Early History of SWAA

About This Article

Reproduced here is a short article on the early years of SWAA, from 1929 through 1962. The article first appeared in the SWAA Newsletter in July 1962. The present version is a revision published in 1983, when SWAA was fifty-four years old, under the title “The Origin and Development of the Southwestern Anthropological Association: The First Thirty-Four Years (1929–1962)” (SWAA Newsletter, vol. 22, no. 2/3, pp. 1–5).

The article was written by Keith A. Dixon, SWAA President 1961–1962. In 1958, Dixon joined the Department of Anthropology of CSU Long Beach, where he was appointed Professor Emeritus in 1992.

The Southwestern Anthropological Association is now [1983] in its fifty-fourth year, a respectable antiquity for any avocational-professional-student organization in anthropology. From the original eighteen dues-paying members in 1929, the organization has grown to become the country’s largest regional society in general anthropology, with a membership of over six hundred in 1982. Of those hundreds, only a very few members have any knowledge of how the organization originated and evolved in its first half-century. In response to a number of requests over the last several years for a history, the Association’s officers asked me to write one based on the review that I compiled twenty years ago. A shortened version of that review was published in the SWAA Newsletter in July of 1962, but very few copies now exist. 1

I wrote that first version when I became SWAA President for the 1961–62 term. I had realized that I was the first SWAA President to have been born after the organization itself was conceived and born, so I took this to be a sign of sufficient organizational venerability that the SWAA had earned itself a history. Also, I discovered that by 1962 only one of the first year’s dues-payers was still a member.

The early phases of the SWAA are best revealed by looking at three main themes: the kinds of people who kept things going, their purposes, and the contents of the programs that were featured at the meetings. Together, these do not merely trace the growth of an organization, but they also reflect at the local level what was happening to the profession at the national level.


The organization began life in 1929 as the Southwestern Archaeological Federation. As I will show, “archaeological” in the title does not denote an organization that was later replaced by a different “anthropological” organization. Instead, there was a gradual evolution into broader interests long before the name itself caught up. Archaeology is, after all, a part of cultural anthropology for good reason, and the early members were not technically oriented in their archaeological interests. The SAF was truly an early phase of the present anthropological association.

Founders and Members

Hartley Burr Alexander / Used by permission of the Scripps College Archives, Denison Library

Hartley Burr Alexander / Used by permission of the Scripps College Archives, Denison Library

For the first few years, the membership consisted of southern California museum staff, academic people, and various professionals who shared an interest in the general field of archaeology and allied subjects.

The Southwestern Archaeological Federation was, so far as I can determine, the original idea of Dr. Hartley B. Alexander, who formed an organizing committee in 1928 and served as its President. The committee’s Vice-President was James A.B. Scherer, and the committee Secretary was L.S. Woodworth. These three men reflected diverse backgrounds. Hartley Burr Alexander (d. 1939) was the most widely known. He was a professor of philosophy at Scripps College, Claremont, a member of the Board of Directors and Lecturer at the School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and author-lecturer on American Indian art, philosophy, religion, and mythology. James A.B. Scherer (d. 1944) was director of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, from 1926 to 1931 and was also a Trustee of the Laboratory of Anthropology, Santa Fe. His principal interests were public education and Japanese culture, politics, and international relations. I have not been able to identify L.S. Woodworth.

The organizing committee gave birth to the SAF at its first annual meeting, which was held on February 23, 1929, at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. The Southwest Museum was to continue playing a major role in the organization through much of its history, serving frequently as host to meetings and also as a source of dedicated officers.

The Southwest Museum, constructed in 1911 / Photo by Diane Kane of Caltrans, released into the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Southwest Museum, constructed in 1911 / Photo by Diane Kane of Caltrans, released into the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The new Federation’s first officers were elected at that initial meeting in 1929. Hartley B. Alexander continued as President, the Vice-President was Lawrence Riddle, and the Secretary was Charles Amsden. Lawrence Riddle (d. 1959) was a professor of French at the University of Southern California and was a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America. Charles Amsden (d. 1941) was the Southwest Museum’s secretary-treasurer and archaeologist who worked in the Southwest and southern California.

