John Embree was born in New Haven on August 26, 1908. He was
the descendent of Southern abolitionists, and was "the heir
of a distinguished moral tradition which he, in his own way followed
He received his A.B. at the University of Hawaii and his M.A.
from the University of Toronto in 1934. While at the University
of Chicago, from which he receive his PhD in 1937, Embree pursued
an anthopological study of a Japanese community. From this work,
he eventually published Suye Mura, which became an "immediate
After receiving his PhD, Embree returned to the University of
Hawaii as an assistant professor, moving to the University of
Toronto in 1941. During the war, he worked in a variety of public
service capacities; such as preparing pocket guides for the Office
of Strategic Services, improving the administration of the Japanese
relocation centers as principal community analyst for the War
Relocation Authority, and heading studies of the Civil Affiars
Training School for the Far East for the War Department. With
the end of the war, he joined the State Department as Cultural
Attaché in Bangkok and Saigon, helping to develop their
program of cultural relations.
When that program was reduced in scope, he returned to the U.S.
and in 1948 joined the Southeast Asia Studies program at Yale
University as associate professor of of Sociology. While at Yale
he began to lay the foundations for a long-term program of research
by preparing a comprehensive bibliography of the region. His published
papers on Southeast Asia are brief, but in his article, "Thailand
- A Loosely Structured Social System" (American Anthropologist,
Vol. 52, No. 2, 1950), ".....the beginnings of a comparative
analysis of social structure of great promise" could be seen.
In July 1950 he was made Director of Southeast Asia Studies following
the sudden death of Raymond Kennedy.
"He was struck down by an automobile and instantly killed
in Hamden, Connecticut on Friday afternoon, December 22, 1950.
That day the anthropological profession lost a colleague it could
ill afford to lose."
- Fred Eggan (1951), "John Fee Embree, 1908-1950," American
Anthropologist, Volume 53, Issue 3
"John Embree had less than two decades in which to work.
Yet within that time he gained both some public name and the lasting
regard of his fellow professionals. One of the most competent
contemporary observers of social life and of the Far East, he
was also one of the most versatile....at the time of his death
he was a specialist in two areas of Asia; and as an anthropologist
he was both scholar and actor in public affairs. The historians
of his fields will no doubt remember him primarily for these acomplishments.
His contemporaries, however, will recall him as readily for his
personal attainments. Of sensitive moral fibre, he was by character
and conviction animated by an extraordinary and classic sense
of pity. This quality of course won him the respect and admiration
of his colleagues. It also opened to him the hearts of those less
fortunate than himself, and of the people among whom he worked."
"John Embree's best work has been deeply productive for
his contemporaries. His restless curiosity and his belief that
his work should be both faithful to fact and of service to ethical
ends are the main tradition of his fields. It is with a deep sense
of loss that we have to record his early death.
- John Pelzel (1952), The Far Eastern Quarterly, volume 11, Issue
2 (February 1952) pp. 219-225. View
Sterling Memorial Library
Miscellaneous papers of John Fee Embree, sociologist and director
of Southeast Asia Studies at Yale University, 1950. Two journals
of trips to the Far East, 1926 and 1947-1948, the latter accompanied
by numerous photographs, postcards, wood cuts, and other illustrations
are included. Also in the papers are correspondence and mimeographed
memoranda of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social
Science Research Council and the Far Eastern Association, 1948-1951,
on the advancement of Asian studies in the United States. There
are also documents, reports and lecture outlines from the School
of Naval Administration, Hoover Institute, 1945-1946, on the Far
East and countries in the South Pacific, and manuscripts by Embree
on East Asia and the Japanese in America. http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0976