Emily Paterson, General Secretary of the Egypt Exploration Fund

After two very productive research trips this summer, taking place in numerous archives, totaling 5 weeks, 4 countries, 3 continents, 2 different nannies, and (hopefully will produce at least) 1 book, I finally have something to blog about!  There will be quite a bit coming forth in the next few months here, including adventures, looking for tombs (where X definitely marked the spot), some famous people, and a lot of pictures.  Part of my most recent trip involved going to one of my favorite cities—London—and being in my favorite places where some of my favorite scholars work, including the Petrie Museum and the Egypt Exploration Society.  The EES kindly gave me permission to search through some of their correspondence, and it was a great, if very short, two days in the reading room there.

My purpose in going to the EES was to find letters coming to London from archaeologists in the field from about 1890-1920.  Not surprisingly, I found so many useful pieces within the archives that I had to ignore almost everything else I saw.  However, as I was going through the correspondence, I kept noticing letters being addressed to Miss Emily Paterson, General Secretary of the then Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) from 1892-1919.

Postcard to Emily Paterson from F. L. Griffith 9 October 1913 (COR.013.f) author's photograph, reproduced with kind permission of the EES.

Postcard to Emily Paterson from F. L. Griffith 9 October 1913 (COR.013.f) author’s photograph, reproduced with kind permission of the EES.


Topics within the letters addressed to Paterson included issues with publication proofs, travel arrangements, meeting attendance, and generalized complaints and gossip.  I am the kind of scholar who likes to track down the relatively well-known but still hard-to-find figures in Egyptology, so my curiosity was piqued.  As the General Secretary of the EEF for almost 30 years, she would have been in contact with everyone who dug for the EEF in that period, as well as scholars from all over England and the rest of the world.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that every Egyptologist would have known who she was.  So…where was she in the record?  Can she be found?

To answer this question, I went straight to Carl Graves, the amazingly hard-working Education and Public Engagement Manager at the EES, and asked if he knew anything more about her.  True to form, he was in the middle of another task but let me interrupt him.  He went straight to the biography Bible—Who Was Who in Egyptology, 4th edition—and found her (p. 418).  He then let me follow him to the library and the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology reference given in the WWWIE entry and found her again.  By the time I’d gotten back from lunch, he had found the 1947 EES Annual Report (referenced in the WWWIE entry), and it was waiting on my desk with a bookmark marking where she was mentioned.  Did I mention Carl is fantastic?  He is one of the best and friendliest archivists I’ve had the pleasure of asking too many stupid questions of, and trust me, I’ve worked with a lot of good archivists.  And, trust me, I can ask some stupid questions.

What did these sources say?  The JEA, volume 33 from 1947 has a brief note at the end of the editorial foreword, on page 2.  Paterson didn’t even get a whole sentence to let members know of her death: “…while the older members will regret the passing Miss Emily Paterson, for many years Secretary of the Society under its old title of the Egypt Exploration Fund.”  The EES Annual Report from 1947 is a little better:

Paragraph, cropped from the page in the Annual Report.  Author's photo.

Paragraph, cropped from the page in the Annual Report. Author’s photo.

The lack of discussion of her passing, or her career, is no fault of the EES in the mid-1940s.  She was not one of the field archaeologists and therefore was seen at the time as a supporting character.  However, as I have learned from years of tracking Margaret Murray through the dust of the archives, just because someone does not get lengthy eloges in multiple sources does not mean she (usually the person is a woman) is not important in their discipline.  Paterson was a good friend and secretary to Amelia Edwards, one of the founders of the EEF, and from 1888 was trained by Edwards to take over the General Secretary position (for more on Paterson’s relationship with Edwards, see Brenda Moon’s biography of Edwards: More Usefully Employed).  She took that position upon Edwards’ death in 1892, and kept it until her retirement in 1919 (see above).  In so doing, she was one of the main administrators of a soon-to-be central scholarly group in London, then the center of the British Empire.  Everyone who wrote to the EEF wrote directly to her, meaning she was obviously a critical and central character to the development of the EEF and Egyptology as a discipline, not just in the UK, but also in the rest of the world.  She had been a main-stay in the offices, then at 37 Great Russell Street, and someone who could be depended upon to perform a number of tasks as well and as quickly as possible.

I’ve recently been thinking about eco-mapping as a research tool, especially within scientific networks that include people from institutions, the field, and all over the world.  Social workers use them in order to analyze a family’s functionality, and the tool translates into the world of scientific networks as well.  If you take a second to think, Paterson–along with Edwards, Stuart Poole, and Flinders Petrie, would be the center of an EEF ecomap, and she would connect virtually everyone in that 30 year period.  The implications of her work would connect and influence a number of people outside of her time as the General Secretary, as well.

The purpose of this post is just to put some initial thoughts out about Paterson and her position in the history of the discipline, and ask a few questions.  What does this mean for us as historians?  I think it means that someone needs to write more about Paterson as a crucial node for the scientific network that began at the EEF offices and spread to the rest of the world.  A longer biography is due, and that may mean a book, but more likely a long article.  Then again, I had thought that Margaret Murray’s biography would be a long journal article, but it instead turned into a book and I continue to find information about her.  That’s the wonderful thing about archives–much like in the field, you can keep digging for more and keep finding exciting pieces.

This entry was posted in Archives, Biography, Women in Archaeology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Emily Paterson, General Secretary of the Egypt Exploration Fund

  1. harngroup says:

    Reblogged this on HARN Weblog and commented:
    Interesting things going on at Kate’s blog . . .

  2. Julia says:

    Did she retire before Mary Chubb started working at the EES? My Egyptology chronology is very hazy. I know I’ve read this Joan Rees’ book about Amelia Edwards, but it was so long ago I couldn’t tell you what it said about Emily Paterson – if anything.
    Eco-maps, they’re the future! Even if they are 2 dimensional, or whatever it was Oskar (?) complained about.

    • Kathleen Sheppard says:

      Julia–great question. I just checked the WWWIE and it seems that Chubb arrived about 10 years after Paterson retired. But, I do know that Paterson was is FL Griffith’s hieroglyphics classes, so she and Murray must have known each other. You and I should work on this map.

  3. Pingback: The Tomb of Perneb at the Metropolitan Museum of Art | Adventures in History and Archaeology

  4. Pingback: The #Archive: Women Administrators as Network Hubs | Adventures in History and Archaeology

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