Women Crush Wednesday: Hilda Petrie

For this week’s Woman Crush Wednesday, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite females in Egyptology, Hilda Petrie! And happy belated International Women’s Day!!

Early Life

Hilda Mary Isabel Urlin was born in 1871 in Dublin as the youngest of five children to Richard Denny Urlin and Mary Elizabeth Addis Urlin. They were an English couple who were long-time residents in Ireland, but they moved back to London when Hilda was four years old. She was educated by a governess along with other children of a similar age.

Hilda was known for preferring the countryside to the city and took many bicycling expeditions with her friends. She did also enjoy the museums and galleries that the city had. Interestingly, Hilda did sit for a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Henry Holiday in his studio in Hampstead.

Holiday, Henry; Aspasia on the Pnyx; Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/aspasia-on-the-pnyx-123266

She studied at King’s College for Women where she took courses in geology and in facsimile drawing, both of which would help in her archaeological career.

Married Life

When Hilda was 25 years old, she was introduced by Henry Holiday to William Flinders Petrie. This was originally a professional introduction as Petrie needed to employ an artist with copying skills for his archaeological digs. Their relationship progressed quickly and they were married on November 26, 1896. They actually left for Egypt the day after their wedding, skipping their wedding breakfast.

They had two children together, John in 1907, and Ann in 1909. John Petrie later became a mathematician, who gave his name to the Petrie Polygon. While the family lived in London, they lived in Hampstead. Hilda typically went with Petrie for every field season except for the years when their children were young.

Archaeological Career

Although Hilda had no archaeological experience, she proved herself vital to many of the expeditions. On their initial “honeymoon” trip, Hila and Flinders traveled to Cairo and Giza first. While in Giza, Hilda chose to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza without her cumbersome skirt, so she was pretty much in her underwear.

Personally, my favorite image of her

They held excavations at the Temple of Dendera, north of Luxor. During this dig, Hilda worked in one of the deep shafts of the tomb that was being excavated, climbing down a rope ladder to copy scenes and inscriptions. She apparently spent several days lying on the ground to copy some 20,000 hieroglyphs on one large sarcophagus. She also drew profiles of the pots, beads, scarabs, and other small finds for the excavation reports. This was her most common task on Petrie’s excavations, while Petrie himself took care of the domestic side.

In 1898, they excavated the cemetery sites of Abediyeh and Hu. Hilda was responsible for surveying the site, identify the shapes of pots, slates, and flints based on the Naqada examples, and writing the grave number on all of the finds. Petrie noted at the beginning of the excavation report,

“My wife was with me all the time, helping in the surveying, cataloging, and marking of the objects, and also drawing all the tomb plans here published.”

In 1902 when they worked at Abydos, Hilda was given control of excavation and worked with Margaret Murray and Miss Hansard. They attempted a difficult and hazardous excavation after the discovery the previous year of what appeared to be the approach to a huge underground tomb discovered in an area at the back of the temple of Seti I. The excavation area was in constant danger of caving in, and the work was ultimately abandoned.

In 1902 when they worked at Abydos, Hilda was given control of excavation and worked with Margaret Murray and Miss Hansard. They attempted a difficult and hazardous excavation after the discovery the previous year of what appeared to be the approach to a huge underground tomb discovered in an area at the back of the temple of Seti I. The excavation area was in constant danger of caving in, and the work was ultimately abandoned.

In 1904, she worked in Ehnadya, and in 1905, she remained at Saqqara to copy reliefs in some of the Old Kingdom tombs.

In 1905, Petrie founded the British School of Archaeology in Europe and Hilda helped as a secretary. She raised funds and recruited new subscribers by writing to the wealthy. She also oversaw their publications and gave public lectures in London and the UK.

In 1913, she rejoined Petrie at Kafr Ammar and recorded three painted 12th Dynasty tombs in Riqqeh. This task was also very dangerous, but she published a chapter within the final report for this excavation season.

During and after WWI

Most excavation efforts were halted during the two world wars. During WWI, she turned her attention to several women’s organizations, including her fundraising expertise as Honorary Secretary of the Scottish Women’s Hospital. She was later awarded the Serbian Order of St. Sava.

Most excavation efforts were halted during the two world wars. During WWI, she turned her attention to several women’s organizations, including her fundraising expertise as Honorary Secretary of the Scottish Women’s Hospital. She was later awarded the Serbian Order of St. Sava.

Excavations resumed in 1919, and Hilda excavated a Coptic hermit’s cell in the Western hills at Abydos in 1921. By 1926, Petrie had moved on from Egypt and became mainly excavating Palestine and Jerusalem. This was following the restrictions placed on excavating bodies in Egypt and the exportations of antiquities after the discovery of King Tut in 1922.

Hilda arrived in Gaza in November 1926 where she supervised, registered, and paid excavation workers. In 1931, they excavated Tell el-Ajull. In 1933, Flinders and Hilda moved to Jerusalem, where they also excavated Sheikh Soweyd between 1935 and 1937.

Later Life

Flinders Petrie died in 1942. For a few years, Hilda lived at the American School of Palestine while editing her husband’s papers, which she had determined to send to the newly formed library of the Department of Antiquities in Khartoum.

Hilda Petrie and Margaret Murray

Hilda returned to England in 1947 where she wound up affairs at the British School of Archaeology. She was also able to publish the tomb reliefs from Saqqara that she had copied in 1905. Hilda Petrie died of a stroke in University College Hospital in 1957.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_Petrie

https://trowelblazers.com/hilda-petrie/

https://egyptartefacts.griffith.ox.ac.uk/people/hilda-petrie

Image Sources

Flinders and Hilda – Wikimedia Commons (http://www.egyptorigins.org/petriepics.html)

Her digging – https://trowelblazers.com/hilda-petrie/

Hilda and Margaret Murray – https://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/results.php?d=1&first=Hilda&last=Petrie

Some Pictures of Hilda and Flinders in Palestine – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259561969_Publicising_Petrie_Financing_Fieldwork_in_British_Mandate_Palestine_1926-1938

Flinders Petrie’s diary recording “H. to suffrage meeting” on July 25 1913 – https://historyofarchaeologyioa.weebly.com/notes/category/hilda-petrie

Henry Holiday Painting “Aspasia on the Pnyx” – https://storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/hilda-and-flinders-a-reluctant-romance/

Hilda recording a wall – https://storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/hilda-and-flinders-a-reluctant-romance/

Hilda and her daughter? – https://alchetron.com/Hilda-Petrie

Flinders and Hilda – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/485474034832631135/

Flinders and Hilda in front of car in Syria in 1934 – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/485474034832631135/

Flinders in the 1880s – https://www.thecollector.com/flinders-petrie-archeologist/

Hilda at Abydos in 1903 – https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/Book/Article/73/97/5456/

Flinders and Hilda at Qau 1938 – Flickr (UCL News)

Hilda in December 1898 on a Horse – http://framingarchaeologist.blogspot.com/2009/08/image-10-hilda-petrie-on-horseback.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.