailing. He built a canoe and outfitted it with a sail. There he sailed and cruised around the Ohio River. In February, 1924, Ned graduated and planned to enroll in college. He left home and enrolled in the Commonwealth College in New Llano Louisiana. Commonwealth College was an experimental institution that featured class and experiential training.

Wandering –- A period of exploration (1924 - 1932)[edit]

After 2 months, he and his friend, Vic, dropped out and went to New Orleans to find work as seamen. Vic, being a little older, succeeded in finding a job on a merchant ship. Ned was on his own until he found a job as “cook’s helper” on the Aquarius, a merchant ship, going to Germany. Ned first international travel brought him to post-war Germany where he visited Bremerhaven, Stettin and Hamburger[1] where he witnessed a different world. Upon his return to Louisville he found his father, Robert, dying of cancer.

Following his father's death, he and his mother returned to Wilmington where they found employment at the Greenwood Bookstore. Louisville had been a mixed period in Ned's life. While he enjoyed his experiences on the river and building of the boat,[2] it was also a period of mixed emotions, introspection and self-doubt common to teenage boys.[3] Ned turned 18 in November. He continued to work at the bookstore until finally he found himself drawn back to the sea.

In early 1925, Ned returned to the sea, first as a crewman on the banana boat, Metapan, that left New Orleans for Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. According to his wife, Rosamond, that experience ended Ned's interest in eating bananas.[4] Upon return he signed on to the ore ship, John C. Coolidge, on the Great Lakes.[5] A seaman's strike that year, however, ended Ned's career as a seaman.

In the Fall of 1925, Ned enrolled at the University of Delaware (U of D), planning to major in Chemistry. He had enjoyed the chemistry classes in Louisville and thought of a career as a chemist with Dupont, there in Wilmington. These plans were short lived when he found the chemistry being taught at the University was not what he expected. He changed major to literature and drama. Ned's mother had encouraged her son to explore literature and encourage his poetry writing.[6] During his time at the U of D, Ned joined the Footlight Club and acted in several plays. He joined the compulsory ROTC program, despite his Quaker upbringing, and rose to the rank of cadet Captain. He also studied German during his two years there.[7])

While at the U of D, he wrote a paper entitled “Is there Race Superiority?” that awakened an interest in the social sciences.[8] One of the courses he took was in economics [9] As a child, Ned and his brother, Bill, were raised in a socialist environment.[10] He would later remark, “In my youth I had been strongly influenced … by Scott Netting, the radical economists at the Wharton School … who was a friend of my father.”.[11]

During his sophomore year he heard about the new program at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, a Quaker institution. Under the new program undergraduates were allowed to take graduate level courses before they had received their bachelor's degree.[12] In the Fall of 1927, Ned transferred to John Hopkins switching to a Social Science major.

While in Baltimore, he lived with two maiden aunts, sisters to his father.[13] He chose to take some of his social science at the graduate level. He found the liberal environment at John Hopkins welcoming. He helped to found a student club, The Young Radicals, and served as President of the club. The Young Radicals brought together students who had a socialist leaning. Writing a paper based on his experience during the seamen's strike, he gave the paper, “Theory of Hours and Production” to a graduate level seminar.

This was also a period of introspection where he questioned his choices and goals. He expressed himself through poetry.[14] In his second year at John Hopkins, he found that political economy was not really where his interests were.[15] Despite a full scholarship, Ned dropped out of college in 1928 without completing his degree. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis. He entered the Maryland State Sanatorium where he spent most of the year.

While in the sanatorium, he worked in the hospital laboratory doing sputum analysis for all the patients in the sanatorium. He read and developed and interest in astronomy. He spent nights in August and November charting meteor showers and sending his observation to the National Observatory in Washington, DC.[16] Years later he would have an asteroid (“ 2065 Spicer”) named after him for his help in negotiations between the Papago (Tohono O’odham) in 1955 and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy to obtain a site for the National Observatory at Kitt Peak on the reservation.[17]

Ned left the hospital in 1928 and faced the question, “What to do next?”. Opening a map of the US and closing his eyes, Ned stuck his finger on the map and it landed on Arizona [18] With help from his mother, he bought a bus ticket to Phoenix. There he found a number of jobs to support himself and a place to stay. Ned obtained a position the Arizona Agricultural Inspection Service serving as an inspector in Yuma and in Salome. Despite a diagnosis of “small pox” which might have really been “valley fever,” he was able to continue his job although he was quarantined the Yuma Pest House. Meanwhile, he had decided to complete his BA in economics and was saving his money to go the University of Arizona. When the Depression hit and the bank where he had placed his saving failed, the job would be a lifesaver however, postponing his plans for a year. By the end of the 1930, he had saved up enough to enroll at the University of Arizona with an economics major.

