Book Review: Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States


Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists In The Southeastern United States. Edited by Nancy M. White, Lynne P. Sullivan and Rochelle A. Marrinan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999. 392 pages, 79 B&W illustrations/figures, 2 tables. ISBN 0-8130-1686-x (hb) US$49.95.

Lara Lamb (Australian National University, Canberra) lamb@usq.edu.au

As the title suggests, this collection of essays includes nine separate biographical (and two autobiographical) sketches of early Southeastern women archaeologists (ch. 2-4 and 6-13). Also contained in the 392 pages are:

· an introduction to the volume, including a discussion of gender in Southeastern archaeology, the research background, and the researchers’ backgrounds (ch. 1, Women in Southeastern U.S. Archaeology);

· a discussion of the differing roles that ‘Anglo’ and African-American women archaeologists occupied in the excavation of the Irene Mound in Savannah, Georgia between 1937 and 1940, under one of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs (ch.5, Black and White Women at Irene Mound);

· a penultimate essay which explores factors inherent to the south that shape the discipline of archaeology and its practitioners (ch. 14, Grit-Tempered Women);

· and a concluding chapter which attempts to draw the main threads of this volume together – that is, gender roles within the discipline of archaeology, the achievements of early Southeastern women archaeologists and engendering the archaeological record (ch. 15, Reflections and Speculations on Putting Women into Southeastern Archaeology).

As outlined in chapter 1, Women in Southeastern U.S. Archaeology by Nancy White, the impetus for this book was the editors’ desire to assess the role of women in the history of southeastern archaeology, and its subsequent maturation. Coupled with this is the attempt to examine the link between one’s gender and how the science of archaeology is done. To this end nine separate authors (White, Schnell, Ledbetter, Sullivan, Classen, Davis, Marrinan, Mason, and Watson) have contributed to its pages.

Chapter 2, Margaret Ashley: Georgia’s First Professional Archaeologist, by Frank T. Schnell, Jr, recounts the professional life of Margaret Ashley, born Atlanta, Georgia, in 1902. After graduating from Oglethorp University with a degree majoring in English Literature and Journalism, Margaret Ashley corresponded with Franz Boas and was accepted into a graduate program in anthropology at Columbia University. Her dissertation topic was an archaeological survey of Georgia, which she commenced in 1926. Having established her authority in this area, Margaret Ashley was asked to organise an archaeology department at Emory University, and to assist Warren Moorehead on several projects in northern Georgia. Although Ashley had clearly gained the respect of Moorehead, she was frequently portrayed by the principal investigators as relevant only in “domestic” contexts (p. 29). After marrying Gerald Towle, Moorehead’s principal field assistant in 1930, Margaret Ashley quit professional archaeology for 14 years. The author of this chapter speculates that the Great Depression, the social mores of the time, or her marriage could have influenced her in this manner. In 1944, following Gerald Towle’s death, Ashley returned to Columbia to take up her doctoral studies once again, this time working in the field of paleoethnobotany. Completed in 1958, her doctoral dissertation was published in 1961 as No. 30 of the Viking Fund Series. Margaret Ashley worked at Harvard as an unpaid associate until her death on November 2, 1985. Schnell claims that “like so many pioneers, Margaret Towle did not realize her own importance. Like so many women she considered her work inadequate” (p.40).

Chapter 3, Isabel Garrard Patterson: Advocate for Georgia Archaeology, by R. Jerald Ledbetter, describes the contributions to archaeology by Isabel Patterson, born in Columbus on December 23, 1894. Patterson had a keen amateur interest in archaeology from an early age, and was a frequent visitor to many excavations in Georgia. She was essentially untrained but made large contributions to public education and to the financial support of several prominent archaeological projects. “Her ability to be a benefactor, but also to question the professionals and absorb the wealth of discoveries during that era put her into a position of more than a sponsor” (p.55). Patterson’s influence declined at the beginning of WWII, but she still remained active in the Georgia state archaeological society. Best known for her work on the Bull Creek site, Patterson also helped with the establishment of the Columbus Museum which “exhibited many of her finds” (p54). Isobel Patterson died in January, 1955.

Chapter 4, Madeline D. Kneberg Lewis: Leading Lady of Tennessee Archaeology, by Lynne P. Sullivan, outlines the life and career of Madeline Kneberg Lewis from “growing up in Moline” to “being an archaeologist and life in the 1990s”. This chapter differs from the first 3, by being written in an almost conversational style, and as a result tends to reveal the disparity of style present throughout the book. Born in Moline in 1903, Kneberg Lewis had a varied career until she took a position as a physical anthropologist in 1938 on a project funded by the Works Progress Administration and administered through the University of Tennessee. She was eventually to become laboratory director and one of the first women to hold a full professorship in archaeology in the southeast. “Madeline received support from many influential male colleagues and seems to have been comfortable in and drawn strength from a professional world in which men served as her confidants and mentors” (p58).

