Finding her power through collaboration: a biography of Louise Spindler

Access full-text files




Wolf, Sandra Epperson

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Mary Louise Schaubel Spindler (1917-1997) was an anthropologist, scholar, writer, university teacher, and professional editor. She was the first person to earn a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University. Her interest in recording people’s attitudes and perceptions about their values, choices, and many other personal aspects of their culture officially began in 1948 when she undertook research on the changing life of the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin. Her insistence that women be studied as individuals apart from men was a pioneering idea. Her comparative study of Menominee women’s acculturation with men may have been the first of its kind. Although Louise Spindler published two books and four book chapters alone, the volume of her work was created in collaboration with her husband, Stanford Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Education, George D. Spindler. For the 54 years of her marriage, Louise Spindler co- wrote, co-edited, and co-taught with George Spindler. Together the Spindlers published 40 books or book chapters, six of which were anthologies; edited 224 case studies in anthropology and/or education, which became successful texts for college and university courses nationwide; and from 1963-1965, co-edited the prestigious American Anthropologist. Of equal importance with her work in anthropology are her contributions to understanding the culture of schools. Based on her work as an anthropologist, Louise determined that schools are “intervenors” in the on-going process of learning and “transmitters of culture,” with teachers as “cultural agents.” Louise reinforced that teachers must understand their core self and that of their students, if their work together is to be successful. Whenever cultural discontinuities are addressed in schools of education, Louise Spindler’s work is often at the forefront. This dissertation discusses the early influences and formative experiences of Louise Spindler’s life; assesses how the remarkable collaboration with George Spindler took shape and endured; analyzes their innovative classroom at Stanford, where a conservative estimate of the number of students who studied with them is 25,000; and traces the subfield of the anthropology of education where much of Louise Spindler’s research found its academic home. The overall research question became, “What is Louise Spindler’s lasting legacy?”