Breaking Ground, Breaking Tradition First Generation of Women Archaeologists

A New Era: Swindler and Carpenter

The academic year 1914-15 opened a new era at Bryn Mawr when Classical Archaeology became an independent department, separate from History of Art. Mary Hamilton Swindler, still a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, became a reader in classical archaeology and undertook the direction of the department in conjunction with Rhys Carpenter, a Columbia graduate student who had been urged by Bryn Mawr College President M. Carey Thomas to become an archaeologist. Over the next several decades, Swindler and Carpenter taught, trained, and inspired generations of archaeologists.

Mary Hamilton Swindler (1884-1967)

Mary Hamilton Swindler came to Bryn Mawr in 1906 as a graduate student in Greek with an A.B. (1905) and M.A. (1906) from Indiana University. In 1909, Swindler studied abroad as a Bryn Mawr Fellow in Berlin and at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Back at Bryn Mawr, she was awarded her Ph.D. in 1912 with a dissertation on Cretan Elements in Cults and Rituals of Apollo. Immediately upon graduation, Swindler joined the Bryn Mawr faculty as Reader in Latin and Demonstrator in Archaeology. Along with the recruitment of Rhys Carpenter, this appointment marked the formal separation of the Classical Archaeology Department from Art History.

From 1912 until 1949, Swindler taught archaeology and classics at Bryn Mawr. During her impressive teaching career, she introduced the major in archaeology at the College, organized the joint Bryn Mawr-Fogg Museum Tarsus Excavations under Hetty Goldman in the 1930s, and founded the College’s Ella Riegel Memorial Museum in 1940, named in honor of Ella Riegel (A.B.’99, who donated generously to the program, library, and Tarsus Excavations). Also under Riegel’s name, Swindler established a fellowship that enabled graduate students to spend a year abroad.

Swindler spent fifteen years researching her comprehensive and seminal work, Ancient Painting: From the Earliest Times to the Period of Christian Art, published in 1929. A remarkable book, its contents ranged from the art of Paleolithic caves to Byzantine mosaics. It was the first of its kind, a comprehensive treatment of the subject for students and scholars alike. Ancient Painting earned Swindler an international reputation and scholars continue to use it today. She planned a second major work to be titled The Beginning of Greek Art, but while nearly finished manuscripts exist, she never completed it.

In 1932, Swindler was appointed editor of the American Journal of Archaeology, becoming the first woman to hold that position. She served as editor-in-chief for 14 years and is credited with bringing the journal to maturity and making it a truly international publication. In 1944, Swindler resigned her editorship and was immediately appointed the prestigious Norton Lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America. Upon her retirement in 1949, Swindler was appointed research fellow at the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (1949-50), taught at the University of Michigan (1950-53), and again at Bryn Mawr (1953-56). Even when she retired fully she continued to help students at Bryn Mawr informally.

Mary Hamilton Swindler was one of the most quietly influential classical archaeologists in America. For six decades she was a central part of the scholarly program at Bryn Mawr, and she contributed significantly toward making the College a distinguished archaeological center. Throughout her career, Swindler was honored with numerous distinctions, including an honorary LL.D. from Indiana University (1941) and the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women (1951). She was one of the few women elected members of the American Philosophical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London. In 1959, she was one of ten scholars who was awarded a grant of $10,000 from the American Council of Learned Societies for outstanding achievements, and in the same year, she was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. With her death in 1967, Mary Hamilton Swindler left behind generations of archaeologists and classicists whose professional achievements testify to her influence both in the United States and abroad.