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Kluckhohn, Clyde
(January 11, 1905–July 29, 1960)

–one of the leading anthropologists of the 20th century–is best known for his comprehensive, long-term ethnographic studies of the Navaho of the U.S. Southwest. His diverse theoretical publications, which bridge the humanities and social sciences, include innovative cross-cultural studies of values and influential articles about the concept of "culture."Kluckhohn was also an able administrator who consulted extensively for the government and served as president of the American Anthropological Association (1947).

    Kluckhohn was born in Le Mars, Iowa, on January 11, 1905, the son of Clyde Clofford, a real estate and insurance broker, and Caroline (Maben) Kluckhohn. Kluckhohn's mother died at his birth, and the boy was adopted when he was five by his maternal uncle. After beginning high school in Le Mars, Kluckhohn transferred to the Culver Military Academy in Indiana and later graduated from the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. He entered Princeton University in 1922, but was forced to drop out because of poor health.

    Kluckhohn's doctors advised him to spend time in a high, dry climate. Evon Vogt, the husband of a cousin of Kluckhohn's mother and owner of a sheep ranch in New Mexico, agreed to take the young man in. Vogt (whose son Evon grew up to become a prominent Harvard anthropologist) encouraged Kluckhohn to learn about the language and customs of the Navaho living on a nearby reservation. After living for seven months on the ranch, Kluckhohn embarked alone on a lengthy packhorse trip, during which he learned to speak Navaho. He later wrote a popular book, To the Foot of the Rainbow (1927), about that trip.

    In 1924 Kluckhohn entered the University of Wisconsin, where he majored in classics and served as president of the student body. After graduating from Wisconsin, Kluckhohn used a Rhodes Scholarship to study Greek, Latin, and anthropology at Oxford (1928- 1930). He stayed on in Europe for a couple of years more, studying at the University of Vienna, where he underwent psychoanalysis. After returning to the United States, Kluckhohn taught anthropology at the University of New Mexico, leaving in 1934 for doctoral work at Harvard. Even before earning his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1936, Kluckhohn was appointed an instructor at Harvard. He remained on the Harvard faculty for the rest of his life, reaching the rank of professor in 1946.

    After obtaining a position at Harvard, Kluckhohn regularly returned to New Mexico to carry out fieldwork among the Navaho and other groups (Zuni, Mormons, Texas homesteaders, and Hispanics) in the area near the Vogt ranch. Kluckhohn published extensively throughout his academic career on a range of ethnographic and theoretical topics. Perhaps his two most notable books are Navaho Witchcraft (1944) and Mirror for Man (1949), an introduction to anthropology aimed at the general public.

    While maintaining his position at Harvard, Kluckhohn spent considerable time outside of anthropology as an administrator. During World War II, he served as a staff member in the School for Overseas Administration (1943-1944) and was cochief of the Joint Morale Survey of the Military Intelligence Service and the Office of War Information (1944-1945). After the war, he consulted for the Department of Defense (1948-1954) and the Department of State (1956-1960). His most noteworthy administrative work, however, was as the first director of the Harvard Russian Center (1947-1954). Because Kluckhohn was not at all expert in Russian studies, his appointment to that position must be attributed to the university's respect for his administrative competence and his background in policy work during World War II.

    Kluckhohn, who suffered from poor health throughout his life, died of a heart attack in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 29, 1960. He was survived by his wife and intellectual collaborator, Florence Rockwood Kluckhohn, and his son, Richard, also an anthropologist.

    Kluckhohn insisted that his boyhood days in Iowa were what initially moved him to think anthropologically. He said in 1949, "An unusual proportion of anthropologists... have come out of a crossing of cultures. I happened to grow up in an American town which wasn't American. Le Mars, Iowa, was an English colony, settled in 1870 as a place to farm out ne'er-do-well sons of the British aristocracy.... When I went on to prep school I had a subconscious sense of cultural difference– something in my background was different."
Sources The bulk of Kluckhohn's papers are held by the Harvard University libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some papers from 1945 to 1948 are in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. For more on Kluckhohn's life and work, see Louise Lamphere, "Clyde Kluckhohn," in Presidential Portraits, ed. Regna Darnell and Frederic Gleach (2002); and Talcott Parsons and Evon Vogt, "Clyde Kay Maben Kluckhohn, 1905–1960," American Anthropologist 64 (1962), 140–61, an obituary that includes an extensive bibliography of Kluckhohn's publications.
Contributor: Michael Chibnik

Cite as: Chibnik, Michael. "Kluckhohn, Clyde" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017