In addition to the above, the first eighteen dues-paying members included some other well known names. Kenneth M. Chapman (d. 1968) was an artist, archaeologist, and specialist in Southwest Indian art, especially ceramics; he was with the Museum of New Mexico and Laboratory of Anthropology, Santa Fe, for many years. Odd S. Halseth (d. 1966) was originally associated with the San Diego Museum of Man and then the Museum of New Mexico; in 1929 he began his long career as the City Archaeologist of Phoenix, Arizona. Arthur Woodward, who now lives in Arizona, was the Curator of History and archaeologist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Henry Purmort Eames (d. 1950), a concert pianist and composer who had studied with Clara Schumann and Ignace Paderewski, was a professor of music at Scripps College, Claremont. Carl S. Knopf (d. 1942) was a professor of Biblical literature and specialist in Near Eastern archeology and cuneiform texts at the University of Southern California. Frederick I. Monsen (d. 1929) was an explorer, artist, and professional lecturer on the ethnology of the Southwestern Indians. Only one of the original eighteen was still a member of the SWAA when I compiled the history in 1962: the late Napoleon Cordy, habitué of the Southwest Museum and student of Maya hieroglyphic writing.

The striking impression from this brief review of the SWAA’s founding members is the diversity of their backgrounds and interests. There was no narrow focus at all on technical archeological method or on limited geographic regions. It was an intellectual interest in archeology which had brought them together, and it was anthropology in a general sense that kept them going. As I will show below, the SAF from its beginning was a broad anthropological association like the SWAA today. Archeology as a specific subject came to play only a minor role and, in fact, disappeared altogether during a few of the early years.


The purposes and objectives of the Federation are apparent in various statements. Two major themes appear. First, the purpose was to bring together those who were interested in the archaeology of the Southwest—a term which then included southern California—in order that professionals as well as amateurs could meet together to exchange ideas and hear of both local and world-wide progress in archaeology. As part of this purpose, and in justification of the term Federation, the organization was also designed to facilitate cooperation and mutual aid among the various archaeological organizations in the area (though it was not a federation of institutions in any technical sense).

The second theme of the Federation was the need to protect archaeological remains from pothunters and other destructive agents. A committee was appointed that first year to make recommendations on archaeological ethics and standards.

This committee included Hartley B. Alexander, Kenneth Chapman, James Scherer, Lawrence Riddle, Odd S. Halseth, Arthur Woodward, and Lyman Bryson. The latter (d. 1959) was director of the San Diego Museum in 1929–30 and Lecturer at the School of American Research; his main fame later was as lecturer, educator, journalist, and author of fiction and poetry. This emphasis on archaeological ethics and standards was a theme that continued on through all the constitutional revisions, and is still an important theme of the SWAA.


The principal kind of collective interaction was then and has always continued to be its scheduled meetings. At first, they met four times a year. The Federation never sponsored any field work but did hear brief field reports as a normal part of the quarterly meetings. Most papers, however, were of more general archaeological interest.

The first program in 1929 included some famous names. Chester Stock of the California Institute of Technology spoke on “Paleontology and Archaeology.” Spencer Rogers of the San Diego Museum spoke on “Problems of Pre-Columbian Agriculture in the New World.” Carl Knopf gave a paper on recent developments in the field of Oriental (meaning Near Eastern) archaeology. Arthur Woodward spoke on an archaeological reconnaissance in the Mohave Desert. Kenneth Chapman gave an illustrated lecture on “Pictographs of the Rito de los Frijoles,” and Odd S. Halseth discussed “Santos of the Southwest.” Lyman Bryson reviewed a theory of cultural values as suggested by a recent magazine article.

Subsequent meetings included topics of a wide variety, with a gradual increase in papers that were not strictly archaeological and not Southwestern in geographic scope. In 1930, Anna O. Shephard (d. 1973) told of a series of experiments in the effects of temperature on pottery firing. She was the anthropologist on the staff of the San Diego Museum, and later gained fame in ceramics analysis while on the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

There were archaeological field reports—Arthur Woodward on the Grewe site, Arizona; M.R. Harrington on Gypsum Cave, Nevada; Harold Gladwin on Globe, Arizona; and David Banks Rogers on Santa Barbara County. Other papers in 1930 included one by Dr. Edward Angle of Pasadena (d. 1930) who was the world’s first orthodontist and had established orthodontics as a professional specialty. He spoke on the joys of a collector, and Mr. Hinchman spoke on the sorrows of a conductor who takes visitors through a museum. Walter McClintock sang a Blackfoot song. Mr. Eames, from 1929 through 1935, gave a series of papers on primitive rhythms.

