Two Women (and books) Who Shaped my Perspectives of Women in Archaeology

Ever since I started my personal journey through archaeology, the field has always been an open and gender diverse space. Although  I had heard many cautionary tales from the 1960s and 70s of the views men often held of women in the field, I have personally only experienced a profession where men and women are nearly equal in both numbers and pay. I remember my own field school in the early 1990s, and then working in them the next few years, and seeing the transition from more men than women to more women than men. Although the number nationally shows nearly equal gender diversity, here in Minnesota, especially at the active, professionally engaged, level I anecdotally see the numbers strongly skewed towards women (at a recent Council for Minnesota Archaeology meeting it was seven women and two men).

Two books for me are perfect parallels of the prominence, and struggles, of women to gain attention and rightful accolades in the field. The first is the H.M. Wormington classic Ancient Man in North America and the other What this Awl Means by then University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Anthropology (later Assistant Provost), Janet Spector.

Hannah Marie Wormington (1914-1994) is an icon of southwestern archaeology. She had degrees from University of Denver, Radcliffe College, and Harvard University (from a time when women were often not welcomed in the classroom) with decades of research at sites through the southwest, down to Mexico, up to Iowa, and even Alaska. She was the first women elected president of the Society of American Archaeology and subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Society. Her volume on Ancient Man in North America was the first comprehensive volume chronicling the (then current) evidence of early settlement of the continent (just one of seven texts she wrote). However, even for all of her vast experience and understanding of the field, she still needed to publish her work under H.M. instead of Hannah Marie, because keeping her gender anonymous was the only way she could receive the publishing credit she so richly deserved. I picked up my copy in an antique store in 1995 when I was just in my second year at UW-La Crosse; and even though my field of interest was already developing into the frontier and industrial “historical” archaeology of the Upper Midwest, the volume was still crisp, with gorgeous (black and white) images, and stirred my own desire to know the past. It wasn’t until almost two years later I learned who H.M. really was.

The second volume certainly reflects a fast-forwarded evolution of understanding in the archaeological field, but it is no less important. Janet Spector’s (1944-2011) What This Awl Means was published at the beginning of my own archaeology career when the philosophical discourse between processual (analytical object focused) and post-processual (symbolic understanding) perspectives was really heating up. For my own part, I found the perspective bridging “processual-plus” work of Michelle Hegmon to be where I ultimately hung my hat – but that’s for a later story. Regardless, the seminal work by Dr. Spector focusing her years of archaeological and documentary research on a historic Dakota village site in Minnesota from a feminist perspective was engaging, well researched, and certainly eye opening to me. Dr. Spector spent 25 years in the Anthropology Department at the UofM, helped found the women’s studies program and Center for Advanced Feminist Studies, and was awarded the Horace T. Morse University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in 1986. I still refer to this volume when grappling with my own understandings and consultation with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs) and everyday members of the public – and it is one of a small handful of books I recommend to students just entering the field.

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