Mary Haas

Distinguished Alumna  Dr. Mary Haas, Class of 1926

Born January 12, 1910, Mary Haas graduated from Morton and attended Ball State Teachers College in the summer of 1926.  She attended Earlham College and graduated in 1930 with an AB in English.  She did clerical work at Belden factory while at Earlham during the summer.  She also did private   tutoring in English and Latin from 1929 to 1930, first showing signs of her love teaching language to others.  In 1927 she    entered an essay on Chopin and a poem, “Autumn”, in the Richmond Art Exhibition.

She was a piano accompanist while studying comparative    philology at the University of Chicago, and graduated in 1931. While at the University of Chicago, she met her mentor, Edward Sapir, whom she followed to Yale. She studied various languages during the summer, focusing on Native American dialects.  From 1931 to 1941, she published papers with Morris Swadesh whom she later married in 1933.  He died in 1937 and she then married Heng R. Subhanka whom she divorced in the 1940s.

She completed her PhD in linguistics at Yale University in 1935 at the age of twenty-five and documented the last two known speakers of the Natchez language, Watt Sam and Nancy Rave, of Oklahoma.  She also documented the Creek language which, until this century, they was unstudied.  She was founder and director of the Survey of California Indian Languages.

During World War II, the U.S. government studied and taught the Southeastern Asia languages, finding it important for the war effort.  At the University of California at Berkley, Haas developed a program for the government to teach the Thai language.  She was later appointed to a permanent position at the University of California at Berkley, Department of Oriental Languages.  In 1963 she served as the president of the Linguistic Society of America. She received honorary doctorates from Northwestern University (1975), the University of Chicago (1976), Earlham College (1980), and Ohio State University (1980).

She was the recipient of numerous grants for her research and was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1964-65.  Dr. Mary Haas died on May 17, 1996, at age 86, in Alameda County, California. She was chosen a Distinguished Alumna of Richmond High School in 1997.





























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