The Broadening Scope in Anthropology

A significant proportion of papers continued to be archaeological in orientation, though worldwide in content, until 1935. In that year, there was not a single archaeological paper on the program. The following were the subjects: ethnological work on Madagascar; Migration of the Maize Myths; Primitive and Modern Magic and Superstitions in the Public Schools; Miss Juanita Sawyer singing Indian songs; legends of the Iroquois, by Chief Black Hawk; and Through the Southwest with Brush and Palette. Also in 1935 came the first paper on linguistics—Diegueño dialects.

Archaeology continued to be only a part of the programs from this point onward. The fields of anthropology were finally rounded out when the first paper on physical anthropology was presented in 1937; Dr. Ivan Lopatin reported on his conclusions derived from measuring skulls from the Orange County archaeological excavations of J.W. Winterbourne. Again in 1939, there was not a single paper on archaeology except for a brief field report from M.R. Harrington. Instead, there were papers on the Ainu of Japan, Apache puberty rites, Tarascan ethnology, and others.

Ralph Beals at his desk / Used by permission of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA

Ralph Beals at his desk / Used by permission of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA

While the regular meetings were broadening their scope, that does not imply that there was declining interest in archaeology among the members. Ralph Beals recalls that at least during the early years of his membership in the late 1930s/early 1940s, the SAF sponsored some field trips. They would usually meet in the morning at some well known site or at an excavation in progress and then hold discussions in the afternoon. He especially remembers the trip to the Malaga Cove site near Redondo Beach, where the Southwest Museum’s E.F. Walker was conducting excavations. He also remembers a two-day trip to the Mohave Desert area to investigate the early sites associated with the shore-lines of extinct lakes. On other occasions they met with David Banks Rogers in Santa Barbara and with Malcolm Rogers in San Diego, where attempts were being made to define and date the early coastal cultures.

The year 1939 was a notable one because Ralph Beals was elected President—he was the first anthropologist at UCLA and began to build the anthropology department, which was formally established jointly with sociology when Harry Hoijer joined him in 1940. He had a strong influence on the SAF then and an even stronger one when he served another term as President twenty years later.

Joe Medicine Crow / Released into the public domain, courtesy ofWikimedia Commons

Joe Medicine Crow / Released into the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 1940, the first papers appeared that seem to be consciously problem-oriented and theoretical in emphasis, rather than descriptive. One highlight was a visit from Ruth Benedict, who spoke on “War and Anthropology.” As if this were a signal for confrontations, the most lively passages I could find in any of the SAF minutes are in those of the same meeting: “Mr. Joe Medicine Crow, a member of the Crow tribe and student at the University of Southern California opened the session with a paper on the Crow language. Mr. Crow took issue with modern linguists who make a too complicated thing of language study. He described his language as extensively agglutinated through incorporation. Considerable comment followed this provoking paper.”

Ruth Benedict (hand-marked for cropping at theNew York World-Telegram, 1937) / From the New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Ruth Benedict (hand-marked for cropping at the New York World-Telegram, 1937) / From the New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

But then, the minutes continue, “Dr. Harry Hoijer of the University of Chicago spoke on ‘Linguistic Groups in the Southwest and Their Significance to Ethnology and Archaeology.’ Dr. Hoijer spoke of linguistics as the most advanced in technique of the social sciences.”

Further meetings of the 1940s continued this non-archaeological trend, which was emphasized in the election of a social anthropologist, Morris E. Opler, to the presidency in 1941. Membership in the SAF increased from eighteen to forty-six at the end of its second year and in 1932 had reached sixty-one. By 1937, there were about one hundred members, which was the average membership until America entered World War II.

