Archaeology, Sexism and Scandal:
The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries and the Man Who Stole Credit for Them
By Alan Kaiser
Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015, 251 pp.
Reviewed by Meltem Ince Yenilmez
Archaeology, Sexism and Scandal explores the story of Mary Ross Ellingson, a woman who was denied intellectual rights over publications that she had researched as part of the 1931 excavation at Olynthus. During this time, Ellingson was a graduate student working for her supervisor David Robinson. While such excavations typically placed male graduate supervisors in the trenches, Robinson appointed Ellingson and two other women, Sarah Freemen and Gladys Weinberg, to supervise along with their male counterparts. This break with convention probably occurred because of inadequate staff on site.
In early 1900s, gender discrimination existed in all forms, including in learning institutions. Compared to men, few women enrolled in universities. When they did enroll as students, women often were excluded from certain courses and activities, including fieldwork. Instead, women were often given roles in the dig house to catalogue finds, wash and mend. Ellingson joined Johns Hopkins University after graduating from the University of Alberta and obtained a scholarship to support her studies as a graduate student to study classical archeology. Ellingson was unusual, then, in that she did have the opportunity to carry out fieldwork when she was appointed by Robinson to join his staff for excavating in Olynthus.
Opportunities to work in the field provided graduate students a chance to develop their careers and become professors or museum curators. From the 1931 season, a good number of graduate students—including Ellingson—used the Olynthus opportunity to work on their theses and dissertations. But, Ellingson’s thesis and dissertation were later stolen by her supervisor David Robinson, who did not acknowledge the role she played in preparing the documents.
During this era, institutions of higher learning had stringent policies for hiring women. Women could only be hired if single and after they married, women were expected to drop their careers to look after their families. At the same time, women who did get jobs as instructors had higher workloads than their male counterparts, leaving them little time to carry out research. This limited women’s career achievement, since individuals were measured by their research and publications. Since opportunities for women to become professors were very limited, they were less visible in the academic corridors. This probably made it possible for Robinson to plagiarize Ellingson’s work and that of other graduate students, mostly women.
The fact that Ellingson’s work had been plagiarized by David Robinson was known by many classical archeologists, including those who emerged after their era. However, no one saw the need to put things straight until this book by Kaiser. As such, the contributions of Ellingson—as well as other women—had been cut out of written accounts.
The book has various strengths. The first one is the chronological arrangement of chapters, such that, we are first introduced to the life histories of the main characters, including the obstacles they faced in their career journeys. Second, the book is meant to motivate women to work even harder even where their efforts are not recognized. Even though Robinson did not acknowledge Ellingson, her works received very positive reviews. She contributed immensely in the field of archeology.
The book is relevant to feminist scholars and practitioners in the sense that it acts as a source of encouragement. What is required in unveiling one’s potential is to stand by your ambitions despite external forces that discourage them. The book also tells us that even when men see themselves as superior, they can come to appreciate the efforts of women. This can be seen when Robinson apologized to Ellingson, though in an informal manner.
Meltem Ince-Yenilmez is an Associate Professor of Labor Economics at the Yasar University, Visiting Scholar at Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of California and Visiting Fellow at Universitat Gottingen. Her research interests are applications of theories in economics of gender as well as feminist economics, labor economics, occupational segregation and women in politics. Her recent projects and publications have included: the psychological consequences of unemployment, women’s empowerment, women’s rights, job insecurity, women in political life and gender convergence in domestic work. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on women empowerment in Turkey.