Marigold Linton

Conquering Fear and Preparing the Way for Others

mlinton Dr. Marigold Linton is Cahuilla-Cupeno of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. She overcame enormous obstacles to become one of the first American Indian to earn a PhD in psychology. Her distinguished career has included major roles in creating programs that have enabled many American Indians to earn advanced degrees in the sciences. As Director of American Indian Outreach at the University of Kansas (KU) since 1998, she has led a team from KU and Haskell Indian Nations University that has obtained more than $13 million in support from the National Institutes of Health for Haskell and KU students. Linton is Past President of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science), an organization in which she is still active.The SACNAS website features a wonderful 8 minute video of Dr. Linton. (Scroll down to find it.)

Dreams of Succeeding

Linton grew up in poverty on the Morongo Indian Reservation in Southern California. Long before her birth, her great-great grandfather, Antonio Garra, war chief of the Cupeno, led an insurrection against the invaders.

Linton recalls doing well in school: “My mother often said to me, ‘You’re lucky. The school fits your mind.’ Very early in life Linton had vivid dreams about leaving the reservation but returning later. “The visions told me that if I did leave, I would become someone,” she says.

Linton continues, "One of the deciding points in my life was when my eighth grade teacher came onto the reservation and told my mother. ‘You daughter is very smart and should go to college'. The idea of going to college fit my dreams.”

Linton worked hard and saved money for college. She chose the University of California at Riverside. “It was 30 miles and a world away from the reservation,” she says. Linton had no role models on the reservation who had attended college. In fact, years later she learned that she was the first California reservation Indian to attend a university. “All my life I had heard such messages as, ‘Indians don’t go to college. They flunk out.’ Even my father, kind gentleman that he was, said, ‘When you flunk, you can come back. We will be here.’”

First to Attend the University

Linton’s first semester at the University of California at Riverside was stressful. “I didn’t come out of a very good high school. I was very frightened. I felt that I had only one chance to succeed. I came from a family that rarely talked, and in class I never had any ideas or anything to say. Sometimes when I was asked a question, I would run out of the room in tears. I was so determined to succeed, that I spent all of my time studying.

“When I received my first report card, I was afraid to open it. When I did open it, I saw there were all A’s. This was something I desperately wanted, but my father had taught me never to take anything that wasn’t mine. I was sure that this report card wasn’t mine, so I took it to the registrar. Giving it back with both hands, I said, ‘You’ve given me the wrong grades. Please return this to the person to whom the grades belong and give me my grades. The people in the registrar’s office looked at me like I was out of my mind. ‘Those are you grades,’ they said. “I was greatly relieved but assumed it was just an accident. I again worked day and night and got straight A's again the next semester.

“I had come to school with the $1,000 I had saved. Even then, this was barely enough to live on. Because I now had absolutely no money, I got a full-time job that summer and the summers that followed. I also worked half time during the school year. By this time the university provided me a small scholarship each year.

“I considered majoring in political science and even becoming a lawyer, but I was told that political science departments don’t treat women well. Even more important, my difficulty talking in public didn’t fit with becoming a lawyer. I eventually settled on experimental psychology. I didn’t want to go into a narrow discipline. Psychology seemed okay because with it I could do anything.” As usual, Linton worked hard and as an undergraduate was an author on two articles describing her research in psychology.

In 1958 Linton entered graduate school in experimental psychology at the University of Iowa. She spent two years at Iowa and then completed her PhD in experimental psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1964. Since then, her research, which she has continued doing throughout the years, has focused on long-term memory.

San Diego State University

When Linton finished her PhD, she had been married for six years. “My husband wanted to move to San Diego. In those days things were much less formal than they are now. He went to the political science department, said he wanted a job, and they hired him. When I approached the psychology department about a position for myself, they said they could offer me a full-time position if I worked half time in the university counseling center and taught half time in psychology. I told them that I didn’t know anything about counseling because I was an experimental psychologist, but at that time counseling seemed the appropriate role for women, so they had no issue with my lack of experience. I turned out to be a pretty fair counselor, and the difficult cases often ended in my office.

“The teaching was problematic. I had to give a 50-minute lecture even though I had almost never said more than 10 words at a time in public. The first semester was truly miserably because I had to write down every word of my lecture and then read it to my students. I threw up before every class. I was scared to death, but I did it anyway, and as is the way with life, things got better. At the end of a year I chose to teach full-time because I was convinced that teaching was where opportunities lay. My clinical career ended."

National Indian Education Association

During her 10 years (1964-1974) at San Diego State University, Linton excelled in her work. She went from being an instructor to being a full professor. Outside of her local tasks, she worked with others in founding the National Indian Education Association. Established in 1969, NIEA is a non-profit advocacy organization that helps ensure that American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian educators, tribal leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students have a strong, national voice in the education of Native people. Today NIEA has more than 10,000 members – a huge increase since Linton and four or five colleagues started the organization.


linton Linton is one of the founding members of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science), which is composed of science professors, industry scientists, administrators, K-12 educators, and students. SACNAS promotes opportunities in science education for Chicano/Latino, Native American, and other underrepresented minority students, encouraging students to reach the highest levels possible in their science careers. From 2004 until 2007 Linton served as President of the SACNAS Board of Directors. She was only the second woman and the second Native American to serve in this important role.

University of Utah

Linton’s next position was in the department of psychology at the University of Utah where she was the first woman ever hired as a full professor. Linton taught and described her research in regular publications. She began serving on National Institutes of Health minority training grant review committees. Like many Indian women of middle age she cared for her mother.