Chapter 5, Black and White Women at Irene Mound, by Cheryl Claassen, is an important chapter which details the differing experiences of White and Black women who were employed on the mound. “Exemplifying that difference…is the fact that we know the names of the thirty two white women and their specific contributions yet we do not know the name of any one of the black women” (p.93). Irene Mound, in Savannah, Georgia, was excavated for about 2½ years by a crew of 117 people who were supervised successively by Preston Holder, Vladimir Fewkes, Claude Schaeffer and Joseph Caldwell. All participants were employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was one of Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs initiated in the 1930s to combat rising unemployment. In addition to such tasks as cleaning, nursing, housekeeping and cooking, archaeological work was deemed ‘suitable’ for uneducated women of all ‘races’. However, while many White women had non-manual jobs such as constructing models, drawing maps and illustrating artefacts, Black women tended to work exclusively on the manual tasks with shovel and bucket. Just as the latter type of labour was considered inappropriate by White men and women, for White women, there was also some objection to this type of labour from Black quarters. However, this was voiced only twice in local media and the racially segregated task regime remained in place for the duration of the excavation. Surprisingly, the author of this chapter concludes that “there is no certain conclusion to be drawn as to the malevolence or benevolence of Black women’s inclusion by the WPA as excavators on archaeological projects. White feminists are likely to view the inclusion of Black women…in a positive light, while Black feminists are likely to see it as race and sex relations as usual” (p.105). I found the pigeonholing of these perspectives to be slightly simplistic and peremptory in what otherwise was an enlightening discussion.

Chapter 6, The Life and Times of Bettye J. Broyles: “I Did a Man’s Work for Thirty Years”, by Hester Davis, takes us through a detailed chronological account of Bettye Broyles’s archaeological career. Born in 1928, Broyles enrolled in a degree at the University of Chattanooga in 1950. She majored first in history and later in sociology, to graduate in 1955. During her years of study Broyles participated in fieldwork at Angel Mounds as a surveyor. She recalls no gender discrimination. A skilled illustrator, Broyles was employed by A. R. Kelly at the University of Georgia where she developed a methodology for recording complex designs on ceramics. For 12 years, between 1963 and 1975, Broyles worked for the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey where she did a phenomenal amount of archaeological work, particularly on the St Albans Site in Kanawha County, on the banks of the Kanawha River. Crohn’s disease finally forced her retirement from archaeological fieldwork and in 1986 Broyles was elected the President of the Rhea County Historical society. In a house that she built for the two of them in 1985, Broyles cared for her father until his death in 1989. Of her career, Broyles states “in 1955, no one bothered to tell me that this was a man’s field, or that there were few females doing fieldwork. I just knew that come hell or highwater this was something I wanted to do” (p.145).

Chapter 7, Best Supporting Actress? The Contributions of Adelaide K. Bullen, by Rochelle Marrinan, details the professional life of Adelaide Bullen who, in partnership with her husband Ripley Bullen, had a varied career in anthropology which spanned almost 50 years. After receiving her degree from Radcliffe in 1943, Adelaide Bullen pursued graduate studies in cultural and physical anthropology at Harvard which she completed in 1948. By 1949 both Adelaide and Ripley were involved with the Florida State Museum, Ripley as department chair for social sciences, and Adelaide on a volunteer basis. In the 26 years that followed, the husband and wife team co-authored 10 papers on Florida archaeological sites and also became involved in several Caribbean projects. In the mid 1970s Adelaide formed her own publishing company, Kendall Books, which posthumously published the “Bibliography of Ripley P. Bullen” (p.157-158). After the death of her husband Adelaide Bullen became the ‘adjunct curator’ of anthropology at the museum in 1977, and several years later married her assistant, Kenneth Bullen (no relation to Ripley). She died in Gainesville in 1987.

Chapter 8, Yulee W. Lazarus: From Avocational to Professional in Northwest Florida, by Nancy White, details the contributions of Lazarus who, although not possessing an archaeology degree, became the director of the Fort Walton Temple Mound Museum and a leading figure in Florida Panhandle archaeology. In 1936 Yulee graduated from Florida State College for Women with a degree in history, and almost immediately after that married Bill Lazarus. The pair became active in northwest Florida archaeology, particularly in salvage projects, which generated extensive local public awareness about sites such as Buck Mound and Fort Walton Temple Mound. In a project designed to boost the tourist trade in the region, a museum was built near the Fort Waldon Temple Mound in the early 1960s. Yulee Lazarus was hired as its director in 1968, and continued her productive research and maintained her public profile. While acknowledging that women can be encouraged into public roles, when asked Yulee Lazarus states that she “didn’t really run into any” disadvantages deriving from being a woman in the field of archaeology (p.176).