Studying -- University Training (1931 – 1946)[edit]

In the Fall of 1931, he was able to enroll at the U of A and moved to Tucson. There he discovered that, in order to complete his major, all that was required was one advanced course in economic theory. He completed his undergraduate course requirements and earned his BA degree with a major in Economics and Senior Honors. (Officer 1995: 329).

While completing his BA course work, he enrolled in a course on southwestern Indians with Clara Lee Frapps (Tanner). Here he discovered his love for archaeology. Dr. Dean Byron Cummings headed the Department of Archaeology at the University at the time. Cummings, who liked to explore for sites on weekends, invited Ned to go with him. These trips enforced Ned’s interest and skills in archaeology. He collected pot sherds on these trips and brought them home to be sorted, cataloged, and analyzed. Skills that would lay the foundation for his MA degree] (R. Spicer 1990:11) In Summer of 1932, Ned work on the King’s Ruin Site and wrote his MA thesis on King’s Ruin analyzing the pottery specimens from the site. He found that the “black on gray” motif was similar to other material found in the Upper Verde Valley. But there was enough difference to identify them as a sub-class that he called, Prescott Black on Gray.) Ned also worked on the Apache Reservation at the Kinishba site that year (R. Spicer 1990:11)’ The 1932-33 school year, an opportunity developed to excavate the Tuzigoot ruin. The Depression caused many miners to become unemployed at the United Verde Copper Company, a major employer in Yavapai County. To offset this, Grace Sparkes, Chamber of Commerce secretary envisioned excavation of ruins at Tuzigoot in Clarkdale, near Prescott, AZ. (R. Spicer 1990: 11).

Ned and Louis R. Caywood were hired to do the job under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (CWA), later the WPA. They organized the project with Ned supervisor of the dig and Louis in charge of the lab. Ned’s Mother came out to help on the kitchen and housekeeping. Harry Getty later joined to help with the Supervision. The project and partial reconstruction of site was completed in 10 months (R. Spicer 1990:11). Today, you can visit Tuzigoot National Monument (see National Park site link to.)

When the Tuzigoot excavation was finished, Ned went to work at the Museum of Northern Arizona. There he worked with Dr. Harold S. Colton and Lyndon Lane Hargrave analyzing artifacts from Pueblo I pithouses in the San Francisco Mountains. May, 1933, Ned gave his first formal report on the pottery at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Las Cruces, New Mexico (Watson Smith 1983: 76). At the time, Ned was deeply interested in an archaeological career but not a Ph.D.

In the 1932-33 school year, an event occurred that was to have a major impact on Ned’s career and his life. John Provinse joined the faculty at the University of Arizona to begin his first teaching job. Among the courses that Ned took with Province, were “History of Anthropology” and “Primitive society” (ASM Spicer Archive Box 1). Ned observed that “in the classroom he [Provinse] radiated a deep conviction that the social sciences ought to be used practically, and at the same time, fostered skepticism and caution about facile claims for them.” (Edward H. Spicer 1966: 991)

Provinse seems to have seen something in the young Spicer and encouraged him to go on for a PhD. Ned later wrote, “John Provinse … urged me to go to the University of Chicago. In an exploratory mood, I went and met Radcliffe-Brown and Redfield. From then on I was under the spell of social anthropology.” ( Quote from R. Spicer 1990:12).

Ned applied to the University of Chicago for the 1934-35 school year. Dr. Fay-Cooper Cole, “Papa Cole,” headed the department at the time. Ned was accepted and given a full scholarship. He also worked for Redfield cataloguing and managed Redfield’s office library. Ned and Rosamond (Ros) Brown met while working together on a departmental seminar on India in basement of main library (R. Spicer 1990: 12).

