Women Crush Wednesday: Violette LaFleur

It’s been a while since we looked at another female Egyptologist, so let’s learn about Violette LaFleur. She almost single-handedly saved the Petrie Museum’s collection during World War II.

Early Life

Violette LaFleur was born in 1897, possibly in Canada. She was a Canadian citizen and the daughter of a leading Montreal judge. She went to school in Highgate, England, and then was a social worker in the 1920s.

Sometime in the 1930s, she entered the Department of Egyptology at the University College London as a non-degree student. She was close friends with Stephen Glanville, who at the time was the Edwards Professor of Egyptology. His wife Ethel had been at school with her.

Egyptology Career

Violette eventually became part of the new program of curatorial, cataloging, and conservation work in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. In 1935, she started to work in the museum as a general assistant and began conservation training at the British Museum. She was eventually promoted to Honorary Museum Assistant and responsible for the photography in the museum. She also gave six lectures on object conservation.

In 1936, she accompanied Glanville on his excavations of El-Amarna and Armant, Egypt.

Her conservation work extended outside of Egyptology to the remains of Jeremy Bentham. He was an English philosopher whose remains are displayed at UCL. She was responsible for cleaning and preserving his clothes, chair, and stick, as well as padding the skeleton so that it could be displayed in the Cloisters of the Wilkins Building.

Her biggest contribution to the Petrie Museum was during WWII. She managed the removal of the collections to Stanstead Bury, specifically to the home of a naval captain George Spencer Churchill, a cousin of Winston Churchill. On September 8, 1940, the college was the first bomb with destroyed the skylights above the area where some of the objects were. Violette returned a few days later to continue packing at personal risk.

In April 1941, the college was hit again and water from the fireman hoses seeped into the basements where the cases were in standing water. The artifacts were then unpacked, conserved, and repacked. Finally, the 14 tonnes of cases and crates were transferred by July 1943. She did this mostly on her own, sometimes with some help from college porters or former students. And if you can believe it Violette lost her own flat and most of her belongings during the Blitz in 1940.

Later Life and Recognition

After the war, when the collection was returned, Violette continued to preserve the collection and teach at the university until 1954. If you could believe it, this was an honorary volunteer position, and she never received a single penny for her work.

I could not find much more information, let alone photos, of her, but she did die in 1965.

In general, she did not have any recognition for her efforts. Rosalind Janssen dedicated her book, The First Hundred Years: Egyptology at University College London 1892-1992, to the memory of Violette LaFleur. Her work was once recognized in 1951 by Sir David Pye, the Provost of UCL at the Fellow’s dinner. There was a wish for a permanent record to her be made at the Petrie Museum, but no record was made.




Image Sources

Violette Lafleur in her conservation – https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/mu

Cartoon of her – https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/news/extraordinary-stories-behind-petrie-museum


Petrie Museum – https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Petrie_Museum_of_Egyptian_Archaeology

Jeremy Bentham – https://medium.com/the-philosophers-stone/what-utilitarian-jeremy-bentham-intended-for-his-body-after-death-971d641c781d

Stanstead Bury – https://www.historichouses.org/house/stanstead-bury/tours/

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.





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

Women Crush Wednesday: Merneith

After taking about the first confirmed female pharaoh of Egypt, Sobekneferu, I also wanted to mention some earlier women who may have ruled Egypt. So let’s talk about Mereneith from the 1st Dynasty!


Merneith (also known as Meritneith or Meryt-Neith) was a consort or queen during the 1st Dynasty of Egypt. Her name means “Beloved of Neith.” She may have been the daughter of Pharaoh Djer, which would have made her the granddaughter of the first pharaoh of a unified Egypt, Narmer. She was probably married to Pharaoh Djet and mother of Pharaoh Den, as indicated by a clay seal found in the tomb of Den, labeled “King’s Mother, Mereneith.”

