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Louise Spindler dies; Stanford lecturer for four decades

Louise Schaubel Spindler, a longtime Stanford lecturer, died at her home near Calistoga, Calif., on Jan. 23. On the day of her death Spindler and her husband, Professor Emeritus George Spindler, had taught an ethnographic methods seminar at the School of Education.

Louise Spindler, who would have celebrated her 80th birthday on March 4, had been ill for several years. She was born in Oak Park, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis. She earned a master's degree in anthropology from Stanford, then in 1956 she became the first person at the university to earn a doctorate in the field.

A lecturer for more than 40 years, Spindler specialized in women and cultural change. She was the author of two books of her own, Menominee Women and Cultural Change, about the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin, and Cultural Change and Urbanization. In addition to her independent work, she collaborated on numerous projects and books with her husband in the fields of anthropology and education.

"I think the most striking thing about Louise is that she and her husband worked so closely together," said James Gibbs, professor emeritus in anthropology, who described the couple as "an exemplary model of a partnership." Gibbs remembers his introduction to the Spindlers in 1963, when the couple were editors of The American Anthropologist. Gibbs, then an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, had one of his first papers published in that journal and worked closely with Louise via phone and mail.

"She was a very good editor in terms of her assessment and her advice, especially for a beginning person who didn't have a lot of experience dealing with editors," said Gibbs, who described Spindler as a "pioneer" at Stanford. "She wasn't the sort of person who talked a lot about the fact that she [was one of very few female instructors or professors here], she simply carried out her role and worked more by example than by exhortation," Gibbs said.

Much of the Spindlers' research focused on Native American communities, urbanization in America and Germany, and cultural diversity in American classrooms. They also became well known for their annual questionnaires, which posed open-ended questions to college students, such as "Nudity is . . . " The responses to the surveys often mirrored the changing times. For instance, students in the 1950s described nudity as "vulgar," while their '60s counterparts used terms such as "beautiful" and "where it's at." After surveying students in 1990, the Spindlers predicted that '60s radicalism might return.

In addition to her husband, Spindler is survived by her daughter Sue Coleman; son-in-law Leslie Coleman; and three granddaughters, Vicki, Rebecca and Sarah Walker, all of whom reside in the Bay Area. A private funeral service was held Jan. 26. A spring memorial service is planned for the Stanford community.


By Elaine Ray