Harriet Boyd Hawes, the American archaeologist in Crete


Harriet Boyd Hawes she was the first woman to conduct an excavation campaign in the Aegean and discovered treasures of the Minoan age in Crete but she never locked herself in the past to which she had devoted her entire life, also committing herself as a nurse and activist. Whenever needed. Wherever it was needed.

A rebel born

Harriet Ann Boyd, who will later be Hawes for marriage, was born in Boston on an October 1871 day, the only female of Alexander’s 5 children, a leather merchant, and Harriet Fay Wheeler who dies when Harriet is only 10 months old. She grows up with her brothers and sisters free to lead an adventurous life with them.

Her father, who will never remarry, not only does not limit her freedom but offers her all the best opportunities that an American girl in the late 19th century could have access to. She is allergic to the rules since she was a child and also during adolescence does not willingly submit to the social norms that regulate a woman’s life: if he considers them stupid he simply breaks them.

He studied at Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, then enrolled at Smith College in Northampton in Mass. In the second year she undergoes an official recall for her unorthodox conduct that will end up wasting her academic career if she does not return to the line, the faculty warns her threateningly. Smith is one of the Seven Sisters, prestigious women’s colleges established between 1837 and 1889 to provide university education to women. From which behavior consistent with the dominant morality is expected. A moral that is close to Harriet.

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Passion Greece

At the passion for the classical world his brother Alex begins it and he died tragically in 1891 followed by his father 4 years later. Harriet soon finds herself disposing of her life independently. At the university he continues to study history of the ancient world and archeology specializing in Greek. He graduated in classical studies in 1892 and immediately began teaching, first as a private tutor in Henderson, North Carolina, then in a Wilmington girls’ school in Delaware. But his heart beats for the research on the field, yearning for the desire to go digging. It is not talked about, its teachers are clear, it is not for women. Instead, they suggest that you devote yourself to academic studies. But Harriet in the library languishes. Tired of submitting to a male world, and impeded in her desire to dig in first person, she decides to continue her studies in Greece.

He initially intended to move to England but after hearing about Amelia Edwards at the university, he is convinced that Greece is a better idea, at least it will be closer to the heart of his interests. So he enrolled in the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and offered to participate in the active excavations around Athens, then asked for a job in the American excavations underway in Corinth: he always received a no.

In the land of the gods, the Greek-Turkish war surprises her and Harriet wastes no time: if help is needed, she is ready to offer it and ends up being a volunteer nurse, putting archaeological research aside for a while. She has no skills but is ready to learn and the shortage of nurses allows her to be immediately sent to the field, there is no time to thin.

In 1899 she won the Agnes Hoppin scholarship but once again she was refused permission to go digging. Then he decides to use that money by going to find an excavation of his own. If you cannot participate in the ongoing projects, you will find one on your own. So he leaves for Crete. A courageous and very dangerous choice given that the island has just emerged from a violent insurrection against the Turks and is still a war territory. But having served as a nurse for the Red Cross during the Greek-Turkish war a few years earlier makes her deserve the goodwill of the Greeks. And an official thanks from the Queen of Greece.

The discoveries in Crete

The first thing to do in Crete is to visit the famous British archaeologist Arthut Evans who discovered the palace of Knossos. Unlike others he does not discourage her, on the contrary he suggests her to explore the Kavousi area. Harriet departs on the back of a mule accompanied by a Greek named Aristides who helps her communicate with people. He does not care that a single woman out and about with a man is more than unbecoming, scandalous. They are the inhabitants of the place to indicate the remains of ancient walls: it is what he was looking for, it is there that he will dig. He obtained permission from the Cretan government as a representative of the American School and went to work.

Evans thought that Harriet had the skills necessary to find something big: an eye to examine the terrain, knowledge of the language, excellent archaeological preparation, organizational skills and resourcefulness. He was right, in fact in the spring of 1900 the enterprising archaeologist digs for 4 months in the region discovering a late Minoan settlement. It is not the only discovery: dig in Vronda, Kastro and Azoria. In an era when there were still very few women to travel alone, Harriet discovered the traces of ancient civilizations on an island so far from home.