She is believed to have ruled after the death of Djet sometime around 2950 B.C.E., although her title is still debated. It is possible that her son Den was two young to rule, so she may have ruled as regent for her son until he was old enough. But is she ruled in her own right, then she may have actually been the first female pharaoh of Egypt, or the second, if an earlier queen Neithhotep ruled in her own right. Her name is not recorded in any ancient king lists.

Merneith’s name can be seen on the far right. The vulture and the plant with shoots is the world for mother, while the three signs below it, spell her name.

She is known from only a select number of artifacts, none of which contain any depictions of her. Her name was found on a cylinder seal from the tomb of her son Den. This seal contains all the Horus names of kings from the 1st dynasty. Mereneith is mentioned here with her title, King’s Mother. Some objects were found with her name in the tomb of King Djer in Umm el-Qa’ab.

Reconstruction of the tomb of Mereneith in Abydos

In an unpresecedneted move, Mereneith may have built two sperate tombs for herself. First we will talk about her confirmed tomb in Abydos and then I will talk about her possible tomb in Saqqara.

Tomb in Abydos

Mereneith’s tomb in Abydos is located in the Umm el-Qa’ab cemetery, particularly in the 1st Dynasty royal cemetery. Her tomb is the strongest evidence that she was a ruler of ancient Egypt, because it is in the middle of the other royal tombs. She is buried in Tomb Y, which is close to the tombs of Djet and Den. Flinders Petrie discovered the tomb in 1900, and he believed that it belonged to a previously unknown male pharaoh. Two stela with her names were found outside this tomb

The tomb is only slightly smaller in scale to the other tombs at 16.5 meters by 14 meters. It was shown to contain a large underground chamber, lined with mud bricks. The actual burial chamber was dug deeper than rooms surrounding it. There were 8 storage rooms that were filled with pottery. This neck of a Levantine jug (UC 17421) which was found is currently at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. A schist bowl was also found labeled as “that which is from Mereneith’s treasury,” which confirms it was an offering from the royal treasury and not her personal property. A solar boat was found in or near her tomb, which would allow her to travel with the sun diety in the afterlife.

The tomb was surrounded by rows of small satellite burials, with at least 40 subsidiary graves for servants. During this period, servants were sacrificed to be buried with their king so that they could assist the ruler in the afterlife. This was significantly less than at her husband and her son’s tombs.

The Levantine jug handle found in the tomb of Merenneith in Abydos located in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (UC 17421)

Tomb in Saqqara

Reconstruction of the supposed tomb of Mereneith in Saqqara

Her name has also been found on inscribed stone vessels and seal impressions in a tomb in Saqqara, Mastaba S3503. This has lead some to believe that this is another tomb of Mereneith. It is 41 meters long and 16 meters wide. The exterior was decorated like a place façade, with nine niches on the long sides and three niches on the short sides. There were 23 chambers on the ground floor, with 20 subsidiary tombs arranged around the structure. Some have speculated that this tomb has features of some of the funerary structures of the 3rd dynasty. Behind the palace façade there is the base of a stepped structure.

Below the ground level there was a large burial chamber in the middle of the building with four side chambers. Although it was probably robbed in ancient times, multiple items were still found in their original locations. There was a large sarcophagus in the center, of which only a few wooden planks were found. They did contain the remains of a skeleton, but they could not be determined to be a man or a woman. Bowls and vessels were found in the remains of a chest, some of which were inscribed with the name of Mereneith. North of the sarcophagus, poles were found which were probably intended for a canopy or tent. There was also a cylinder seal found with her name inside a royal serekh. Interestingly, this serekh had an image of the goddess Neith rather than the typical Horus falcon on top of it.

The only evidence that this tomb does not belong to Mereneith is the tomb in Umm el-Qa’ab. While it is extremely unique that a pharaoh of the 1st dynasty would have two tombs, the presence of one tomb shouldn’t be the evidence against another tomb.

The only evidence that this tomb does not belong to Mereneith is the tomb in Umm el-Qa’ab. While it is extremely unique that a pharaoh of the 1st dynasty would have two tombs, the presence of one tomb shouldn’t be the evidence against another tomb.











