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Guide to the Sula Benet Papers

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY, 10012
(212) 998-2641

New York University Archives

Collection processed by RISM staff. Inventory revised by Margaret Fraser and Samantha Gibson, September 2010.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on March 04, 2013

Biographical Note

Sula Benet, Ph.D., was born and educated in Warsaw, Poland. She attended the University of Warsaw where she met her husband, Samuel Benet, a law student. She graduated in 1935 with a graduate degree in ethnography and archaeology. A year later, her dissertation, Hashish in Folk Customs and Beliefs, was published by the Warsaw Society of Sciences. With the help of her mentor, Professor Poniatowski, she was also granted a scholarship for post-doctoral studies. Following her husband's untimely death, she pursued post-graduate studies in anthropology at Columbia University in New York City. She received her Ph.D. in 1944.

Dr. Benet's early professional career included work as a research associate with Dr. Ruth Benedict for the Columbia University Research Project on Contemporary Culture. She subsequently held teaching positions at Columbia University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Pratt Institute. When she retired from teaching in 1973, Dr. Benet was a Professor Emeritus at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She then became a Senior Resarch Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Man (RISM), New York City.

She authored numerous books (see bibliography) and served as a consultant on Eastern Europe for the State Department during World War II as well as on numerous gerontological committees.

In 1970, at the invitation of the USSR Academy of Sciences, she began extensive field studies in the Caucasian region of Abkhasia, Russia. Her goal was to investigate Abkhasian lifeways after 50 years of collectivization. Over the next few years, Dr. Benet's study generated numerous publications, including How to Live to be 100, considered a landmark publication on gerontological research.

Fluent in Russian, Polish and Ukrainan, Dr. Benet's areas of specialization included cultural anthropology among the Slavic cultures of Eastern Europe where she conducted field work, sponsored by Columbia University, the Social Science Research Council, RISM, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Dr. Benet also conducted studies in culture and personality and aging and longevity.

Based on her research in Russia, Dr. Vera Rubin, director of RISM, proposed that Dr. Benet undertake a major study of the long-living people who had been her chief Abkhasian subjects. Dr. Benet's study led to the development of a US-USSR multidisciplinary research project on longevity, which involved Soviet and American social scientists. The study was known as the Cross-Cultural Comparisons of Aging and Longevity Study (or The Longevity Study).

In 1981, Dr. Benet began editing the English version of a major Soviet publication, The Peoples of the Soviet Union. She died on November 12, 1982, prior to completing the project.


Dr. Vera D. Rubin, Obituary of Dr. Sula Benet, Anthropology Newsletter, published by American Anthropologist Association, p. 3

Walter H. Waggoner, Obituary of Sula Benet, New York Times, November 13, 1982.