CIA - Central Intelligence Agency

03/22/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 03/23/2023 05:19

Charlotte Gower Chapman: An Exceptionally Capable and Brilliant Woman

The Love of Anthropology

Charlotte Gower was born and raised in Kankakee, Illinois. From an early age, Charlotte had an interest in the study of languages and history.

After graduating from Smith College, Charlotte studied at the University of Chicago and pursued her passion in anthropology. During her time at the University, Charlotte was one of only two women awarded degrees from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She wrote her PhD dissertation on Chicago's Sicilian immigrant community with a focus on Sicilian religion and culture during the Prohibition era.

Beginning in 1926, she spent two years in France working on prehistoric archeological digs as Director of the American School of Prehistoric Research for Yale University. Then from 1928-30, Charlotte traveled around Sicily, immersing herself in the peasant life in a remote Sicilian mountain village of Milocca, near Palermo. She compiled her notes and interviews and wrote an anthropological study titled "Milocca: A Sicilian Village," which included a detailed account of daily life, traditions, and mysticism of early Sicilians.

Dangerous Times

In 1938, Charlotte accepted an offer to head the Anthropology Department and serve as Dean of Women for Lingnan University in Hong Kong. Though considered a dangerous undertaking with the growing threat of Japanese invasion, Charlotte was undeterred.

Japanese Imperial Forces invaded Hong Kong in December 1941 and placed Charlotte in an internment camp, along with other US citizens. Luckily, in 1942, she was among those repatriated back to the US.

Semper Fi

Upon her return to Chicago, Charlotte, a 40-year-old academic anthropologist, who had never served in the military, applied to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The President of the University of Chicago, Dr. Robert Hutchins, called Charlotte "an exceptionally capable and brilliant woman" in his letter of recommendation to Marine Headquarters. The USMC agreed, and Charlotte became only the second female officer to join the Corps. She was commissioned with the rank of Captain in 1943.