Photo Sources

Detail of the tomb stela, Egyptian Museum Cairo (JE 34450) – Wikimedia Commons (Juan R. Lazaro)

Cemetery B, Umm el-Qa’ab – Wikimedia Commons (Jolle~commonswiki)

Plan of the main chamber of the tomb – Wikimedia Commons (Josiane d’Este-Curry)

Funerary enclosure – https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/abydos/abydosforts2.html

Levantine jug – Petrie Museum (UC 17421)

Full stela – Ancient Egypt Fandom (Tomrowley)

Reconstruction of the tomb – http://www.ancient-egypt.org/who-is-who/m/merneith/tomb-y-at-umm-el-qaab.html

Reconstructions of Saqqara tombs – https://www.courses.psu.edu/art_h/art_h201_ejw3/egypt.html

Seal impression from the tomb of Den – http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/hesyra/merneith.html

Royal Tombs of Abydos – Wikimedia Commons (PLstrom)

Women Crush Wednesday: Margaret Murray

This Women Crush Wednesday let’s talk about another woman who helped build the British Egyptological community. Her name was Margaret Murray.

Early Life

Margaret Alice Murray was born on July 13th, 1863 in Calcutta, India, which at the time was a major military city in British India. Her parents were James and Margaret Murray and she had an older sister named Mary. Her family were part of the wealthy British elite as her father managed paper mills in Seramproe and was a member of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. Her mother had come to India as a missionary and believed in being a service to others, something her daughters took to heart.

She travelled back and forth between India and Britain several times throughout her young life. In 1870, she and her sister were sent to England to live with their uncle John, who was a vicar. The girls never had any formal education, but their uncle did teach them when they lived with him. Though, he held a very misogynistic point of view, which did not settle well with Margaret. Her interest in archaeology also began during this time, as her uncle would take her to see many local monuments.

In 1873, their mother took the girls to Bonn, Germany. Here the girls learned German, which would later help Margaret a great deal. They returned to Calcutta in 1875 for two years before moving back to England. By 1880, the whole family was back in Calcutta and 17-year-old Margaret became a nurse at the Calcutta General Hospital, though her father disapproved. He believed that women should not have work outside the house, so he only let his daughter be a nurse for three months. By 1887, Margaret moved to England and became a social worker, helping local underprivileged people. She apparently had attempted to become a nurse but was refused because she was considered too short! (She was less than five feet tall.) Margaret later moved in with her father and lived with him until his death in 1891.

Life at University College London

University College London

While visiting her sister and brother-in-law in Madras (now Chennai), India in 1893, her sister saw an advertisement for an Egyptology course. This course was going to be at the newly established Egyptology Department at University College London (created by Amelia Edwards) and taught by Flinders Petrie, an already popular Egyptologist and archaeologist. Mary was always the more academically inclined of the two sisters and would have loved to take the course. But she was newly married with a baby living in India. So she insisted that Margaret should do it.

And Margaret did.

At the age of 30, she enrolled in January 1894 at UCL. Here she took classes on the ancient Egyptian languages by Francis Llewellyn Griffith and Walter Ewing Crum and soon got to know Flinders Petrie. He recognized her talent and passion and she became his copyist and illustrator for his books. He encouraged her to write her first research paper, “The Descent of Property in the Early Periods of Egyptian History,” which was published in the Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archaeology in 1895. She essentially became Petrie’s assistant.

At the age of 30, she enrolled in January 1894 at UCL. Here she took classes on the ancient Egyptian languages by Francis Llewellyn Griffith and Walter Ewing Crum and soon got to know Flinders Petrie. He recognized her talent and passion and she became his copyist and illustrator for his books. He encouraged her to write her first research paper, “The Descent of Property in the Early Periods of Egyptian History,” which was published in the Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archaeology in 1895. She essentially became Petrie’s assistant.

