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

By Trubitt, Mary Beth | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

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


Trubitt, Mary Beth, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States. Edited by Nancy Marie White, Lynne P. Sullivan, and Rochelle A. Marrinan. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999. Pp. xviii, 392. Foreword, preface, acknowledgements, illustrations, tables, bibliography, contributors, index. $49.95.)

The first time I saw the Southeastern Archaeological Conference's sixtieth-year commemorative poster, I was annoyed. A painting depicted an all-male team of archaeologists excavating a mound in the 1940s, while a photograph from the same era shows four women numbering artifacts in a lab. "Men in the field, women in the lab-a fine set of images to show today's students," I protested. Yet this was often the reality of archaeology in its earlier years. Women's roles on these archaeological projects were bounded. The women profiled in Grit-Tempered had to push against these boundaries, and a result of their persistence is that much wider options are available to women pursuing archaeology in 2000.

Grit-Tempered is a series of biographical essays on eleven women archaeologists working in the Southeast during the twentieth century. Chapters by the editors on women in southeastern archaeology, gender and archaeology, and the role of women in past societies provide analysis and context. Biographical chapters on Margaret E. Ashley, Isabel Garrard Patterson, Madeline D. Kneberg Lewis, Bettye J. Broyles, Adelaide K. Bullen, Yulee W. Lazarus, Hester A. Davis, Martha Ann Rolingson, and Elizabeth S. Wing are authored by Frank T. Schnell, Jr., R. Jerald Ledbetter, Lynne P. Sullivan, Hester A. Davis, Rochelle A. Marrinan, and Nancy Marie White. Carol I. Mason and Patty Jo Watson offer autobiographical sketches. The most unusual piece is an essay by Cheryl Claassen on African American women on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) crew that excavated Irene Mound in Georgia. "Black and White Women at Irene Mound" analyzes attitudes about race, gender, and class that resulted in black women working as excavators on several WPA projects in Georgia in the late 1930s. Stories from relatives provide welcome insight into how some of these women viewed their own experiences at Irene.

One of the themes that emerges from the book is the importance of the WPA in the development of southeastern archaeology. Madeline Kneberg Lewis's career is most strongly linked to WPA and TVA projects in Tennessee. Trained as a physical anthropologist, Kneberg Lewis became director of the WPA lab, taught at the University of Tennessee, and later served as assistant director of the Frank H. McClung Museum. Women were often excluded from positions as field supervisors on WPA projects, but some women worked in the lab and as excavators.

A second generation of women was trained in the 1950s, often by archaeologists who had their own start through the WPA. Then as now, first experiences (archaeological field schools, undergraduate anthropology departments, mentoring relationships) influenced later successes. The chapters about Bettye Broyles, Hester Davis, Martha Rolingson, Elizabeth Wing, and Patty Jo Watson give us insights into this process.

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