Professor of anthropology.
Professor of anthropology. Morris Opler was born in Buffalo, N.Y. on May 16, 1907. He
received a B.A. in sociology from the University of Buffalo in 1929, an M.A. in
anthropology there in 1930, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1933. In 1931,
he began fieldwork on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, as part of Ruth
Benedict's summer field school. In 1932, he completed his dissertation, "An Analysis of
Mescalero and Chiricahua Apache Social Organization in the Light of Their Systems of
Relationship." From 1932-1937, he conducted fieldwork with various Apache peoples in New
Mexico. He served as an assistant anthropologist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs from
1936-1937. He took a position at Reed College in Oregon from 1937-1938, then served as
assistant professor of anthropology at Claremont College in California from 1938-1942.
He received a Guggenheim fellowship from 1942-1943.
During World War II (from 1943-1944), Opler served as a social science analyst
conducting wartime ethnographic research among Japanese internees with the War
Relocation Authority in Manzanar, California,War Relocation Center. In 1944 he became a
social science analyst with the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. The
following year he served as deputy chief and then chief of the Foreign Morale Analysis
Division with the Office of War Information, where he stayed until 1946. He wrote three
legal briefs defending Japanese American civil rights, two of which were heard before
the U.S. Supreme Court.
After a visiting professorship at Howard University in the fall of 1945, Opler returned
to academics for good in 1946. After teaching at Harvard University as an assistant
professor from 1946-1948, he became professor of anthropology and South Asian studies at
Cornell University, where he remained until 1969. He served as president of the American
Anthropological Association in 1962-1963. After leaving Cornell, he went on to teach at
the University of Oklahoma from 1969 until his retirement. He died on May 13, 1996, at
the age of 88, in Norman, Oklahoma.