Although it seems that Margaret never technically graduated from UCL (although this was the first British university to grant degrees to women), she began to teach Egyptology courses in 1896, only two years after starting! She was appointed as a junior lecturer in 1898 and would go on to teach courses on Ancient Egyptian history, religion, and language. She referred to her students as “The Gang,” who compromised of several future Egyptologists including, Reginald Engelbach, Georgina Aitken, Guy Brunton, and Myrtle Broome. During this time, she also taught evening Egyptology courses at the British Museum.

During the 1902-1903 field season, Margaret joined Petrie and his wife, Hilda Petrie, on their excavations at Abydos. During the winter months when Petrie would excavate in Egypt, she was typically in charge of running the department at UCL. But this year, she joined as a site nurse, but Petrie quickly taught her excavation methods and she was given a senior position. During this season, she helped uncover the Osireion, which was a temple devoted to Osiris by Pharaoh Seti I. She published her site report in 1904 (The Osireion at Abydos)and it was considered groundbreaking.

Margaret returned to Egypt during the 1903-1904 field season where they excavated the Saqqara cemetery. Technically, she did not have permission to excavate here (which is essential today in archaeology and Egyptology), so she worked on tombs that had already been excavated. She transcribed the inscriptions of ten of these tombs and published her results (Saqqara Mastabas) in two parts in 1905 and 1937.

Throughout her career she was invited by several museums to help advise them on their Egyptological collections. She catalogued artefacts owned by the Dublin National Museum, the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the Manchester Museum. She also donated some items to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which you can read more about here.

*There is an image of human remains below*

She is well respected at the Manchester Museum, as Margaret unwrapped one of their mummies. (This practice is of course not done anymore for a variety of ethical and conservation reasons.) She unwrapped the mummy of Khnum-Nakht, who was one of the mummies found in the “Tomb of the Two Brothers,” to an audience of about 500. She took an interdisciplinary approach to this unwrapping, which was adopted by later Egyptologists and called “The Manchester Method.” Margaret was the first women to ever publicly unwrap a mummy. To learn more about the recent discoveries regarding these two mummies, click here.

The coffins of “The Two Brothers”

Besides her academic achievements, Margaret was also dedicated to public education. She recognized that solid scholarship could be mixed with Egyptomania. She did multiple lecture series throughout her career. She was also pleased with the increased public interest in Egyptology following Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut.

Her Feminist Activism

A bust of Margaret Murray in UCL’s Institute of Archaeology’s Library

Margret took an active role in the feminist movement in the early 1900s. She volunteered, donated, and took part in feminist demonstrations, protests, and marches. She was a member of the Pankhursts’ Women Social and Political Union and attended several marches including the Mud March of 1907 and the Women’s Coronation Procession of 1911. Many of her larger actions were concealed from her colleagues in order to retain her image in the male world of academia.

But she successfully campaigned for UCL to open a common room for women, as women were not allowed in the men’s common room. This room was later named after her, although now the room has been converted to an office. Margaret demanded better and more equal facilities and working conditions for the female students and staff at the University.

Her Folklore Research

During WWI, when excavations in Egypt were postponed, Margaret first worked as a nurse in France, before moving to Glastonbury to rest. Here she became interested in the local folklore, in particular the stories of the Holy Grail. She also became interested in the history of European witchcraft.

She began to publish articles and books on witchcraft. Her most popular was The Witch Cult in Western Europe. Based on her research, she believed that there was an ancient pre-Christian religion dating to the Paleolithic period that secretly continued in Europe. These followers worshiped a female deity, before a male horned god was worshiped and eventually represented the Devil.

She began to publish articles and books on witchcraft. Her most popular was The Witch Cult in Western Europe. Based on her research, she believed that there was an ancient pre-Christian religion dating to the Paleolithic period that secretly continued in Europe. These followers worshiped a female deity, before a male horned god was worshiped and eventually represented the Devil.

On a pop culture level, her books were quite popular. But scholars’ have since discredited her work. Much of her work was based on confessions from women in Scotland accused of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th century. These sources are not that reliable considered they may have confessed under threat of torture and Margaret based her thesis on the belief that the secret religion had continued from pagan times. Critics have also said that she used questionable methodology, poor sourcing, and selective quoting.

