As part of my trip to London in September, I was invited to facilitate a discussion about Margaret Murray as part of the Centenary Celebrations at the Petrie Museum. It is always an honor to speak at the museum, and not a little intimidating being surrounded by 80,000 objects and a number of people who know far more about the topic than I do. I thank Debbie Challis and Alice Stevenson for inviting me to come and everyone who showed up to talk about amazing women in Egyptology, especially Clare Lewis, Pamela Jane Smith, and John Johnston, who was the only man at the table. The discussion, titled “Professional Networks of Women: Margaret Murray’s Role in Archaeology,” was to be about Murray and her network of women that she trained, both in the field and the classroom, especially focusing on the 1920s.
Murray trained a number of women, in the classroom, including Winifred Brunton and Margaret Drower, from the time she became an instructor at UCL in 1898. She had always had a drive to put women in the field and did so starting in the classroom. She also trained women in the field in Egypt, including Jesse Hansard and Lina Eckenstein. But it was her work in the field in Malta where her field training and her passion for putting women in the professions came together. These two issues are what the discussion centered around. First, I introduced Murray’s desire to train women in Petrie’s field method, but since she was unable to go to Egypt for an excavation season after her seasons in Abydos (1902-03) and Saqqara (1903-04), she instead used her time in Malta to accomplish this. She brought with her her friend and student Edith Guest, and the young Gertrude Caton-Thompson who had joined the department in 1921. I won’t go into the details of the talk, as they are not much different from what I argue in chapter 8 of Murray’s biography. The main thing that had changed was how I saw Murray’s time in Malta. In the book I argued, because at the time I believed, that Malta was just an good excuse for Murray to dig. But the more I thought about it for this discussion, the more I realized her time in Malta was the pinnacle of her two main passions: the field and the professionalization of her female students. It’s amazing how you can work for so long on a project and realize a short time later that you were wrong about a major part of it.
As we as a group continued to talk about this, I learned so much about many of the women who worked with Petrie and Murray, the women who came through the department at UCL, and what they went on to do later. There were a lot of them, many of whom Trowelblazers has featured. I learned so much more about Hilda Petrie walking in the suffragette’s Coronation March in 1911 and her general relationship with Murray. We talked about a previous General Secretary of the EES, Mary Chubb, and her book Nefertiti Lived Here about her time at Amarna with Pendlebury in 1930. I did not know she had written this book, and it’s next on my list to buy. And, of course, we talked about Murray’s time writing for the Women’s Hour on the BBC, her charm on a 1953 documentary about Petrie, and the interviews she did with Leonard Cottrell for the BBC in 1960. The BBC audience loved Murray and thought her stories were fascinating–I agree.
I came away with far more notes taken than I had notes to begin the discussion, which, to me, is always a successful discussion. daresay I learned more than anyone else sitting at the table that afternoon, and probably had more fun than anyone, as well. Even though we may finish a book or writing project, it’s never really over as long as we keep talking about them, learning more about them, and building on them.