Reorganization and a New Name

The organization was suspended in 1942 when it was forced to stop its meetings and other activities because of the tire and gasoline rationing and the scattering of its members in the armed services. The hiatus lasted four years.

In 1946 a reorganization meeting was called by the last president, M.R. Harrington, Curator of the Southwest Museum (d. 1971). Dr. Harry Hoijer of UCLA (d. 1976) was elected the new President. At this meeting Ralph Beals and Harry Hoijer presented plans for redesigning the organization to meet the changed needs of the membership.

The new constitution was accepted in final form by the membership in the Spring of 1947. The principal change was to a name that better reflected the group’s orientations, which of course had already been established in the late 1930s and 1940s. In its revived form, then, the current name Southwestern Anthropological Association was adopted. The term Southwestern was retained to provide continuity and could be considered to refer not to a culture area but to the membership’s distribution (which at that moment was mainly southwestern California!).

It took years for the membership to build up to the pre-war levels of about one hundred. In 1951 there were only thirty dues-paying members, but by 1957 it had climbed to eighty-five. Meanwhile, there was a constitutional revision in 1951 under the leadership of Walter Goldschmidt (UCLA), which reduced the number of meetings from four per year to two. Other minor changes were made in the constitution in 1958 by a committee headed by John Goins (UC Riverside), and again in 1959. These minor revisions made the association more complex in its operations and more efficient, but it did not work any fundamental changes in its purpose or character.

The SWAA Newsletter began in the fall of 1958 with Raoul Naroll as editor. For its first volume only, it was titled News Bulletin. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 had two numbers each, and a third number was added beginning with volume 4.

In the period 1946 through the 1950s, the character of the programs was notable for covering all fields of anthropology. Avocationals, students, and professionals participated extensively. One of the outstanding events was the “Symposium on the Antiquity of Man in California” in 1951, organized by Walter Goldschmidt, with papers by Robert F. Heizer (UC Berkeley), George Brainerd (UCLA and Southwest Museum), and Ernst Antevs (Globe, Arizona). This was later published as Report No. 16 of the University of California Archaeological Survey (1952).

By the early 1950s, there was a growing feeling that the far flung anthropologists in the western states needed a regional organization with a broader geographic base. Therefore, the American Anthropological Association created a Western States Branch in 1950. It was parallel in concept to the Central States Branch of the AAA. There was apparently an expectation that the WSB might somehow incorporate the SWAA into a larger unit. The first WSB meeting took place in Berkeley when the AAA met there in December 1950. Ralph Beals, who was AAA president at the time, recalls that the WSB had several meetings jointly with the SWAA in the following years. But even though the new organization gained a few active members from as far away as Utah and Montana, the number of participants remained few. The reason probably was that at that time the meetings were still so expensive to attend, wherever they might be held in the west, that the WSB had no particular advantage for its potential membership over their costs in participating in the national organization’s meetings. And for the southern California members, the WSB was clearly an unnecessary duplication of the SWAA’s functions. The WSB published three monographs, and finally disbanded in 1956. While a good idea, the WSB was clearly ahead of its time. What happened, of course, is that within the next few years the SWAA itself expanded and came to fulfill the need.


The next phase in the history of the Southwestern Anthropological Association was characterized by a marked increase in membership, a revival of frequent participation from outside of southern California, and a vast expansion in the Association’s activities. This phase began in 1959 under President Ralph Beals, who had served his first term as President twenty years earlier. He secured for the Association a $700 grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. This boosted both the treasury and the morale and allowed for some significant planning to bring the organization and its services up to date.

Many of the planned changes in the organization’s character were put into effect under the active leadership of Charles Leslie of Pomona College. I have no evidence that the changing character of the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association served as the model, but it is likely.

The Spring Meeting of 1960, held at Pomona College, marked a strong departure from previous years in its expanded program and participation. It lasted two days, was attended by over three hundred people, and consisted of nineteen sessions at which eighty-seven papers were read. A cocktail hour—scheduled, that is—was included in the program for the first time. Nothing this elaborate had previously occurred in the history of the Southwestern Anthropological Association, and the change has been permanent.

The Fall Meeting of 1960 also marked a change. Instead of a miscellany of papers, the full day was dedicated to one theme: “Spotlight on Latin America,” in which people from various disciplines participated.