In the winter of 1935, Ned had a hemorrhage and was taken to Flint Goodrich Hospital on the university campus. There Ned remained until late Fall 1935 with a diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis. Ros remarked that later the doctors believed it was ‘valley fever” acquired in his days as an agricultural inspector Neither Ned nor his family had the funds needed to pay the hospital. Dr. Cole found the funds to pay for the stay (R. Spicer 1990: 12 -13).

Cole suggested that Ros take notes for Ned and take them to him while he was in the hospital. This way he could receive credit for the courses. (RS 1990:13, ASM Spicer Achieve Box 1, folders 25 - 38) While in the hospital, Ned did not waste his time. He read extensively - one of these was Elementary Forms of Religion by Emil Durkheim. When Ned was released from the hospital Redfield, Cole, and Provinse arranged for him to return to Tucson and work at the Arizona State Museum analyzing Indian skeletal materials. They also provided him with financial support. (RS 1990: 13)

In June 1936, Ned and Ros were married by her father in Chicago (Officer 1995). They honeymooned in Tucson at the Yaqui village of Pascua and began their research on their respective thesis. (R. Spicer 1988: ). Ned’s research project was suggested by John Provinse. Ros described their experience of moving in, learning the language, and creating a place in the local community. (R.S 1988: People of Pascua “Fifty Years ….” ). Thus, was formed a bond and partnership that would last until Rosamond's death in 1999. (insert link to Rosamond site in Wikipedia) as well as a life long bond with the Yaquis and Yaqui culture.

The Spicers completed their field work in 1937 and Ned began looking for job. His contacts at the University of Chicago heard of a temporary opening for the Fall semester at Dillard University, an all-Black College in New Orleans. Here, over the next two years, they experienced another world. One that was very different from the Anglo world of the University of Chicago. Among the courses Ned taught at Dillard during this period were: “Primitive Society”, “Minority Peoples in the US,” and “The Concept of Race.”

Between the 1937 – 1939 period, Ned wrote a draft of his dissertation. After presenting the first draft to his dissertation advisor, Dr. Robert Redfield, he was devastated for weeks, according to Ros. Redfield observed, “This is fine as an ethnographic field report, but where is your thesis?” (R. Spicer 1990:13). Ned had to completely rewrite the dissertation. He turned to Radcliffe-Brown for guidance in reshaping his dissertation. Ned was awarded his Ph.D. in 1939. He published his dissertation through the University of Chicago Press in 1940, as Pascua, A Yaqui Village in Arizona. He and Ros also began work on a second book, “The People of Pascua”, which was not completed at the time. Later, Rosamond completed and published the book posthumously in 1988. (footnote here about the circumstances).

In the Fall of 1939, Ned took an interim position at the University of Arizona to fill in for Harry Getty who had gone back to the University of Chicago to finish his Ph.D. studies. During this time, he met Malinowski, who was visiting the U of A (Troy 1999). They discussed Ned’s interpretation of the Yaqui ceremonials, which Malinowski memorialized in a letter to Ned (quoted in Troy). As a result, Ned’s structural-functionalism tended to shift from that of Radcliff-Brown toward the Malinowskian perspective.

It would seem that Ned had completed his period of Study with the awarding of the PhD and beginning an academic career. In the Spring of 1940, he applied for a Guggenheim Grant to conduct research among the Yaqui in Sonora, Mexico. He received the grant and began his study in the Fall of 1941. The study was cut short by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of WWII. Mexico, declaring its neutrality, expelled all Americans from the country. Ned’s career, just beginning, would take another turn.

1941 – 1946 was period of transition for the Spicer Family. Like many social scientists and especially anthropologist, teaching and research activity was curtailed or redirected in the United States to serve the war effort. Ned served the war effort in the War Relocation Program first as the community analyst at the Poston WRA Camp on the Poston Indian Reservation(?) under the leadership of Dr. Alexander Leighton (Leighton 1946 Governing of Men) Later, the family would move to Washington DC were Ned served as head of the Community Analyst Program within the WRA. (Edward H. Spicer 1946) While in Washington, he helped to form the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). The new organization was led by his former mentor, John Provinse, who served as the first President (1941-44?).