Regardless of this evidence, her work influenced Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, which is the modern Pagan religion, along with many other Wicca pioneers. Her theories may have also influenced or derived the use of terms, concepts, and phrases such as “Old Religion,” “coven,” and “Horned God.” Read this article to learn more about if we should completely dismiss her theories of witchcraft.

Later Life

After WWI ended, Margaret returned to UCL in London. She also carried out two more archaeological digs on the islands of Malta and Menorca.

She was made assistant professor at UCL in 1924 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1927 for her work in Egyptology. Although she could have retired from teaching in 1927, she was reappointed each year until 1935, because she was such a popular lecturer. She also assisted Petrie and his wife on excavations in Palestine and Jordan in the 1930s.

After her retirement from UCL, she continued her interest in public education. She taught adult education classes on ancient Egyptian history and religion in the City Library Institute. Her general public book on Egyptian history, The Splendour that was Egypt, was published in 1949.

Margaret Murray and Hilda Petrie in their old age

Continuing her love of folklore, Margaret was elected the president of the Folklore Society in 1953, after joining it in 1927. She was 90 years old!

Margaret Murray being interviewed by the BBC in 1960

“I’ve been an archaeologist most of my life and now I’m a piece of archaeology myself.”

Quoted in The New Scientist, November 1961, when she was 96

In May 1962, Margaret moved to the Queen Victoria Memoiral Hospital for the last 18 months of her life. She published two more books during this time, The Genesis of Religion and My First Hundred Years, her autobiography.

A photo from her 100th birthday party

For her 100th birthday, two birthday celebrations were held; one in Ayot St. Lawerence and another at UCL. Her colleagues, former students, doctors, and friends attended and there was even a cake in the shape of the Egyptian hieroglyph for the number 100.

Four months later, apparently still planning future projects, Margaret Murray died on November 13th, 1963.

Check out these two articles about her life as an Egyptologist and a recipe for meat curry she gave another archaeologist.

Please enjoy this little comic about her life, created by Gabriel Moshenska.







Photo Sources

Unwrapping Mummy – Manchester Museum (Trowelblazer)

Cartoon – Trowelblazers (Gabriel Moshenska 2014)

Bust at UCL library – Wikimedia Commons (Midnightblueowl)

Photograph of her with book – National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x42538)

Painting of Margaret Murray – Winifred Brunton (her former student) in 1917; currently in the UCL Art Museum

Photo of her on her 100th birthday – UCL Records

Photo when she received her doctorate in 1933 – Petrie Museum https://www.vice.com/en/article/xye9yk/the-forgotten-egyptologist-and-first-wave-feminist-who-invented-wicca

The witch-cult in Western Europe – Amazon

The two Brother’s mummy – https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/ancient-dna-results-end-4000-year-old-egyptian-mummy-mystery-in-manchester/

Her being interviewed by the BBC in 1960 – Wikimedia Commons (Petrie Museum)

Flinders Petrie – https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/03/how-alternative-egyptology-and-scientific-archaeology-were-born-on-the-giza-plateau/3/

Hilda Petrie – Trowelblazers

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

Women Crush Wednesday: Amelia Edwards

This weeks Woman Crush Wednesday post, is going to be one of my favorites of all time! Today we are going to talk about Amelia Edwards, an English novelist, journalist, world traveler, and of course Egyptologist. She is also sometimes referred to as the “Godmother of Egyptology.”

Early Life

She was born Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards on June 7th, 1831 in London. Her mother was of Irish descent and her father was a British Army officer turned banker. She was educated at home by her mother and showed early promise in a variety of topics. She was an especially strong writer, and she was able to publish her first poem at 7 and her first story at 12. Amelia also wrote for the Saturday Review and Morning Post.

The English Heritage Blue Plaque being unveiled at Number 19, Wharton Street in Islington, London. This is where she lived with her family in her early years as a writer.

