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She was born on August 11, 1928 in New York City. She earned an undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr College in 1950, and earned a master's degree from Radcliffe College in 1954, and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in 1956. As a Fulbright Scholar in 1950, she attended the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a Catherwood Fellow three years later, she studied at Oxford University. She married the archaeologist Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule III in 1957. Together they had two children: Blakey Vermeule, a professor of English literature at Stanford University, and Adrian Vermeule, a professor at Harvard Law School.
Emily became the Samuel Zemurray Jr. and Doris Zemurray-Stone Radcliffe Professor at Harvard University in 1970. In 1983 Vermeule received a Litt.D. from Bates College.
In 1982 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Vermeule for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Her lecture was entitled "Greeks and Barbarians: The Classical Experience in the Larger World," and dealt with the relationship between the Greeks and their "less civilized" neighbors. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 6, 2001.
- The Trojan War in Greek Art (1964)
- Greece in the Bronze Age (1964)
- The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology (1972) with Martin P. Nilsson
- Toumba Tou Skourou. The Mound of Darkness. A Bronze Age Town on Morphou Bay in Cyprus (1974) with Florence Z. Wolsky
- Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry (1979)
- Mycenaean Pictorial Vase Painting (1982) with Vassos Karageorghis
- Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
- David M. Rosenfeld, Classics Professor Vermeule To Deliver Jefferson Lecture, Harvard Crimson, February 22, 1982.
- Harvard Gazette: obituary