With the end of the Second World War, many anthropologists returned to their academic careers. Others found new careers in the post war world. Provinse tried to encourage Ned to seek a position in applied anthropology. However, when offered a faculty position at the University of Arizona, he decided to accept the position. This began his career for the next 37 years.

Working -- Career Achievements (1946 - 1983)[edit]

With his temporary appointment to the Anthropology Department at the University of Arizona, Edward H. Spicer began is career as a professional anthropologist. It was a career that would be broad in scope and influential on many fronts. Ned was one of the last links between a Boasian four field anthropologist and a modern day theoretical and applied anthropologist.

With the open of WWII, many US anthropologists were drawn into the war effort. Each is a story in itself. For Ned, it was to be drawn into one of the sadness in American 20th century history. This was the War Relocation Administration charged with the removal and oversight of the Japanese (American citizens and Immigrants) from the U.S> West Coast. This has become a well-documented chapter in the history of anthropology and the WWII effort. And, for Ned, it was his introduction to “applied” anthropology.

Ned’s role was first to set-up the community analysis section at the Poston Az WRA camp.[see Leighton 1946, Leighton and Spicer 1946] and later to administer the national program from Washington, DC. Ned documented the role of CA Office in the 1946 report, later published in 1969 as Impounded People. The report and later publication established one of the styles that Ned would use throughout his career, that of the write- editor. While in Washington, Ned joined, as a founding member, the Society for Applied Anthropology headed by John Provinse as President. He would serve as Vice President of the Society in 1946(?}-- . Later (1976) he was awarded the SfAA’s Malinowski Award, the highest award for service to applied anthropology. Ned’s feelings about the role of applied anthropology would be ambient. He is quoted as saying, “[See Officer 1990]

Spicer viewed “applied anthropology” as a very serious and responsible activity throughout his working career. Unlike many of the “applied” anthropologist of the period he did not leave a “Spicer School” of students. Yet his impact is to be measured in terms of the number of students that he trained who became applied anthropologists (Officer 1990: p. ); in the number of situations he found himself involved in that called for an applied anthropological perspective; and the number of publications (18) on the subject that he produced during his career from 1946 – 1983.

Among these were organizing and editing a series of symposia on the issue related to training in the application of anthropology to field situations. In the introduction to Human Problems and Technological Change 1952 he expressed his definition of applied anthropology in the following terms.

“Changing people’s customs is an even more delicate responsibility than surgery. When a surgeon takes up his instruments, he assumes responsibility for a human life. ... The administrator of a program of technological change carries a heavier responsibility. Whenever he seeks to alter a people’s way of life, he is dealing not with one individual, but with the well-being and happiness of generations of men and woman.”(p. 13)

The key concept that Spicer learned at the University of Chicago was the importance of “acculturation” in the study of societies and cultures and applying a structural-functional point of view. In Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change, 1962), and healthcare Ethnic Medicine in the Southwest, 1977 among others, he lead and edited seminars that explored this concept. Spicer chose teaching and research as the basis for his career, despite Provinse’s urging that he make applied anthropology his career. Once he joined the faculty of the University of Arizona, he found a home. It was here that he could pursue his many interests applied and academic.

A glance at his 100 publications reveals his commitment to the Yaqui and Yaqui history and socio-cultural dynamics. From his community study Pascua: A Yaqui Village in Southern Arizona (1940) evolved questions that called for a broader perspective. These lead to his most successful project – Cycles of Conquest [19] This book won the Southwestern Library Association's 1964 award for Best Book on the Southwest. Cycles pointed to the complexity of the acculturation concept as it affected the contact between native peoples and different “conquerors”. He was in the process of developing the ideas that came from that research at the time of death. His wife, Rosamond published his thoughts on the subject in a paper entitled, “The Nations of a State” that appeared in 1992 [20].

Once Ned had decided on his career trajectory, he committed to it completely. Early on in his career, he joined the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and was one of the founding members of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). He served as Vice President of the latter in 1947-48 and in 1976 the Society for Applied Anthropology honored Spicer with its Bronislaw Malinowski Award. Spicer's acceptance speech at its meeting in St. Louis was entitled "Beyond Analysis and Explanation? Notes on the Life and Times of the Society for Applied Anthropology". While throughout his career he served on many panels, organizations, and received a number of awards, the AAA was where Spicer’s work and influence was most effective.

