Sally Falk Moore (1924–2021)

Sally Falk Moore, mother and grandmother, anthropologist, legal scholar, and Victor S. Thomas Professor Emerita at Harvard University, passed away peacefully at the age of 97 on May 2, 2021 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Born Sally Lou Falk on January 18, 1924 in New York City, she attended the Lincoln School, Barnard College, and Columbia Law School. After briefly working on Wall Street, she became a staff attorney with the War Department at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg intended to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. There, she saw what she felt were the limitations of law, sparking her life-long study of legal and political systems. She and David Cresap Moore met in Haiti in 1948, while each was considering next steps in their lives. They returned together to New York City and Columbia University, married in 1951 and raised two daughters. Wherever they were actually living during the next seventy years, the family spent as much time as possible at their retreat in idyllic Truro on Cape Cod.

Professor Moore received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1957. After initial historical research on Inca property rights, she subsequently did field work in Tanzania, studying the Chagga and the interactions between indigenous, colonial, and post-colonial social and legal systems. She published widely in professional journals, focusing largely on cross-cultural, comparative legal theory. Among her many books, “Law as Process: an Anthropological Approach,” broke new ground by theorizing a processual approach to law; “Social Facts and Fabrications: “Customary” Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880-1980,” radically revised the scholarly understanding of customary law.

The Moores went to Los Angeles when Professor Moore’s husband joined the history department faculty at University of California, Los Angeles. Sally Falk Moore served on the faculty of the University of Southern California (1963-1977) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1977 - 1981). On the side, Professor Moore gave the course “Introduction to Social Anthropology: Other Peoples, Other Ways,” which aired before dawn on the CBS affiliate television station in Los Angeles (1967-1968). She was Visiting Professor in Anthropology at Yale University (1975-1976) and in Law and Anthropology at Harvard University (1978).

The Moores moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1981, when Professor Moore joined Harvard University as a Professor of Anthropology, a position she held until her death. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, she often also taught a class in anthropology and law at the Harvard Law School; she later learned, to her delight, that one of her students was Barack Hussein Obama, though she admitted that she had no memory of him from the class. Professor Moore and her husband were Co-Masters of Dunster House at Harvard (1984-1989); she was Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1985-1989) and was appointed Affiliated Professor in International Legal Studies at Harvard Law School in 2009.

Professor Moore was deeply involved with multiple professional organizations associated with her interests, including the Social Science Research Council, American Ethnological Society and American Anthropological Association and served on the editorial advisory boards of several professional journals.

Professor Moore’s honors accrued from the beginning of her professional career. She was awarded the Ansley prize for her Ph.D. dissertation; the Dart Award for Innovative Teaching at the University of Southern California, the Kalven Prize from the Law and Society Association, and the Huxley Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute. She gave the Morgan Lectures at the University of Rochester, the Beatty Lecture at McGill University, the Huxley Memorial Lecture at the University of Manchester, the Distinguished Lecture at the Association for Africanist Anthropology, the Brittingham Lecture at the Law School at the University of Wisconsin, and the Haskins Prize Lecture at the American Council of Learned Societies.

Sally Falk Moore was a devoted educator, mentor, and colleague and a loving wife, mother, and grandmother. In addition to her myriad professional accomplishments, she was known for her beauty, which she never failed to use to her advantage. She was a very good hostess and an ace double-solitaire player. She drank a single, small glass of dry vermouth every evening. Her husband of fifty years died in 2001. She is survived by her daughters, Penelope Moore and Nicola Moore, her grandsons, Benjamin Whitlock (Alison Thaler) and Samuel Moore (Michael Roytman), and by a host of students whose lives she touched.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to the American Civil Liberties Union.


To cite this article:

'Sally Falk Moore (1924–2021)'. Obituaries. Royal Anthropological Institute, May 2021. (available on-line: