Powdermaker Hall

Hortense Powdermaker was one of the original members of Queens College’s faculty. She was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in history from Goucher College in 1919 and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of London in 1928. The following year, she became the first woman anthropologist to live alone among the Melanesians of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea; she published her study of the experience, Life in Lesu, in 1933. For periods in 1932-1934, Powdermaker lived in Indianola, Mississippi, examining its Black and white communities and their interactions. Her book, After Freedom (1939), is still notable for its insightful analysis of race relations and of the impact of psychological adaptations to segregation.

Powdermaker joined Queens College upon its opening in 1937 and founded the departments of anthropology and sociology. During her 30-year teaching career at Queens, she continued to conduct research and published highly influential books on racism (Probing Our Prejudices, 1944) and the social structure of the American filmmaking industry (Hollywood: The Dream Factory, 1950). Her final book, Stranger and Friend: The Way of an Anthropologist, was published in 1966 as a candid examination of her fieldwork experiences and the appropriate role of the anthropologist and social scientist. She retired from Queens College in 1968 and was undertaking a study of youth culture in Berkeley when she died in 1970.

Powdermaker Hall was built in 1962 as the Social Science Building, sometimes called Academic I. In 1977, it was renamed to honor Powdermaker. The building is home to the college’s departments of anthropology and sociology, along with its School of Education. The Hortense Powdermaker Papers are housed in the college library’s Department of Special Collections and Archives.


Hortense Powdermaker Papers, Department of Special Collections and Archives, Queens College, City University of New York, https://qcarchives.libraryhost.com/resources/hortense_powdermaker_papers