ROBERT LOWIE's death on September 21, 1957 not only removed from anthropology one of its most
distinguished scholars, but also removed one of the most distinctive figures from the realm of the social sciences. He was not only an unparalleled field ethnologist and ethnological theorist but a man of the broadest
culture; he was equally at home in the general history of culture, in philosophy, and English, German, and French literatures, as in the discipline to which he devoted his life.
Born in Vienna in 1883 of an
Austrian mother and a Hungarian father, he was brought to the United States in 1893. The atmosphere in which he was raised in New York was a completely German one. All his parents' friends were Austrians, mainly
Viennese, and Viennese German was the only language spoken in the home. To all intents and purposes, the United States was a foreign and somewhat shadowy land, with which one came into contact when leaving the house and
with which one lost contact when reentering it.
His maternal grandfather was a physician of evidently cultivated tastes, to judge from the library which Lowie inherited from him. Among other books, it
contained the works of all the German philosophers, the complete works not only of Goethe, Schiller, and Heine, but of such older writers as Herder, Klopstock, and Jean Paul Richter, and the works of more modern
Austrian writers such as Grillparzer, Lenau, Anzengruber, and Rosegger. I mention them because Lowie had read all these books and many of them meant a great deal to him throughout his life. When I first met him in
1896, he could still quote from Klopstock's Messias. He had actually read the whole poem, a truly Gargantuan feat. When I last saw him on September 3, 1957 we were discussing Anzengruber's Meineidsbauer.
This late nineteenth and early twentieth century GermanAustrian culture with its broad and variegated interests, its customs, its formalities, its virtues, and its idiosyncrasies, he was never to give up. The image of
that culture— in many ways nostalgic and overidealized—always had a tremendous hold on him. How great that hold was is evidenced by the two books he wrote late in his career, The German People (1945) and Towards
Understanding Gcrmany (1954). He lived at all times in two cultures, a GermanAustrian one and an American one. He spoke and wrote both languages perfectly. His knowledge of and affection for English literature was very
great, yet he admitted to me once, not many years ago, that when he wished to be truly relaxed and happy his instinct was to turn to Theodor Storm's novelettes.
It is well to remember that much of his inner
life was concerned with German culture and cultural ideals, for this concern manifests itself not only in his literary tastes but in the direction of much of his scientific work—in the influence that Haeckel, Ostwald,
and Wundt once had on him, and the influence which Boas and Mach had to the end of his life.
In his fourteenth year he began forming literary-scientific societies; the last two were named the Pearson Circle
and the Liberal Club. The earlier clubs had been devoted predominantly to literature, for it was a period when Lowie was very much interested in Samuel Johnson. I remember very well his holding forth on Rasselas.
However, the last two were devoted exclusively to philosophy and the history and methodology of science. Goldenweiser had appeared on the scene, and thus Lowie had a colleague whose knowledge of these two subjects was
comparable to his own.
Lowie's philosophic interests lasted for a very long time, and he gave a number of lectures on philosophical subjects during the first few years after he came to Berkeley. He seems to
have given up this interest after the early twenties. I believe this was because he had by that time come to the conclusion that Mach had pretty much summed up all that could be said on the subject.
Lowie came to anthropology with an unusual background and equipment. Upon graduating from the College of the City of New York, he had at first flirted with the idea of studying chemistry, but wisely discarded it. If he
had any doubts about what subject to select, meeting Boas put an end to them. Boas possessed everything that appealed to him. He had most of the German scholarly virtues Lowie admired; he had a scrupulous regard for
details; he was wary of generalizations, and he could partially be identified with Mach.
It is hard to say whether, at the beginning, Lowie was interested in one field of anthropology as against another.
Being the person he was, he did every thing he was asked to do with unusual thoroughness and competence. Boas, as was his wont in those days, assigned the subjects for doctoral dissertations; they were subjects in which
Boas happened to be interested. Lowie was assigned a topic in American Indian mythology. I know he was not in the least interested in mythology at the time, but this made no difference to him. He wrote an excellent
thesis—The Test Theme in North American Mythology— which is still eminently worth reading as an example of how to present succinctly the facts of a specially restricted subject, what inferences can be drawn from such a
set of facts, and how to assess these as against other inferences. In this case, they were the inferences of Ehrenreich and his school of mythology.