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At the end of the excavation season, he returns to the United States and accepts an assignment at Smith College where he studied. He teaches Greek archeology, epigraphy and neo-Greek and in the meantime he writes his thesis for the master’s degree which he obtained in the same college the following year. He remained teaching at Smith until 1905 but year after year he spent the whole summer in Crete continuing to dig. In 1902 he describes his discoveries in a cycle of conferences in the United States. She is the first woman to speak at the Archaeological Institute of America and 10 times in just 14 days.

Not only is she the first woman to direct an excavation campaign in the Aegean, but she also discovers a new one Minoan Bronze Age city in Gournia. Find the site thanks to a Vasiliki viallggio school teacher, Georgios Perakis, who takes her to the place on May 19, 1901. The next day, and for three seasons in a row, Harriet starts digging. It brings to light a late Minoan settlement with houses, cobbled streets, a central square, a palace and a cemetery as well as traces of an ancient port. The same year the London Times described Gournia as “the best site to visit on Crete”.

Employing 100 men and 10 women, Edith Hall Dohan is his assistant. At no time do the people who work for you show impatience with your competent and scrupulous guide. At the end of the season he then takes care of personally cleaning and cataloging the finds at the Hiraklion museum and also obtains permission to bring some of them to the United States.

During one of the Cretan summers he meets Charles Henry Hawes, an English anthropologist and archaeologist who is conducting ethnographic research. They married on March 3, 1906 and at the end of the year their son Alexander was born, followed in 1910 by his sister Mary. The same year Harriet received an honorary doctorate from Smith College. On his excavations in Gournia he published a book in 1908 followed the following year by Crete, the Forerunner of Greece signed together with her husband. The success is enormous, it is considered an undisputed authority on the matter.

However, she fears that motherhood may remove her from research in the field and for a period of time it is indeed so, but she is determined to continue working. For the moment, it is limited to teaching. When the family settled in Cambridge, Massachussets in 1920, he joined the teaching staff of Wellesley College, also part of the Seven Sisters, where he taught pre-Christian art until his retirement in 1936.

Nurse and activist

Before then, however, there are other adventures to get into. At the outbreak of the First World War he committed himself again in the front line to bring help to the front. It is not the first time: it had already done so during the Greek-Turkish war of 1897 and then the Spanish-American war of 1898 in Florida.

It does this by raising funds but also by working on the battlefield. In 1915 he personally brought aid to the Serbian army that was dying of starvation and typhoid fever on the island of Corfu, the following year he was in France to help the populations of the villages on the Franco-German front and in 1917, from Paris, he continued to distribute the scarce resources it manages to get from the United States. He founded the Smith College Relief Unit for the occasion, relying on his academic connections. On his return home he continues to support the war effort by organizing conferences to raise funds.

After the war he returned to archeology and teaching but activism did not give up. It supports protests from workers and unions and theorizes the need for a new economy based on a more equitable distribution of resources. He also ends up in court sued for $ 100,000 in damages by a shoe firm whose striking workers Harriet had encouraged to resist. She had always been interested in the present time without ever ending up in the past to which she had dedicated a large part of her life.

When husband and wife retire in 1936 they move to Washington where Harriet remains even after Charles’s death in 1943. He has occasion to have lunch with the Roosevelts to whom he has no qualms in saying that the neutrality of the United States in the Second War World would be inadmissible. In her last years, she has not abandoned her commitment but is embittered by American economic policies which always penalize the weakest workers and upset by a Europe that leaves room for Hitler.

He died at 73 on March 31, 1945, from peritonitis. Leave behind the example of a woman who knew how to follow her dreams when it seemed that a woman was completely barred. It has made room in a completely male environment obtaining extraordinary results. In 1992 her daughter Mary wrote her significantly titled biography Born to Rebel. She was born to rebel.

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