The Biography of Barbara Freire-Marreco Aitken, British Anthropologist

      “In 1908 Barbara Freire-Marreco (1879–1967) earned a diploma in anthropology with distinction as a member of the first class of anthropology students to graduate from Oxford University. From 1909 to 1911, she held the prestigious Somerville Research Fellowship, which allowed her to come to the United States to study. After a summer at Edgar Lee Hewett’s Frijoles Canyon field school in 1910, her principal research activities were with the Tewa of Santa Clara and Hano pueblos. Between 1910 and 1913, she lived for extensive periods in these villages, where she was treated with affection and respect for her remarkable knowledge of the Tewa language and Native customs and for her ethical research methods. After returning to England, Freire-Marreco earned an MA from Oxford in 1920 and lectured at the London School of Economics. Finding it difficult to secure a full-time paying position as a professional woman, she worked as an editor for several important anthropology and folklore journals. Although she wrote prolifically, the corpus is little remembered today. This is unfortunate, for her writings on Pueblo social organization, politics, authority, and leadership are as relevant and insightful today as they were between 1915 and 1920.
            “This was the extent of my knowledge of Barbara Aitken in 1985 when Barbara Babcock and I included her in an exhibit honoring pioneering women who had worked in the American Southwest. Today we could add much more information because Mary Ellen Blair has gathered together Aitken’s extensive correspondence on her life and ethnographic work in America. Aitken’s letters are deposited in numerous archives in England and the United States, making this collection a daunting task. In addition Blair talked with people who knew or whose ancestors knew Aitken. The result of these efforts is Blair’s biography, A Life Well Led. While Aitken’s life frames the book—her early years, education, and life in England following her research trips to the Southwest—the bulk of the book deals with Aitken’s intellectual and cultural journeys in Native American and with Americanist anthropology. And what a journey it was. For historians of anthropology, the book contains new information on Hewett, Alice Fletcher, and John P. Harrington. For readers interested in Pueblo society, there are observational descriptions and reflections of what life was like in Santa Clara, Isleta, Santo Domingo, and Hano pueblos in the years before World War I. Readers can learn much about a British social anthropological approach to Pueblo life and a fascinating woman.”
      —New Mexico Historical Review