Edward Spicer

Name Edward H. Spicer
Born November 29 1906
Died April 5 1983
Birth Location Cheltenham, Pennsylvania

Anthropologist, community analyst at Poston, and second head of the Community Analysis Section of the War Relocation Authority.

Edward Holland Spicer—known as "Ned" to friends and colleagues—was born into a Quaker family on November 29, 1906, in Pennsylvania and grew up mostly in Arden, Delaware, an experimental "single-tax" community that had been founded in 1900. He was home schooled until the 7th grade and attended a Friends School subsequently. His family later moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and he graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1923. After working on freighters that sailed to Europe and Central America, he enrolled at the University of Delaware in 1925 and transferred to Johns Hopkins, where he dropped out. As a result of a tuberculosis diagnosis, he relocated to the Arizona desert in 1929, where he developed an interest in archeology. He enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1931, graduating a year later with a degree in economics and an M.A. in archeology in 1933. He worked on archaeological sites in the area and as a research associate at the Museum of Northern Arizona before pursuing doctoral studies in anthropology at the University of Chicago starting in the fall of 1934 under A. R. Radcliffe-Browne and Robert Redfield. While there, he married a fellow graduate student, Rosamond Brown (1913–98), in 1936. They spent their honeymoon doing fieldwork in a Yaqui village in Tucson. He finished his Ph.D. in 1939. After a teaching stint at Dillard University, he became an instructor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, where he continued his research on the Yaqui people both in Arizona and in Sonora, Mexico, studying cultural change in that population.[1]

Spicer first became involved with incarcerated Japanese Americans when his research work in Mexico was shut down due to security reasons, and he became an assistant to Alexander Leighton at Poston's Bureau of Sociological Research in August 1942. When John Embree and others sought to form a similar social scientific bureau in the War Relocation Authority, Spicer was loaned to the WRA and influenced the formation of what become the Community Analysis Section. He then became the community analyst at Poston. When Frank Sweetser, the assistant chief of the CAS left to join the navy in the summer of 1943, Spicer moved to DC to take his place. He then replaced Embree as head of the CAS when Embree left in August 1943. After the war, he spent next several months in Washington, DC with fellow community analysts Asael Hansen, Katharine Luomala, and Marvin K. Opler authoring The Impounded People: Japanese Americans in the Relocation Centers, one of several official War Relocation Authority publications on aspects of the mass removal and incarceration. Rosamond accompanied Spicer to Poston and to Washington, DC, keeping a valuable diary at the former and working as a secretary to WRA Director Dillon Myer in the latter.[2]

Spicer returned to the University of Arizona after the war and spent the rest of his academic career there, continuing his work on the Yaqui and later doing fieldwork in Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador in 1963 and in Spain, Ireland, and Wales later in the decade. One of the founders of the Society for Applied Anthropology, he served as its vice-president in 1947. He was editor of American Anthropologist from 1960–63 and president of the American Anthropological Association in 1973–74. He became an emeritus professor in 1978. Beyond his academic work he was a member of the Arizona Commission for Civil Rights and on other state and federal committees focused on minority rights.[3]

He remained interested in Japanese Americans though he did not do additional academic research on that population. He published two essays based on his wartime work in an anthology he edited titled Human Problems in Technological Change that was published in 1952. He wrote an introduction to a new edition of "The Impounded People" published by the University of Arizona Press in 1969 and included the Japanese American incarceration in teaching classes on civil rights and ethnic minorities at University of Arizona. Toward the end of his life, he defended the role of the WRA and the community analysts in response to revisionist scholarship in a 1979 essay and in testimony before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1981. [4]

He died on cancer in Tucson on April 5, 1983.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Gallaher, Art, Jr. "Edward Holland Spicer, (1906–1983)." American Anthropologist 86.2 (June 1984): 380–85.

Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Obituary. Anthropology Newsletter. May 1983, 3.

Smith, Watson. "The Archaeological Legacy of Edward H. Spicer." The Kiva 49.1–2 (1983): 75–79.

Spicer, Edward H. "The Use of Social Scientists by the War Relocation Authority." Applied Anthropology 5.2 (1946): 16–36.

———. "Reluctant Cotton-Pickers: Incentive to Work in a Japanese Relocation Center." In Human Problems in Technological Change. Edited by Edward H. Spicer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1952.

———. "Resistance to Freedom: Resettlement from the Japanese Relocation Centers During World War II." In Human Problems in Technological Change. Edited by Edward H. Spicer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1952.

———. "Anthropologists and the War Relocation Authority.” In The Uses of Anthropology. Edited by Walter Goldschmidt. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1979. 217-37.

———, Asael T. Hansen, Katharine Luomala, and Marvin K. Opler. Impounded People: Japanese Americans in the Relocation Centers. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Interior, 1946. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969.


  1. Art Gallaher Jr., "Edward Holland Spicer, (1906–1983)," American Anthropologist 86.2 (June 1984), 380–82; National Research Council, International Directory of Anthropologists, Section I: Western Hemisphere, Washington, DC, March 1940, 143–44; Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004), 24; Watson Smith, "The Archaeological Legacy of Edward H. Spicer," The Kiva 49.1–2 (1983): 75–79.
  2. Alexander H. Leighton, The Governing of Men: General Principles and Recommendations Based on Experience at a Japanese Relocation Camp (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1945), 373–74; John Fee Embree, "Community Analysis: An Example of Anthropology in Government," American Anthropologist 46.3 (1944), 281, 286n10; Peter. T. Suzuki, "Anthropologists in the Wartime Camps for Japanese Americans: A Documentary Study," Dialectical Anthropology 6.1 (Aug. 1981), 28; Edward H. Spicer, Asael T. Hansen, Katharine Luomala, and Marvin K. Opler, The Impounded People: Japanese Americans in the Relocation Centers (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Interior, 1946) iv; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy, 214, 298.
  3. Gallaher, "Edward Holland Spicer," 380–82; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy, 214; Melville J. Herskovits, ed., International Directory of Anthropologists, Third Edition, Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1950, 170; Obituary, Anthropology Newsletter, May 1983, 3.
  4. Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy, 213–14; Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 143–44; Edward H. Spicer, "Anthropologists and the War Relocation Authority,” in The Uses of Anthropology, edited by Walter Goldschmidt (Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1979): 217-37.