She was also a talented artist, illustrating some of her own writings and painting scenes from other books she had read. At 12, she was offered to be taught by George Cruikshank, who was a British caricaturist and book illustrator, but her parents didn’t let her. They believed that art was not a respectable career. This decision haunted Edwards throughout her early life.

Amelia Edwards’ drawing of the temple of Philae

And if it was hard to believe, Amelia was also a talented composer and singer. But after a bout of typhus in 1849, she quit due to a frequent sore throat. She also enjoyed pistol shooting, horse riding, and mathematics. Actively supporting the suffrage movement, at one time she served as Vice-President of the Society for Promoting Women’s Suffrage.

Her Writing

In the early 1850s, she began to focus more exclusively on being a writer. Her first full length novel was My Brother’s Wife, but Barbara’s History in 1864 helped establish her reputation. She probably spent about two years to fully research and then write all of her books. Her book Lord Brakenbury ran 15 editions! She also wrote several ghost stories which appeared in anthologies, “The Phantom’s Coach,” being her most popular. The background and characters in many of her writings were based on her personal experiences.

Her most famous ghost story, still in circulation today

Here is a list of all of her books, short stories, and poetry:

Histroy and Archaeology

  • A Summary of English History: from the Roman Conquest to the present time, 1856
  • Outlines of English history: from the Roman conquest to the present time: with observations on the progress of art, science and civilization and questions adapted to each paragraph: for the use of schools, c. 1857
  • The History of France; from the Conquest of Gaul by the Romans to the Peace of 1856, 1858
  • The Story of Cervantes, etc., 1862
  • A Thousand Miles Up the Nile London: George Routledge and Sons Ltd, 1877 (1st edition) and 1890 (2nd edition, ISBN 0-9819284-2-0)[32]
  • Pharaohs, Fellahs and Explorers. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891


  • My Brother’s Wife. A life–history, 1855
  • The Ladder of Life. A heart history, 1857
  • The Young Marquis, or, a story from a Reign, c. 1857
  • The Eleventh of March. (From a pocket-book of forty years ago), 1863
  • No Hero: an Autobiography, 1863[33]
  • Barbara’s History, 1864
  • Hand and Glove. A tale, 1865
  • Miss Carew (short stories), 1865
  • Half a Million of Money, c. 1868
  • Debenham’s Vow, 1870
  • In the Days of My Youth, 1873
  • Lord Brackenbury, 1880
  • The Phantom Coach, by Amelia B. Edwards, adapted by I. M. Richardson, illustrated by Hal Ashmead, c. 1982


  • Ballads. London: Tinsley, 1865
  • A Poetry-book of Elder Poets, consisting of songs & sonnets, odes & lyrics, selected and arranged, with notes, from the works of the elder English poets, dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century. 1878
  • Translations
  • Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt: for the use of students and travellers by Sir G. Maspero, translated by Amelia B. Edwards

Monsieur Maurice and other stories, 1873; contains the stories:[34]

  • “Monsieur Maurice”
  • “An Engineer’s Story”
  • “The Cabaret of the Break of Day”
  • “The Story of Ernst Christian Schoeffer”
  • “The New Pass”
  • “A Service of Danger”
  • “A Night on the Borders of the Black Forest”
  • “The Story of Salome”
  • “In the Confessional”
  • “The Tragedy in the Palazzo Bardell”
  • “The Four Fifteen Express”
  • “Sister Johanna’s Story”
  • “All Saints’ Eve”

Travel Books

  • Sights and Stories: being some account of a Holiday Tour through the north of Belgium, 1862
  • A Thousand Miles up the Nile, 1877
  • Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites. London: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1873

Click this link to learn more about her life in her own writing!

Her Travels

At the age of 30, following the death of her parents, Amelia Edwards had little reason to stay in England. The proceeds of her writing were sufficient to enable her to live independently and to go where she wished. During this time, male chaperonage was considered socially and physically essential for a female traveler, but Amelia refused. She began travelling with friend and possibly girlfriend (more on that later), Lucy Renshawe.

