Breaking Ground, Breaking Tradition First Generation of Women Archaeologists


Lucy Shoe Meritt (1906-2003)

Lucy Shoe (later Meritt) knew she wanted to be an archaeologist even before she enrolled at Bryn Mawr in 1923. At the age of nine, she saw stereopticon views of Pompeii at Memorial Hall in Philadelphia and became fascinated with reconstructions of Pompeian villas. She pursued her childhood interest at Bryn Mawr College, where Rhys Carpenter became her mentor and inspired in her a love for classical architecture. She earned her A.B. in 1927, M.A. in 1928, and Ph.D. in 1935.

In 1929, Shoe went as a Fellow to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where she examined firsthand the architectural remains of ancient Greece. Taught from textbooks that profiles of Greek mouldings did not differ, but also taught by Carpenter to “see what you look at,” she noticed that temple mouldings indeed differed vastly. As a result of her observations, she continued her study in Greece from 1930 to 1934, equipped with a MACO Template profile gauge, a specialized tool used to record moulding profiles. The results of her research confirmed that there were important chronological distinctions in the execution and placement of architectural mouldings, as shown in the full-scale drawings and explanatory text published in Profiles of Greek Mouldings in 1936, an adapted version of her Ph.D. dissertation.



In 1936, Shoe was awarded a Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, one of few women Fellows at that institution in pre-war years, and, in 1937, she was the first woman permitted to sit at the Fellows’ Table of the Academy. While in Rome, she investigated Western Greek architecture in Magna Graecia and Sicily. Her findings were published in Profiles of Western Greek Mouldings in 1952. Granted a second fellowship in 1949, she expanded her research to include Italic mouldings. Her research in Italy showed that there were fundamental differences between the principles of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman architecture. Shoe Meritt’s publication of Italic mouldings, Etruscan and Republican Roman Mouldings, was delayed until 1965 because her original drawings for the study were stolen in Naples in 1957, requiring her to revisit the sites and recreate them.

From 1950 until 1972, Shoe Meritt served as editor-in-chief of the publications of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. In 1964, she married her colleague Benjamin D. Meritt, distinguished scholar of classical epigraphy and longtime affiliate of the American School. Upon her retirement as editor, the Meritts moved to Texas, where she served as Professor of Classical Archaeology and Visiting Scholar of the Department of Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Lucy Shoe Meritt’s lifelong study of classical architectural mouldings proved that changes in the profiles of architectural mouldings could be used as a chronological indicator, an insight that has become indispensable for work on ancient architecture. In 1977, she was awarded the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Service by the American Institute of Archaeology. Among her other awards were honorary degrees from Brown University (1974) and Hamilton College (1994).