International Women’s Day 2020

International Women’s Day is held every year on the 8th March, but did you know that this isn’t a recent event and that IWD is actually over 100 years old! This year the theme for IWD is #EqualforEach. To participate, people are invited to celebrate the achievements of women. So this year to celebrate, ULAS archaeologist Sofia Picken takes a brief look at the history of the day and at two early female archaeologists and how they paved a way for women in archaeology!

The earliest Women’s Day was held in New York, on February 28th 1909, and was organised by the Socialist Party of America. In 1910, an International Socialist Women’s Conference was organised in Copenhagen and included women from 17 countries. At the conference, two women named Luise Zeits and Clara Zetkin tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. They proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The women voted unanimously to establish an annual International Woman’s Day to promote equal rights and women’s suffrage. On March 19th 1911, over a million people participated in the first IWD campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

An image from Politiken (Copenhagen) newspaper in 1910 reads “From the opening meeting of the International Women’s Congress yesterday” (from

Against the backdrop of the IWD, feminist and suffrage movements, women were working hard to have their talents recognised in many fields, including archaeology. Here are brief biographies of just two of these incredible archaeologists!

Harriet Ann Boyd Hawes (October 11, 1871 – March 31, 1945)

Harriet was an American archaeologist. After working as a teacher for four years, she followed her passion for Classical Greece and pursued further studies at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. Whilst studying she asked her professors if she would be allowed to participate in the school’s archaeological fieldwork in Corinth. They told her that Corinth “did not afford enough material for women.” And instead she was encouraged to become an academic librarian (ugh!). Hawes had been awarded a fellowship whilst studying and decided to take the remaining money and explore Crete on her own! A brave decision that soon paid off.

Harriet Boyd Hawes examines a tray of Minoan pottery sherds c.1902.

Hawes quickly became well known for her expertise in archaeology, and for four months in the spring of 1900 she led an excavation at Kavousi, during which she discovered settlements and cemeteries of Late Minoan IIIC, Early Iron Age, and Early Archaic date (1200-600 BC). Between 1901 and 1904, Harriet returned to Crete, where she discovered and excavated the Minoan town at Gournia. Hawes was the first woman to direct a major field project in Greece, her crew consisting of over 100 workers and she was assisted by Edith Hall Dohan, her classmate. She was also the first archaeologist to discover and completely excavate an Early Bronze Age Minoan town site.

Harriet and Edith (bottom right) with their site workers at Gournia.

In 1902, she described her discovery during a lecture tour of the United States and was the first woman to speak before the Archaeological Institute of America! Harriet was a woman of firsts and a pioneer of modern archaeology, at a time when few women travelled on their own, she discovered, excavated and published an account of the Minoan town!

Margaret Alice Murray (13 July 1863 – 13 November 1963)

Margaret was an Anglo-Indian Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, historian, and folklorist. Encouraged by her mother and sister, Margaret decided to enroll at the newly opened department of Egyptology at University College London (UCL). The department was run by Sir William Flinders Petrie. Here Margaret found her love for Egyptology and research. In 1898 she was appointed to the position of Junior Lecturer, responsible for teaching the linguistic courses at the Egyptology department. Murray became the first woman to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology in the United Kingdom!

Margaret Murray in 1928.

During 1902–03, she travelled to Egypt to join Petrie’s excavations at Abydos. Murray first joined as a site nurse but was taught excavation techniques and was soon given a senior position in the excavation. She and Hilda Petrie oversaw the excavations at Seti 1 in Gurna, which led to some issues with some of the male excavators, who disliked the idea of taking orders from a woman (oh the horror!). This experience coupled with discussions with other female excavators led Murray to adopt openly feminist viewpoints. Murray became closely involved in the first-wave feminist movement, joining the Women’s Social and Political Union and devoting much time to improving women’s status at UCL. Margaret pushed the professional boundaries for women throughout her own career and mentored other women in archaeology. She also gave public lectures and in 1908 at Manchester Museum she led the unwrapping of Khnum-nakht, one of the mummies recovered from the Tomb of the Two Brothers; this was the first time that a woman had publicly unwrapped a mummy!

Margaret Murray (front centre) and her team (Miss Hart-Davies, Mr Standen and Mr. Wilfred Jackson ) unwrap the mummy of Khnum-Nakht in 1908 in the Chemistry Lecture Theatre, University of Manchester. There was an invited audience of 500 people from the Manchester Egyptian Association.

Her work in Egyptology and archaeology was widely acclaimed, earning her the moniker “The Grand Old Woman of Egyptology”, although after her death many of her contributions to the field were overshadowed by those of Petrie.

There are so many other stories of women in archaeology and these are just two examples of the many many many incredible women who have and continue to work in our field! You can read about another great archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated the Jewry Wall in Leicester in 1936-39 here. Happy International Women’s Day!

To find out more

Hi I’m Sof! I am an archaeological assistant with ULAS, I spend most of my time outside in the mud (YAY!) and I particularly enjoy urban excavations! I’m currently helping with the post excavation assessment and analysis of a big town site and getting some experience of what goes on after we have finished excavating. I have also been involved with a lot of outreach excavations and other work (such as this blog post!) which I love, because I think archaeology is really fun and exciting, and should be accessible to everyone.

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