Breaking Ground, Breaking Tradition First Generation of Women Archaeologists

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 Mawrís 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 institutionís 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's Letters

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.

December 29, 1903

"I was just talking to Mrs. William Sharp about women studying and so on: I do think that a girl of my age has an awfully hard course to steer, if she keeps herself scholarly for a teaching career, and womanly against the chance that she may marry. Miss Boyd is coming in February to continue her Cretan excavations. I wish she would break me in to that work and take me as an assistant in her next two or three campaigns. Donít mention such a thing at home, for it is hardly possible. But I should like to get to work with a woman like that. There are good riding horses in Crete too."

While at the American School, Hall studied the decorative motifs on Mycenaean and Minoan pottery. The main question she hoped to illuminate was: "Are they conventionalized natural patterns or are they developed from linear motives?" Hall was able to view these motifs firsthand in museums in Greece and Crete, and she collected them by drawing them by hand in notebooks. Her work eventually allowed her to outline a chronology of Minoan pottery based on these designs, which would prove to be an important tool for the excavation of Knossos and other Minoan sites. These painted Bronze Age sherds are examples of the types of decorated ceramics Hall studied.

Sunday afternoon -

"I have now finished collecting the different patterns found on Mycenean vases and on the small gold and ivory and glass paste ornaments which were found in such abundance in the shaft graves of Mycenae, and in other tombs which have been excavated since. I have made some four hundred drawings and am now beginning to write out the history of the different patterns. [Ö] I suppose it all seems very specialized and unprofitable, and so in a way it is. I console myself by thinking first that when Warner [Hallís younger brother] gets to studying ancient history, he will read in even the briefest history a very different account of the years 4000-1000 B.C. in Greece, than that which I studied, and which is still studied in schools. Not that I hope to contribute anything myself. I mean simply that Iím in the field where good work is being done. Secondly, I often say to myself that it must be good for me because it is so hard. Doing a piece of work which has never been done before is a long tedious task, which calls for painstaking and accuracy, and for alertness, even through all the dull places. So Iím sure it is a good discipline."

In 1904, Boyd invited Hall to dig with her at Gournia, as it was not considered proper for Boyd to live in the field unaccompanied by another woman. That year, Hall and Boyd traveled around Crete on mules and on foot, lived in tents, and excavated Gournia. Their 1908publication documents Boydís and Hallís findings at Gournia and represents the first monograph produced by women archaeologists.

May 8, 1904

"On Thursday of this week I dug two graves all by myself, that is I had five men working for me at a distance of several miles from the main excavation. They were of the geometric period c. 1000 B.C., and must have been those of very poor men, for there were only a few sherds of the poorest kind of pottery beside the gentlemen themselves. But even so, it was rather thrilling to come upon their skulls, almost intact. It was great sport galloping off at 6 A.M. with a measuring stick, a bag for finds and a note-book, and to have the responsibility of telling the men where to dig."