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Ross, Frances Anna, 1910-1995



  • Existence: 1910 - 1995


Frances Anna Ross was born on August 19, 1910, in Nome, Alaska; graduated from Nome High School in 1924, and attended the University of Washington from which she graduated with a BA in English literature in 1935. After completing one year of nursing school in Washington, DC in 1942, Frances began her career as an assistant and researcher to arctic explorer Vihljalmur Stefansson and others. She served in the 9th Regiment of the Air Force (Women's Air Corps) from 1943-1945, after which she continued to work as a secretary until returning to Fordham University Graduate School where she studied sociology. In 1955, she began her graduate work in anthropology at Stanford University from which she received her MA in 1958. Her thesis was a study of the native Alaskan King Islanders, entitled “The Eskimo House.” As an undergraduate student, Ross first visited King Island, a two square mile island in the Bering Sea, 40 nautical miles off of Cape Douglas, Alaska, in the fall of 1931. She lived among the native Inupiat inhabitants of the island until the summer of 1932. Her glimpse into the culture and language of the King Islanders would spark a lifelong interest in the Island and its inhabitants.

In 1959, Ross received her elementary school certification and was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to teach Eskimo children in Kobuk, Barrow and Ambler, Alaska. However, she differed with the federal government in regard to educational policy, as well as the politics of the Bureau, and left her post in 1960. She returned to her education at the University of Wisconsin where she began, but never completed, work towards her Ph.D in anthropology. Ross returned to Alaska in the fall of 1963, living and conducting census research on King Island until the summer of 1964.

Frances Ross never married and eventually settled in Seattle, Washington, where she maintained friendships with many of the King Islanders who left the island in 1970, often holding on to their tools and ivory for them. In 1982, she began a correspondence with Phil Cronenwett, Chief of Special Collections and Curator of Manuscripts at Dartmouth College, with the intent to donate her papers to the college. Over the next seven years she recorded 52 audio tapes addressed to Cronenwett with her recollections and commentary related to the arctic world and one audio tape addressed to Father Renner with her recollection of the history of the Jesuit missionaries on King Island. Suffering from emphysema Frances Ross died January 26, 1995.

Thomas Austin Ross (1875-1952), an experienced seaman, arrived in Nome, Alaska in 1899, opened a boating business and began prospecting for gold. Providing support services for the famed US Revenue Cutter “Bear” he was influential in establishing the first Life Saving Station in Nome in 1902. In 1904, he was appointed custodian of the station. He married Charlotte Yosting Ross in British Columbia in 1908, and they lived on the second floor of the station where Frances and her twin brother Tom were born in 1910. In 1915, the US Life Saving Service became the US Coast Guard and Warrant Officer/Boatswain Ross continued as the Nome station keeper. Thomas Ross was a member of the American Legion as well as a charter member of the Pioneers of Alaska and the Arctic Brotherhood. Thomas and Charlotte had three children, Tom Jr., who died of appendicitis in 1919, Frances, and John J. who was born in 1922.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Frances Ross papers

Identifier: Mss-254
Stefansson Mss-254
Date(s): 1880 to 1990

Frances A. Ross (1910-1995), educator and secretary to Vihljalmur Stefansson. Contains audio recordings and supporting materials documenting Alaska settlement, arctic exploration, the settlement at King Island as well as Ross' personal and professional life.

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