Chapter 9, This Ain’t the English Department: a Memoir of Becoming an Archaeologist in the 1950s at Florida State University, by Carol Mason, is a personal and somewhat idealistic narrative on “becoming an archaeologist in the 1950s”. This is followed by a biographical sketch by Rochelle Marrinan. For a book which, among other things, seeks to highlight gender discrimination in archaeology, the biographical sketch of Mason begins, rather strangely, with an observation about Mason’s physical appearance. Mason attended Florida State University as an undergraduate, under the tutelage of Hale Smith and Charles Fairbanks. At FSU the students were taught to think of themselves as professionals, and were treated as such by the wider academic community. They socialised freely with Faculty and were exposed to a wide range of ideas at the hands of guest lecturers, all of which contributed to a lively and interesting training, in contrast to the “currently dull state of anthropology” (p.182). Fieldwork was a mixture of ethnography on the Plains and the archaeology of the Florida Panhandle. Hard physical labour was expected of all students regardless of gender. Mason’s graduate work at the University of Michigan was completed by 1963, and she went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin. While resentful of the treatment of women on the FSU campus generally, Mason had few complaints about her treatment in the discipline of archaeology: “I realise that I am supposed to feel deprived without having had women to model myself after, but I never felt in the least disadvantaged. Faculty were people… And as one of the species, I felt equally at home among them” (p.196).

Chapter 10, Hester A. Davis: a Legend in Public Archaeology, by Nancy White, outlines the archaeological career of Hester Davis, who is a very prominent figure in public archaeology in Arkansas, successfully combining research, advocacy and public education. Davis received her degree at Rollins College in Florida, where she majored in history. During this time, she worked as a volunteer on the Upper Gila Expedition in New Mexico in 1950 – 1951. The director of the project at the time (J.O. Brew) advised her not to proceed in archaeology unless she “developed a particular talent such as her sister had in art” (p.210). By 1957 she had completed a masters in anthropology from the University of North Carolina. The University of Arkansas employed Davis in 1959 as ‘preparator’ in the university museum, and she was appointed assistant director of the museum in 1963. Through the Northwest Arkansas Archaeological Society, Davis became pro-active in public education about site destruction, and when the Arkansas Archaeology Survey was created in 1967, Hester was appointed the State Archaeologist. Together Davis and Bob McGimsey (her colleague at the Survey) lobbied at the federal level to implement legislation for the preservation of historic relics. This resulted in the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act being passed in 1974. Hester still holds the job of State Archaeologist and has become increasingly involved in the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) after having been elected to the executive in 1975. At the time of publication Davis held the chair of the SAA Ethics Committee. Although early in her career Davis encountered clear cases of discrimination, “she has always enjoyed being a woman in a field where there are more men than women. McGimsey has been a good mentor and her work environment has been egalitarian” (p.226).

Chapter 11, Martha Ann Rolingson: From Paleo Points to Platform Mounds, by Nancy White, describes the life and career of Martha Rolingson, born in Wichita, Kansas. Rolingson graduated from the University of Denver in 1957 with a major in anthropology. Unable to afford graduate school, she took a teaching post with the Minneapolis public schools. In 1958, Rolingson was employed by the University of Kentucky to a museum assistantship, where she was the only woman in the archaeological section. Although frequently confined to lab work while the men were in the field, Rolingson “remembers a fairly supportive environment” (p.234). A masters was obtained in 1960 on Paleo-Indian culture and she continued to work at the U of K museum as curator and occasional lecturer. Her terminal degree was completed in 1967. Rolingson was later promoted from Instructor to Assistant Professor, but was disillusioned because she was not considered for the position of museum director (owing to a de-emphasis on archaeology [p.241]). In 1968 she successfully applied for a position with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, during which time her research interests included culture history and settlement patterns. Still with the Survey, Martha Rolingson began her long research association with the Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park in 1976, where she has continued her involvement to the present day. On gender relations, “Martha thinks a major advantage [of working for the Survey] has been pretty equal treatment and absence of bickering between genders” (p.250). When asked about gender and archaeological interpretation she believes that, as a topic, gender in the archaeological record would have been ignored decades ago and was not pursued (implying that, decades ago, gender differences generated little difference in archaeological interpretation) (p.250).

