Harriet Boyd Hawes

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Harriet Boyd Hawes
Born October 11, 1871
Boston, Massachusetts
Died March 31, 1945(1945-03-31) (aged 73)
Washington D.C.
Nationality American
Fields archaeology
Known for excavations on the Aegean island of Crete

Harriet Boyd Hawes (October 11, 1871 – March 31, 1945) was a pioneering American archaeologist, nurse and relief worker. She is best known as the first director of an archaeological excavation to discover and excavate a Minoan settlement and palace site on the Aegean island of Crete.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Harriet Boyd Hawes attended the Prospect Hill School in Greenfield and then graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1892 with a degree in Classics.

Academic career[edit]

After working as a teacher for four years, she followed her passion for Greece and its ancient culture, starting graduate work at the American School of Classical Studies in the Greek capital Athens. During her stay in Greece she also served as a volunteer nurse in Thessaly during the Greco-Turkish War. She asked her professors to be allowed to participate in the school's archaeological fieldwork, but instead was encouraged to become an academic librarian. Frustrated by lack of support, she took the remainder of her fellowship and went on her own in search of archeological remains on the island of Crete. This was a courageous decision, as Crete was only just emerging from the war and was far from safe. Hawes soon became well known for her expertise in the field of archaeology. 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) at the sites of Vronda and Kastro. During that same campaign she dug a test trench at the site of Azoria, the most important Ancient Greek (i.e. post-Minoan) site in the region, evidently an early city (c. 700-500 BC). Azoria is now under renewed excavation as part of a major five-year project. [1]

Later the same year, Hawes returned to the United States. She accepted a position at Smith College teaching Greek Archaeology in late 1900 and subsequently received her M.A. from Smith in 1901. She taught at Smith until 1905, interspersing her time there with frequent trips abroad for archaeological excursions.

Between 1901 and 1904, while on leave of absence from Smith, Harriet Boyd Hawes 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. She was assisted by Edith Hall Dohan. 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. The report of her findings, titled Vasiliki and Other Prehistoric Sites on the Isthmus of Hierapetra, was published in 1908 by the American Exploration Society. She excavated many more Bronze and Iron Age settlements in the Aegean and became a recognized authority on the area. In 1910, Smith College bestowed on her an honorary doctorate.

Between 1920 and her retirement in 1936, she lectured at Wellesley College on pre-Christian art.

War nursing[edit]

In 1915, Hawes went to Corfu with supplies for soldiers in the Serbian Army wounded in World War I. In 1916, she helped the wounded in France and a year later she founded and was the first director of the Smith College Relief Unit in France. She held this title for three years during which time she worked as a nurse's aide at the YMCA. After her return home, she continued her support for the war effort by giving fund-raising lectures on behalf of the Smith College Relief Unit.

Personal life[edit]

During one trip to Crete, she met Charles Henry Hawes, an English anthropologist and archaeologist who later became the associate-director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They were married on March 3, 1906, and nine months later their son, Alexander Boyd Hawes, was born. A daughter, Mary Nesbit Hawes, followed in August 1910. By this time Charles was teaching at Dartmouth College and the family was living in Hanover, New Hampshire. In 1920, the Haweses moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and Harriet joined the faculty at Wellesley College. Despite her commitment to her family, Hawes always remained active in both humanities and her field of archaeology.

Later life and legacy[edit]

When Charles retired in 1936, the couple moved to Washington D.C., where Harriet remained after her husband died. She died on March 31, 1945, aged 73.

Harriet is interred in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland. Her childhood home in Chester Square is featured on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.[2]

In 1992, her daughter, Mary Allsebrook, published Born to Rebel: the Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes. The book was edited by Annie Allsebrook, Harriet Boyd Hawes' granddaughter.


  • Gournia, Vasiliki and other prehistoric sites on the isthmus of Hierapetra, Crete; excavations of the Wells-Houston-Cramp expeditions, 1901, 1903, 1904. By Harriet Boyd Hawes, Blanche E. Williams, Richard B. Seager, Edith H. Hall. (Philadelphia, The American exploration society, Free museum of science and art 1908).
  • Charles Henry Hawes and Harriet Boyd-Hawes, with a preface by Arthur J. Evans. Crete, the forerunner of Greece (London, 1909).
  • Boyd, H.A. 1901. “Excavations at Kavousi, Crete, in 1900,” American Journal of Archaeology 5, 125-157.
  • Boyd, H.A. 1904. “Gournia. Report of the American Exploration Society's Excavations at Gournia, Crete, 1902-1905,” in Transactions of the Department of Archaeology: Free Museum of Science and Art University of Pennsylvania I, Philadelphia, 7–44.

Works about her[edit]

Adams, Amanda (2010), Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN 978-1-55365-433-9


  1. ^ "The Azoria Project is the excavation of an Early Iron Age and Archaic site (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) on the island of Crete in the Greek Aegean. Fieldwork is conducted by permission of the Greek Ministry of Culture under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Archaeological Service of Eastern Crete, Ephorate of Antiquities of Lasithi (former 24th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities). The main supporting institutions are the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Classical Studies Program at Iowa State University, the Curriculum in Archaeology and the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete (INSTAP-SCEC), and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology (CCMA)." University of North Carolina page on the project
  2. ^ "South End". Boston Women's Heritage Trail. 

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