Shortly after arriving at Utah, Linton was asked to talk with the Board of Directors of the prestigious Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, that were meeting on the campus. “I told them that Utah claimed to want me because I was an Indian woman, but they had looked at my vitae, and I looked like a white male. That’s the only kind of Indian woman that would have been acceptable to them at that time.” Three years later in 1977, Linton was invited to become a member of the board of directors of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. During her eight years on the board, the foundation did a major study of high schools. Shortly after she left the board, the foundation completed a seminal study of tribal colleges.

Arizona State University

In 1983 Linton married Robert Barnhill, a mathematician who was a faculty member at the University of Utah. A few years later Barnhill's career goals led him to Arizona State University (ASU). Linton, who describes herself as a flexible, trailing spouse, accepted a position at ASU directing a variety of programs that focused on improving educational opportunities for Americans Indians. This included developing science and mathematics opportunities for students, providing on-reservation classes for Native teacher aides who wished to become teachers, creating bridge programs for reservation students, and providing developmental activities for 29 schools on 19 Arizona reservations. In her last two years at ASU Linton worked to develop a partnership between Arizona State University and the Indian Health Service in Phoenix. Linton’s work was supported in part by funding from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and a National Science Foundation grant.

University of Kansas and Haskell University

04543_6_2_2 Linton with Dr. Russ Middaugh and student, Talia Martin

In 1998 Barnhill accepted an administrative position at the University of Kansas (KU), located in Lawrence, Kansas, where Barnhill grew up and his elderly mother still lived. Linton accepted the Provost's invitation to be Director of American Indian Outreach at KU.

Very quickly Linton realized that a partnership between KU and nearby Haskell Indian Nations University could enhance Native American education in the biomedical sciences and enrich the academic life of both institutions. With the help of her colleagues, she raised more than $18 million in grants in support of the Haskell-KU partnership. [See
Haskell-KU for a description of the current programs, many of which are built on the initial grants.]


"Work hard to become broadly trained," Linton advises people who are interested in psychology, in particular, and behavior, in general. "I've spent a lifetime reminding other scientists that psychology is THE hard science," she declares.

“Be confident enough to try the hard route rather than the easy route. These days try informatics, genomics, and proteomics rather than a more traditional discipline. In a decade the names will change but the advice will not. Be as well trained and as broadly trained as you can be.

"Increasingly psychology has become a 'hyphenated science' with disciplines, such as neuropsychology, psychobiology, and others. As science becomes more and more interdisciplinary, scientists from all disciplines are recognizing the importance of having a well-trained, flexible psychologist on the team.

“Do enough research so that you and your employer are satisfied, but also balance your life and activities. I do photography and have become a digital camera freak. I collect art, especially works by American Indian artists. I've always been involved in sports, particularly tennis. Walking has become a passion. My memories of all the cities in which I've lived include not only people but also the great levees, hills and valleys where my husband and I have walked.

"Family is very important to me. My contacts with my tribe are precious. I have four stepchildren. I have a splendid husband who I married at middle age. We all play together and enjoy each other's company."

"Fifty years ago, I chose psychology because of its breadth. The world is filled with many fascinating opportunities. Psychologists can be involved in a remarkable number of them. The challenge of understanding behavior is becoming more exciting with every decade. Find a niche. Do something important that is interesting to you.”
This article was originally published in the Summer, 2005 issue of Winds of Change. It was part of a collection of articles on careers in the biomedical sciences.

Update 2010

Office for Diversity in Science Training at the University of Kansas honored Dr. Linton’s continued leadership role by establishing the Marigold Linton Scholarship in Biomedical Science. The scholarship provides financial support for junior or senior level undergraduates majoring in biomedically-relevant disciplines. Preference is give to American Indian students.

Dr. Linton say, “I continue as Senior Advisor to SACNAS and ex-officio member of the board. Sharing my love for SACNAS, early in 2009, my husband became their first Vice President. His title is VP for Science Policy and Strategic Initiatives.” Dr. Linton also reports that the first SACNAS Summer Leadership Institute was hugely successful. Another one will be held this year.

Update July, 2007

After the article above was published, Dr. Linton and her husband, Dr. Robert Barnill, moved to Texas where Linton was Director of Math and Science Initiatives for the University of Texas Systems. "Working with the great Hispanic-serving institutions in the state provided experiences that enriched our lives," she reports.

Today Linton and her husband are based in Phoenix, Arizona. However, thanks to the miracles of telecommuting, Linton continues to serve as Director of American Indian Outreach for the University of Kansas and as co-investigator on several grants at KU. Linton is a member of the National Science Foundation's congressionally mandated Committee on Equality of Opportunity in Science and Engineering (CEOSE). She also continues to review grants for the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and other organizations.

When she steps down from her position as Past President of SACNAS, Linton will continue to be active in SACNAS, helping to obtain grants for the organization's core funding. She will also serve as Director of the Research Institute for SACNAS (RISa).

Linton continued to care for her mother until February 2007 when Wistaria Linton died at the age of 95. Linton has good reason to be proud of her mother. "My mother was a photographer," Linton says. "From the 1930s to the 1950s, my mother captured numerous images of the Morongo Reservation. She was the archivist for her generation. She maintained an amazing set of art objects to which she added her own photographs and other work. To create an appropriate memorial for my mother, I'm working to organize these materials into a coherent form."

Linton and her husband walk, on average, 50+ miles per week. Their goal is to walk 70 miles per week in what they regard as the most beautiful terrain in the world.