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Barbara Myerhoff was born in Cleveland and was partially raised by her maternal grandmother, a storyteller. Later she attributed her interest in studying men and women from diverse cultures and their stories and sacred rituals to this early influence. As a teenager, Barbara moved with her mother and stepfather to Los Angeles. In 1958, she received a BA in sociology from the University of California. In 1963, she earned an MA in human development from the University of Chicago. She then returned to UCLA and entered its PhD program in anthropology. In 1968, Barbara Myerhoff received her PhD with a dissertation on Huichol Indian ritual form, which she had studied in northern Mexico. Her first book Peyote Hunt: The Sacred Journey of the Huichol Indians, published in 1974, was nominated for a National Book Award. She continued to work on ritual and religious life in her studies on the aged. Declaring that the study of one's own culture was equally important as research on the exotic other, Barbara Myerhoff began fieldwork with elderly Jews in a senior center in Venice, California in 1972. Her critically-acclaimed book, Number Our Days, also became a 1977 Academy Award-winning short documentary film, an art exhibit, and a play, making Barbara Myerhoff into a national celebrity. In 1976, she became a full professor at the University of Southern California and chair of the Anthropology Department, which she headed until 1980. A few years later, Barbara Myerhoff's research took a more personal turn with the making of the documentary film In Her Own Time, detailing her own battle with lung cancer. She died at age 49, shortly after completing her last on-screen interview. Her work throughout the 1970s and 1980s helped to shape the anthropological study of ritual and of life histories, and made her a pioneer in her scholarship on women and religion.
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