He served as Editor of the American Anthropologist from 1960-1963. He was elected President of the AAA in 1972 to serve as President for the 1973-74 term. A very critical time in the life of the Association. He identified three major issues that the profession faced. (1) First, "the old and possibly insoluble" problem of the integration of anthropology. (2) the problem of understanding ourselves as anthropologists in relation to the society in which we operate, especially jobs and the Committee on Ethics. And (3) a widening of anthropology presences by international meetings that signified the internationalization of the discipline. One might add the issue of professional ethics that dominated the late 1960s.

In 1978, he served on AAA's Committee on Anthropology as a Profession (CAP). The CAP discussed, among other matters, the recent proliferation of specializations in anthropology and the resulting loss of a sense of common direction among anthropologists. Ned was one of two members of the Committee along with Eliot D Chapple to prepare brief statements on this theme. These were published in the AAA’s October Newsletter. This set-in motion the reorganization of the AAA that would be completed in the 1980s.

In addition to the AAA, Ned occupied a number of roles within the Department of Anthropology, in the Tucson Community (especially the Fort Lowell neighborhood), the State of Arizona, the National and internationally scene. According to the Worldcat.com in 2019, Ned Spicer’s contributions is represented worldwide by ” 102 works in 426 publications in 3 languages and 10,740 library holdings.

Marriage and family[edit]

Ned enrolled in the Ph,D program at the University of Chicago in the Fall of 1934 where he met Rosamond Brown, a graduate student enrolled in the Masters program. In June,1935 he married Rosamond in a service conducted by her father. They spent their Honeymoon in Pascua Village in Tucson where they conducted their field work for their respective degrees. Rosamond Spicer became a noted anthropologist in her own right. (Rosamond Spicer 1988). Together they had three children, Barry, Penny, and Lawson. and four grandchildren. Spicer died in Tucson, Arizona on April 5, 1983 from cancer at the age 76.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Spicer Awards and Grants

  • 1935 Sigma Chi @ Chicago University of Chicago
  • 1941 Guggenheim Award Research Yaquis in Sonora, Mexico
  • 1955 Guggenheim Award Research Yaquis in Oaxaca, Mexico
  • 1957 University of Arizona Award for distinguished teaching and/or research
  • 1963 National Science Foundation senior fellowship Comparative studies in Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador of programs for Indian betterment,
  • 1964 University of Arizona Award for distinguished teaching and/or research
  • 1965 Southwestern Library Association "Best Book on the Southwest" award
  • 1969 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship Fieldwork in Spain, Ireland, and Wales
  • 1972 University of Arizona Award for distinguished teaching and/or research
  • 1974 Election Presidency of the American Anthropological Association in 1974,
  • 1974 Elected to American Philosophical Society Member
  • 1975 Elected to the National Academy of Sciences Member
  • 1976 Society for Applied Anthropology Bronislaw Malinowski Award
  • 1978 University of Arizona Award for distinguished teaching and/or research
  • 1979 American Anthropological Association's Distinguished Service Award
  • 1980 Southwestern Anthropological Association's Outstanding Scholarship Award in 1980,
  • 1983 Kitt Peak National Observatory Minor Planet (2055) Named "Spicer"named in his memory


  1. ^ (Officer 1990:327)
  2. ^ (Officer 1995: 327)
  3. ^ (RS: 1990:5–6)
  4. ^ (RS 1988: xxiv)
  5. ^ (RS 1990: 8 )
  6. ^ (Officer 1995: )
  7. ^ (RS 1990: 8
  8. ^ (RS 1990:8)
  9. ^ (Officer 1995:327)
  10. ^ (RS 1990: 4–5)
  11. ^ (Officer 1990:33)
  12. ^ (Officer 1995:327)
  13. ^ (RS 1990: 8)
  14. ^ (RS 1990:9)
  15. ^ (RS 1990:9)
  16. ^ (RS 1990:9)
  17. ^ (Officer 1990:340)
  18. ^ (R. Spicer 1990: 10).
  19. ^ Spicer, E. H. 1962. Cycles of Conquest, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
  20. ^ boundary 2 ‘s volume entitled, “1492-1992: American Indian Persistence and Resurgence” (Autumn, 1992), pp. 26-48)