Frederica de Laguna and Therkel Mathiassen, Upernavik, Septemer 1929. Copyright Marie‐Françoise Guédon, as included in the exhibition Frederica de Laguna: At Home in the Arctic, Bryn Mawr College (sourced from their Flickr page and reused with their permission)
Frederica (“Freddy”) Annis Lopez de Leo de Laguna (1906-2004) was an anthropologist and archaeologist best known for her work on the history, prehistory and culture of Arctic peoples.
Her introduction to fieldwork came in 1929 when, as a PhD student, she accompanied the Danish archaeologist Therkel Mathiassen on his Norse culture archaeological excavation at Inugsuk, Greenland. She only intended to stay a short while, but the experience convinced her that her future lay in anthropology. She worked the entire field season, and on her return broke off her engagement so that she could focus on her chosen career.
Freddy’s love of fieldwork never waned, and her own vivid and sensual prose best captures her excavation experiences:
“The sun shines warmly over my back, the rich, sweet smell of rotted blubber rises from the saturated earth.”–de Laguna, A Voyage to Greenland
From the 1930s onwards, Freddy’s fieldwork activities took her to remote regions of Alaska and the Yukon (often accompanied by her mother and brother), working with the Tlingit and Atna. She also worked with Salish, Makah, and other peoples in Washington State and on Vancouver Island.
Apart from the time she spent in the WAVES during World War Two (working in Naval Intelligence and teaching cryptography), her entire career was spent at Bryn Mawr, where she pioneered the teaching of anthropology.
De Laguna’s work was respected and valued by both the academic community and those whose culture she studied: in 1975 she was the first (alongside Margaret Mead) female anthropologist elected to the National Academy of Science and in 1996 the people of Yakutat honored her with a potlatch (pdf).
Freddy’s own account of her first fieldwork experience A Voyage to Greenland: a Personal Initiation to Anthropology is well worth a read.
Edited by @ToriHerridge