The Spring Meetings of 1961 were held in Santa Barbara. More than four hundred registered for the two-day meetings, which were dedicated to the memory of A.L. Kroeber. Over one hundred papers were given in twenty-three sessions, including many participants from the Bay Area and from elsewhere outside southern California.

The Fall Meeting of 1961 was focused on the Great Basin area and was held at UCLA in cooperation with the Great Basin Anthropological Conference. A major event was a symposium on the Desert Culture Concept. Membership had by now climbed to the pre-World War II norm of around one hundred dues-paying members.

Stock-Taking in 1962 and Future Plans

This brings us to the 1961–62 year when I compiled the original version of this history. One result of that effort was to give us some perspective on the rapid evolution of the SWAA over the previous three years and to alert us to some further problems that required planning.

One problem was the fact that active participants in the meetings were four times the number that paid dues. Up to this time, dues were collected mainly by including the traditional request as a note in the Newsletter, where it could easily be shelved and forgotten. We managed to double the membership simply by sending bills to everyone we thought ought to be a member.

Not only was the membership in 1962 at an all-time high of over 250, but it included people from as far away as Mexico City, as well as the Bay Area, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The “southwestern” in the organization’s name had certainly expanded its boundaries. This confirmed the need to make our meetings convenient to more widely distributed individuals and institutions. Because the two main areas of concentration of anthropologists in the West were in the Bay Area and southern California, the decision had been made to alternate meetings in the two regions. Each year, the big two-day Spring Meetings were to be in one location and the one-day Fall Meeting would be in the other area. This plan allowed local people to participate more easily in one or the other each year. For convenience in organizing activities, it was also suggested that the principal officers be elected annually from the alternating membership area corresponding to the Spring Meetings.

The Spring Meetings of 1962 were held at the University of California at Berkeley. They were the first to be held outside of southern California, thus inaugurating the new plan. The meetings were organized and hosted with enthusiastic efficiency by Sherwood Washburn, Irven DeVore, and Richard Lee. The Berkeley meetings were well attended by northerners and southerners, and although I do not have the figures at hand, I suspect that the expansion in territory coupled with the great increase in numbers of anthropologists entering the profession at the time, caused a significant rise in paid memberships in the next several years.

In the perspective of 1962, it seemed that the future planning for the SWAA should emphasize two main themes. The first recognized that the SWAA provides opportunities for active participation that had significantly decreased in our national organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association, because of their size and locations. The SWAA makes it more possible for local professionals, students, and avocationals to get together and make new contacts by attending meetings, giving papers, and serving as officers. We hoped that the SWAA of the future would continue to emphasize these ideals.

The second theme recognized that the SWAA has a responsibility and an opportunity to encourage and publicize professional ethics and standards, as well as accomplishments, in our local areas.

Both themes were fundamental when the organization was founded as the SAF more than fifty years ago. It seemed to us in 1962 that the same themes would justify the SWAA’s existence in the future.

I hope someone will now write a history of the Association’s following two decades. I look forward to finding out whatever happened next.…


1 While I would like to have completed the history of the SWAA since 1962 and also to have done a more thorough analysis of the early years, it is not possible at this time. The SWAA archives were lost sometime in the last two decades (cf. SWAA Newsletter, vol. 22, no. 1). I am therefore depending on my previous review, which was essentially a postprandial presidential address. I have rewritten it and have added what few additional notes I still had, together with some brief identifications of the early members who are less well known now.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have recently helped me to prepare this new version by searching their records for further information. These include Sheilagh and Richard Brooks of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who had originally located and restored the SWAA archives the first time they were lost; Charles Rozaire of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History; and Patrick T. Houlihan, Director of the Southwest Museum, and his staff who went to considerable effort to search for information on several specific questions. Unfortunately, no records were found despite these efforts, which illustrates the need to rediscover the archives. Ralph Beals, however, drew on his excellent memory of serving as president of both the SWAA and the American Anthropological Association and provided information which I have gratefully added to the present text.

I also appreciate the encouragement of the officers of the Southwestern Anthropological Association, and I hope they will continue the effort to find a way to complete the history of the SWAA up to the present.