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Lorna Marshall, Early Scholar on African Bushmen, Dies at 103
July 30, 2002
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Lorna J. Marshall, a college English instructor turned
homemaker who in her 50's began a new life as an
anthropologist studying the Bushmen of Africa, died on July
8 at her home in Peterborough, N.H. She was 103.
She had lived with her daughter, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas,
since 1996, Ms. Thomas said. She previously lived in the
same house in Cambridge, Mass., since the late 1920's.
Mrs. Marshall's anthropological career began when her
husband, Laurence K. Marshall, a founder and president of
the Raytheon Corporation, retired in 1950 with the thought
that it was time to get reacquainted with his family.
"Where is the remotest place we can go and be a family
again?" Mr. Marshall asked, said Irven DeVore, the More
research professor of anthropology at Harvard.
The Kalahari Desert was the answer he found. He decided he
would take his family to live among the legendary Bushmen.
"They became a sort of Swiss Family Robinson of the
Kalahari," Dr. DeVore said.
The family's accomplishments made it more than that. Mr.
Marshall helped the Bushmen start a fine-wool industry. The
Marshalls' son, John, began his career as a leading maker
of ethnographic documentary films. Ms. Thomas, who would go
on to write best sellers like "The Hidden Life of Dogs,"
wrote a well-received book on the Bushmen, "The Harmless
People" (Knopf, 1958).
Meanwhile, Mrs. Marshall began the painstaking process of
documenting the culture and behavior of the Bushmen,
sometimes called !Kung. (The "!" represents a clicking
sound in their language). She was the first of dozens of
scholars who have made the Bushmen one of the world's most
studied populations of traditional hunter-gatherers.
"To say she started it is not a mistake," Dr. DeVore said.
"By standards of ethnography, she did as well or better
than any monograph I know, and she was there early."
Over the next two decades, the Marshall family made eight
trips to the Kalahari, a desert the size of Spain in what
is now Namibia, Botswana and the Republic of South Africa,
staying for as long as a year and a half at a time. Then
the family would return to Cambridge, where Mrs. Marshall
would employ the best graduate students to organize her
voluminous notes, which resulted in two books and many
An honor she particularly valued was having a !Kung baby
girl named after her. The child was called Norna, because
the Bushmen, for all their ability to make unusual vocal
sounds, cannot pronounce the letter L.
Lorna Jean McLean was born in Morenci, a mining town in the
Arizona Territory, on Sept. 14, 1898. Her father, Gordon
McLean, a mining engineer, died when she was 7. Her mother,
the former Bessie Holmes, remarried and moved with her
daughter to Riverside, Calif., and then Los Angeles.
Miss McLean graduated from the University of California at
Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in English. She then gave
up the beginning of a career in ballet to travel around the
world with her mother, who had been widowed again. They
traveled throughout the Middle East and Asia. In China,
they met an instructor at Mount Holyoke College who offered
Miss McLean a job teaching English.
She accepted, but soon met Mr. Marshall in Nova Scotia,
where both had relatives. They married and moved to
At the Cambridge Community Center, she organized women to
salvage tungsten wire from radio tubes that Raytheon could
re-use in making electronic devices. The salvage operation
employed black and white women, unusual at the time, and
permitted women to work flexible hours, which was also
Mr. Marshall said he wanted to do something with his family
when he retired, and its members were interested in
anthropology. So he asked his wife to take some courses at
Harvard, which she did from time to time among trips to
The family was at first apprehensive about tales of poison
darts and trance dances, but found the Bushmen polite and
kind. The Marshall family lived in tents, even as
temperatures ranged from freezing to 125 degrees.
Mrs. Marshall published her first book, "!Kung of Nyae
Nyae," in 1975 (Harvard University Press), and her second,
"Nyae Nyae !Kung Belief and Rites," three years ago
(Peabody Museum Press).
She is survived by her daughter, her son, who lives in
Belmont, Mass., three grandchildren and three
She is remembered by others. A year or so after her 100th
birthday party, the child of a Bushman she had known as a
child came to visit her.
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