Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community on July 18, 2023. – Ed.
I write to share the news that Kathleen Joan Bragdon-Brown, who was planning to retire this year from William & Mary after 34 years as a Professor of Anthropology, died on Thursday, June 29 at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. A beloved wife, mother, sister, daughter, and aunt, Katie—as she was known to family, friends, colleagues, and many former students—was one of her generation’s finest scholars of the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in New England and a leading expert on the written form of Algonquian languages in the region.
Katie was born May 17, 1953, in Worcester, Massachusetts to George and Patricia (Murphy) Bragdon and spent her childhood between Weymouth, Massachusetts, Falmouth, Maine, and Andover, Massachusetts, where she graduated from high school in 1971. Her academic career began during her undergraduate years at Cornell University, where she studied anthropology and history, immersed herself joyfully in the life of the campus community, sang in the Sage Chapel Choir, and embraced a life of ideas that she would lead until her last days. It is a mark of Katie’s skill and precociousness that the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen recruited her to work with him as research assistant during her time as an undergraduate, and her advisor in anthropology, Robert Ascher, directed her to the extremely competitive Vernon Field School in Archaeology in 1973.
Katie wasted no time in pursuing a doctorate, moving on to Brown University with Ascher’s encouragement to work with another luminary of early American history and anthropology, James Deetz, whereupon she began to forge her unique identity as a scholar. Her work combined archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic, and historical evidence to recreate Colonial-era American society, particularly Colonial-period Native American society, in a unique way. Her books, including “Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650” (1996), which won the American Society for Ethnohistory’s Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize for best book of the year, “Native People of Southern New England, 1650-1775,” (2009), “The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Northeast,” (2005), and notably, “Native Writings in Massachusett” (1988, with Ives Goddard), set the discipline standard for historical anthropology of Indigenous New England.
Following adjunct appointments at MIT and The George Washington University, Katie joined the William & Mary faculty in 1990 and chaired the Department of Anthropology from 2010 to 2015. During her distinguished career at W&M, she served as liaison with the linguistics program, attracted countless undergraduates to the anthropology major, and mentored both M.A. and doctoral students.
In her spare time, Katie was a keen and talented decorator, read several crime novels a week, tended to a fabulous garden (a skill she inherited from her mother, Patty), and relaxed with her loyal golden retrievers, Dodger and Finn. Though an introvert by nature, Katie was warm, fun-loving, a brilliant conversationalist, and always game for a road trip over the course of her many travels to Europe and elsewhere.
Katie is survived by her husband of 41 years, Marley R. Brown III, her son, Marley R. Brown IV, and her brothers, George H. Bragdon Jr. and Geoffrey J. Bragdon. She was preceded in death by her parents, George H. Bragdon Sr. and Patricia J. Murphy Bragdon, and her sister, Sarah J. Wilkinson.
The family is planning a private memorial service in accordance with Katie’s wishes, which will be held in September of 2023. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations to honor and continue Katie’s support of undergraduate research be made to the Anthropology Department (2960) at William & Mary. Checks should be made payable to the William & Mary Foundation and mailed to P.O Box 1693, Williamsburg, VA 23187. Please note the designation and that the gift is made in memory of Kathleen Bragdon. Credit card payments are accepted through https://impact.wm.edu/bragdon.
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