Edith Hayward Hall Dohan (1877-1943)
Edith Hall (later Dohan) received her A.B. from Smith College in 1899 and pursued graduate study at Bryn Mawr, earning the first classical archaeology Ph.D. degree awarded by the College in 1906. In 1903, Hall won the Mary E. Garrett European Fellowship to study at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, becoming Bryn Mawr’s first Fellow in Athens and the only female student at the American School that year. Hall stayed there for two years studying the decorative elements on Mycenaean and Cretan pottery. While in Greece, Hall met Harriet Boyd (later Hawes), director of excavations at the site of Gournia, Crete. In 1904, Hall accompanied Boyd to Gournia and gained her first field experience.
After receiving her doctorate with a dissertation titled Decorative Art of Crete in the Bronze Age, Hall moved to Mt. Holyoke College where she taught archaeology. During these years, she also continued digging in Crete, excavating at Sphoungaras in 1910 and Vrokastro in 1912 on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Museum (known at the time as the Free Museum of Science and Art). In taking on the directorship of Vrokastro, Hall became the second American woman to direct an archaeological excavation on Crete and the third woman ever in Greece. In 1912, she left her teaching position in order to pursue curatorial work at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
In 1915, Hall temporarily interrupted her career and married a Pennsylvania lawyer, Joseph Dohan. Hall was in her thirties when she married, later in life than most women of her generation. She had refused her first marriage proposal as a graduate student, insisting that she had to focus on her education and profession. For the next fifteen years, Edith Hall Dohan devoted herself to raising her two children, while she taught part-time at Bryn Mawr College.
In 1931, Hall Dohan returned to the University of Pennsylvania Museum as associate curator of the Mediterranean Section. At the same time, she became book review editor for the American Journal of Archaeology. During the last decade of her life Dohan was a regular contributor to her institution’s publication, the University Museum Bulletin. In those years she also worked on what would become her last important publication, Italic Tomb Groups in the University Museum, a catalog of artifacts found in the Etruscan tombs excavated by the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1897. The book was published simultaneously by the Oxford University Press and the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1942, shortly before Dohan's sudden death while working at her desk in the Museum in the summer of 1943.
As one of the first women to successfully direct an archaeological excavation and one of the first leading experts on Cretan archaeology, Edith Hall Dohan served as a model for perseverance and scholarship that the next generation of Bryn Mawr archaeology students could follow.
Dohan was a superior correspondent, writing abundant letters to her parents and to her older sister, Anne, in the form of week-long diaries. These letters offer a glimpse of life in Athens and at the excavation site for a woman archaeologist in the early 1900s. Her poetic descriptions and honest evaluations paint a vivid picture of her graduate studies at the American School and her first experiences excavating with Boyd at Gournia in 1904.