Similarly, when he was asked by the publisher,
Liveright, to write a book on primitive society, this was emphatically not one of his especial interests, aside from the question of relationship terms, but he went doggedly to work and produced his classic Primitive
Society (1920). He was in those days primarily interested in the more general problems of culture and psychology—the psychology of Wundt and Ebbinghaus, however—culture and race, culture and environment, the nature and
implications of totemism, and terms of relationship. His thinking on these questions he embodied in a small book, Culture and Ethnology (1917), and in his contributions to the symposium on totemism published in
Anthropos, in which Pater Schmidt, Andrew Lang, Goldenweiser, Thurnwald, and others also participated. Lowie took especial delight in such discussions. His highly critical and philosophically trained mind was at its
best in them. He never lost his delight in summarizing and critically evaluating other people's views and generalizations. This finds its highest expression in his History of Ethnological Theory but it is also shown in
his numerous reviews, of which he wrote more than two hundred. In none of them was he content with simply giving the contents of a book. He was always scrupulously fair, at times even overindulgent, although he could
become sharp where the logic of the case demanded it. He was intolerant only when it came to criticizing Boas, and I think this needs some explanation. I believe he felt that Boas had in a sense set down for all time
the proper method of approach, and that it was a sign either of immaturity or of adolescent rebelliousness to criticize him basically. Lowie's feelings on this matter are best expressed in his German paper entitled
Beitrage zur Volkerkunde Nordamerikas (Mitteil. a.d. Mus. f. Volkerkunde Hamburg, 1951).
Although they did not actually represent his primary interests, Lowie wrote three other books that indicate the wide
scope of his interests—a popular volume, Are We Civilized? (1929), a textbook, Introduction to Cullural Anlhropology (1934), and Primitive Religion (1924). They all show his outstanding qualities—thoroughness, critical
caution, and understanding of relevant problems.
Of his fieldwork, only a few words need be said. He was one of the best ethnographers of his day, and wherever time permitted, as in the case of the Crow,
every aspect of culture was studied in detail. His Crow work and his investigation of the Plains societies are in a class by themselves. The latter study, for its completeness, its clearcut recognition of the problems
involved, and its admirable solution, has never been excelled. It deserves to be used as a model in all seminars on social structure.
No other American anthropologist has had so varied a field experience.
He was among a number of the Shoshoni tribes, the Ute, Chippewayan, Crow, Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara, Hopi, and Washo. Thus he was fortunate enough to have had firsthand contact with both the simplest and the most complex
cultures of North America north of Mexico. If we add to this his thorough knowledge of South American Indian ethnology—this was almost firsthand because he translated and edited Nimuendaju's manuscripts—we must come to
the conclusion that his acquaintance with the whole American Indian field was unique.
Lowie spent twelve years in various positions at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and thirty years as
a teacher at the University of California. He instilled in his students the same respect for facts, for care in making generalizations and dealing with problems which he himself possessed. His pupils are to be found
throughout the length and breadth of the United States.
Although he always gave the impression of having time for everything, he led an unusually busy life. He attended scientific meetings regularly and sat
on innumerable committees. He was president of the American Folklore Society (1916-1917), of the American Ethnological Society (1920-1921), and of the American Anthropological Association (1935-1936), and he served as
editor of the AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST from 1924 to 1933.
Honors came to him from all directions. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1931; he received an honorary degree of Doctor of
Science from the University of Chicago in 1941; he delivered the Huxley lecture at the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 1948, and in the same year was awarded the Viking medal.
His was an unusually wellrounded life. Fate did not grant him that which would have made it superlatively complete for him—to lecture at the University of Hamburg in 1958.
This is hardly the place to speak
of him as a person, but I have rarely met an individual of greater integrity, one more generous, more gentle, and with a greater gift for friendship. He and his work will be remembered for many decades to come. For him
Schiller's lines hold true as they do for only a select few in any generation:
Wer den besten seiner Zeit genug getan
Der hat gelebt fur alle Zeiten.