Thursday, October 06, 2016
Both Florence and Hortense Powdermaker were addressed as “doctor,” but these sister scholars and authors held their degrees in different fields.
Dr. Florence Powdermaker was a physician and psychiatrist. In her obituary in 1966, The New York Times reported that “much of her career in medicine was devoted to the problem of making children feel secure in society.”
To that end, she wrote one of her two books, “Children in the Family,” later called “The Intelligent Parents Manual,” which was read widely in the United States and Great Britain in the 1940s.
Born in 1894, Dr. Powdermaker earned a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1922 and a medical degree from the University of Chicago four years later. She studied in Europe under a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1928 and 1929, and went on to hold various positions in psychiatry in New York City.
At one point after World War II, she was a consultant to the supreme allied commander in Japan; one of her specialties was treating servicemen shocked by combat in the war.
She was 71 at the time of her death.
Dr. Hortense Powdermaker was an anthropologist who taught for three decades years at Queens College, where she established the anthropology department. She studied many cultures, including that of the movie industry, about which she wrote the book, “Hollywood, the Dream Factory.”
She wrote four other books including a memoir entitled “Stranger and Friend: The Way of An Anthropologist” (1968). In it she told how in her teenage years, she rebelled against what she called the boring “Americanized business culture” of her Jewish family, and criticized their attachment to material things, the concern with subtle class distinctions within her family, and her family’s negative view of more recent Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
She also spent much time studying African-American culture. “During 1932–1934 she lived in the small town of Indianola, Miss., carrying out one of the earliest participant-observer community studies in the Deep South,” wrote biographer Barbara C. Johnson. “Her book “After Freedom” (1939) was a pioneering work on United States race relations, praised for its portrayal of the black church, of cultural and class diversity within the African-American community, and of cultural patterns and psychological attitudes among both blacks and whites.”
In 1950 Florence and Hortense Powdermaker bought the 103-acre former Desmond farm on the west side of upper Ridgebury Road. Florence spent many years there and Hortense lived both there and in New York. Hortense was living in Berkeley, Calif., when she died in 1970 at the age of 69.
Part of the Powdermaker land is now Pleasant View Estates, where Powdermaker Drive recalls the sisters. The subdivision was Jerry Tuccio’s last major development here, laid out around 1968. Powdermaker Drive is a dead-end road off Keeler Drive.
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