Chapter 12, Elizabeth S. Wing: a Patient but Persistent Vision, by Rochelle Marrinan, is a review of the professional career of Liz Wing. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1932, Wing’s enthusiasm for animals began at a very early age. It continued, and matured, and she went on to obtain a B.A. in biology from Mount Holyoke College in 1955. Wing completed her masters thesis at the University of Florida on animal biology in 1957. During this time, she was influenced by John Groggin, who introduced her to archaeology, and who used her as a chaperone on his fieldtrips (because at that stage she was married). Through an analysis of faunal material from prehistoric contexts, Wing’s PhD dissertation asked the question: ‘When did the island of Trinidad become separated from mainland South America?’. It was completed in 1962. During her postgraduate studies Wing was employed in an assistantship capacity at the FMNH, and in 1969 became curator of the zooarchaeology section.

For many years she worked on the improvement of certain methodologies relating to the investigation of faunal materials in archaeological contexts. In doing so, she has “amassed one of the best institutional collections available today” (p.264), and her specialist knowledge is frequently tapped by prominent researchers.

Chapter 13, From the Hilly Flanks of the Fertile Crescent to the Eastern Woodlands of North America, is a brief autobiographical sketch by Patty Jo Watson pertaining to her extensive professional career. At the behest of the Cave Research Foundation (of which her husband, Red, was a founding member) Watson initiated archaeological research on the Mammoth Cave and Salts Cave systems in Kentucky, in the mid 1950s. Although still active in Near Eastern Archaeology, Watson became established in eastern North American archaeology (particularly archaeobotany) in the mid 1970s. During the time that she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and throughout her career in the Near East, Watson states “it never crossed my mind…that gender was an issue when it came to doing archaeology” (p.292). It was not until the mid 1970s when she became active in the southeast, that gender imbalance reared its head. However, Watson emphasises the ongoing role that the SAA Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology has in the wider discipline, and its positive impact on the professional careers of women archaeologists. (Watson is currently a tenured professor at Washington University where three out of the four faculty are women – a fact, she states, that has likely encouraged more women graduate students than men to undertake their degrees at WU.)

Chapter 14, Grit-Tempered Women, is a review by the editors of the biographical and autobiographical material presented in the book, and a brief discussion on the contemporary position of women in the discipline of archaeology. Chapter 15, Putting Women into Southeastern Archaeology, by Nancy White, addresses the question of how one’s gender influences how one does the science of archaeology. Then follows a lengthy edited transcript of a discussion about the interpretation of the Toltec Mounds Park site. Participants in this discussion are Rolingson, Davis, Watson and Ann Early, while “other women archaeologists stand by” (p.319). The volume concludes with examples of studies that have engendered the past, and some speculation on how women would revise the prehistory of the southeast.

Overall, the strength of this book is in its biographical component. It is a valuable repository of information about a group of archaeologists, of whom little of this nature would otherwise have been known. The research into their past was clearly extensive, and carried out with good will and respect on the part of the numerous authors. Yet there is a wide variety of styles contained within the book, and this is a significant weakness, especially given that the editors are attempting to address a body of theory on engendering the archaeological record, and on the archaeologist’s own gender as a tool for doing this. A more cohesive style may have helped to draw this material together, and may have added to the overall utility of the volume.

Throughout the book there is an assumption that women bring a unique and different perspective to archaeological interpretation. I find this somewhat discomfiting. While there are undoubtedly links between gender and the way some archaeologists do science, the assumption made by the editors that “one’s gender…cannot help but influence how one does science” (p.6) is a rather more sweeping conclusion (or assumption). Contrary to this, Martha Rolingson (p.318) notes “that her perspectives reflect what is current in the field”, a view that must be shared by many other women in archaeology. While I acknowledge the vast contributions of feminist theory in archaeology, I feel that pigeonholing women into an inherently unique and different perspective denies them the right to some other rewarding professional paths – not a helpful message to young women contemplating archaeology as a career.

One also gets the distinct impression that many of the women interviewed were uncomfortable with the notion of the subjugation of their gender in archaeological practice. Many make explicit statements to this effect (or their biographers do). Despite this, Chapter 14 emphasises the perceived negative aspects of each woman’s experiences. This approach would be tenable only if the editors embarked on a sustained feminist critique of historic contexts that shape how these women feel about their own past experiences. However, little attempt is made to do this (see p.22 and p. 310). As a result, I find this particular mix of biography and occasional critique an uncomfortable one.

My lasting impression is that, as a collection of biographical essays, this volume has merit. However, I also feel that these women’s stories have been appropriated into an agenda that is mismatched with the way in which many early women archaeologists view their own experiences. And with little adequate discussion of historic context this could distract many readers.