March is Women’s History Month, so it seemed like the perfect time to write about some of the women who have worked at or been associated with the Peabody. I have been struck during my work here by how male dominated the Peabody was for most of the twentieth century – there is a noticeable absence of women in the archives. Almost all Peabody director and curator positions were held by men, with the exception of Jane C. Wheeler, curator in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, this began to shift, with women beginning to occupy more leadership and professional posts (staff size also grew and new roles developed); eventually Malinda Stafford Blustain would become the Peabody’s first female director in 2001. This shift reflects broader trends in museum staff demographics – today, 60% of museum staff members are female, though leadership positions continue to be dominated by men (see the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, which also highlights the underrepresentation of people of color among museum staff).
Most of the women who worked at the Peabody before the 1990s were administrative assistants. There are traces of them in our archives and in the Phillips Academy handbooks: their names, titles, salaries, and occasionally correspondence or internal documents that they wrote. Theodora George, who received a bachelors’ degree in archaeology from Columbia University, worked at the Peabody from 1968 to 1980 – she is the only administrative assistant for whom I’ve found an obituary, which includes her photograph. I also discovered that her father was of Syrian descent and owned a grocery store in Lawrence for a time. She is acknowledged with helping catalog museum collections and editing the Tehuacán publications. Other administrative assistant names I’ve come across are Florence Cummings, Gladys Dill Salta (later Gladys Jump), Ethel Cohen, Evelyn Willett Drew, Marie Indurre, Marjory McC. Stevens, Ashley Baker, Carole A. Walker, and Elizabeth Steinert.
Two early women pioneers of archaeology and anthropology were briefly associated with the Peabody. Margaret E. Ashley Towle (1902-1985) and Adelaide Kendall Bullen (1908-1987) are both notable for pursuing these interests in a time when those fields (like museums) were very much male dominated. Presumably, their socio-economic status also gave them a certain measure of freedom in doing so. Margaret E. Ashley Ph.D., is listed as the Research Associate in Southeastern Archaeology at the Peabody in 1929 and in 1930 (she actually received her PhD later in her career). Her association with the Peabody came because of Warren Moorehead’s Etowah, Georgia excavations; Emory University asked her to serve as a representative on the dig because some of the collections were destined to come to them. Ashley subsequently came to Andover to further study the ceramics. Her ceramic analysis forms part of the official site publication, the Etowah Papers. Ashley went on to work extensively in South American paleobotany, with a long association at Harvard’s Botanical Museum. To learn more about her, see pages 25-41 in Grit-Tempered, Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States (1999).
Adelaide Kendall Bullen came into the Peabody’s orbit through her husband, Ripley Bullen. Ripley worked as a student assistant at the Peabody while pursuing graduate studies at Harvard in anthropology. Meanwhile Adelaide began undergraduate studies at Radcliffe College in her early thirties, and after receiving her A.B., also pursued graduate studies in anthropology at Harvard. Together they began working on excavations, including the Lucy Foster site, the nineteenth century Andover home site of an emancipated African American woman. They also lived on campus and both of their sons graduated from Phillips Academy: Dana Ripley Bullen II (Class of 1949) and Pierce Kendall Bullen (Class of 1952). In the Peabody’s annual reports from that time, Ripley’s excavation projects in the area are briefly mentioned, but Adelaide’s involvement with them is not acknowledged. She is only mentioned in 1942 as helping select and arrange “material on the Navaho and Iroquois Indians” for an exhibit at the Andover Public Library. After leaving Massachusetts in 1948 Adelaide and Ripley expanded their work to involve avocational archaeologists in Florida and the Caribbean and continued to publish extensively; they maintained connections with their Peabody colleagues and Ripley was an earlier adopter of radiocarbon dating. To learn more about Adelaide, see pages 148-162 in Grit-Tempered, Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States (1999).
A number of women participated in Peabody-sponsored surveys and excavations, sometimes contributing to the project publication as well. These women include Elsie Clews Parsons, Anna O. Shepard and Madeleine Appleton Kidder at the Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico excavations directed by Alfred V. Kidder, 1915-1929; Lucy Raup in the Yukon surveys, co-directed by Fred Johnson and Hugh Raup, of 1944 and 1948; Eva Hunt and Antoinette Nelken-Terner at the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, excavations directed by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, 1960-1965; and Antoinette Nelken-Terner again in the Ayacucho, Peru, excavations directed by MacNeish, 1969-1975. There may be many that I have missed – if so please name them in the comments below.
The first woman to hold a permanent professional position at the Peabody above the administrative assistant level was Curator Jane C. Wheeler, PhD (1977-1982). (Mary Ellen Conaway worked on new exhibits at the Peabody, 1970-1974, but is not listed among permanent staff.) During her time at the Peabody, Wheeler conducted research in Peru and Bolivia, published extensively, and taught courses to Phillips Academy students as well as conducting a field school at the Andover Town Dump.
One hundred years after the Peabody’s founding, Malinda Stafford Blustain became its first female director. She began here as the Collections Manager (1992-1997), then became Curator (1997-2001), Interim Director (2001-2004) and Director (2004-2012). Blustain helped raise support for the museum and oversaw it through a crisis period in the early 2000s. She refocused efforts on integrating the museum into Phillips Academy’s curriculum, developing collections management programs, and ensuring NAGPRA compliance. These priorities continue to guide the Peabody’s work today.
Other women in the 1990s, such as Leah Rosenmeier, contributed significantly to the Peabody – this post thanks all of these women and pays tribute to their work here.