In 1871, she was on a European tour visiting Munich, Oberammergau, and Rome. She took some art classes in Rome with an Italian artist. A marble bust of Amelia was made during this time by Percival Ball. The bust was in her home until her death, at which point it was donated to the National Gallery in London (NPG 929). A cast was also made and given to University College London. She wrote this in her notebook recording Reminiscences & Notes of a Tour in Germany, Bavaria, Tyrol and Italy,

The bust of Amelia Edwards, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 929

“As life goes on, one’s heart deadens & wearies from many disappointments, & one ceases to look for heart in others.… I go through the world now as one goes through the Hall of Busts at the Capitol, seeing only heads and looking for hearts no longer. To me my fellow-creatures are busts only.… Whether the bust is that of a good or a bad person, a Christian or a Pagan, a man or a woman, matters nothing. To me it is a work of art only, & so are my fellow creatures. Sometimes I feel as if I also were a mere bust – or worse still, a terminal statue – head above and a marble column below. At other times I am scarcely conscious of even my head, & feel like a shadow moving among shadows – emotionless, passionless, unimpressed.…”

She often wrote journals and later published these. Her first was Sights and Stories: A Holiday Tour Through Northern Belgium. Then in 1872, she and Lucy traversed through the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy. They hired some mountains guides for certain portions, although the majority of the mountains had not even been documented. She described this journey in two books. They were warned that this trip was too challenging, but Amelia’s attraction of traveling was the challenge of reaching areas that were almost entirely untouched and inaccessible, especially of meeting and overcoming difficulties that others would not face.

Amelia Edwards’ drawing of the Dolomite Mountains during her trip

After being disappointed at the end of their Dolomites trip, Amelia and Lucy traveled to France for a walking tour. Unfortunately, it was ruined by a bout of rain, so the ladies looked south for a new adventure.


They fell upon Egypt, which began Amelia’s career in Egyptology. From 1872 to 1874, they traveled from Cairo to Philae and Abu Simbel on a dahebiyeh, which is a manned houseboat. They were accompanied by Andrew McCallum, an English painter, and eventually another English traveler Marianne Brocklehurst. This Nile voyage was documented in her book A Thousand Miles up the Nile, along with the multiple sketches she made for the book.

Amelia Edwards’ drawing of the looting of a grave in Egypt

They stayed in Abu Simbel for six weeks, where Amelia excavated at the Temple of Ramses II. After this, she was smitten with Egyptology in more ways than one. In the 19th century, the protection of monuments and artifacts had only recently begun. The trade in antiquities was largely illegal and lucrative and the political climate of Egypt was quite unstable because there was tension and colonial rivalry between French and English explorers. Amelia witnessed the illegal destruction of monuments and the threats of tourism and modern developments. She set out to hinder these through public awareness and scientific endeavor.

The Egypt Exploration Fund

When she returned to England in 1882, she co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund with Reginald Stuart Poole, who was the curator of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum. It was originally called the Egyptological Society. She attended to the publicity and subscription work, by writing letters soliciting possibly supporters and campaigned for the society. To advance the Fund’s work, she largely abandoned other writing in favor of Egyptology. She also took a strenuous lecture tour of the US from 1889 to 1890, which appeared as a book, Pharaohs, Fellahs, and Explorers.

A newspaper clipping of Amelia Edwards on her lecture in America

She befriended a lot of prominent figures in Egyptian Archaeology at the time, included Flinders Petrie, whose excavations were often funded by the EEF and her marketing. Her Egyptological work was generally respected, especially her translations of a number of works into English. During her lifetime, she received three honorary degrees from Columbia College, New York, Smith College, Massachusetts, and the College of the Sisters of Bethany, Massachusetts. She also received an English civil list pension for her service to literature and archaeology.

Unfortunately her career with the Egypt Exploration Fund would not last. As the field of archaeology became increasingly filled with professional males, her influence in the policies and direction of the EEF decreased. She was not included in decisions and was eventually, Poole and Newton cut her out. Petrie complained about this decision, but it was not changed. Amelia was saddened, but she still continued to dedicate herself to the Fund through letters and lectures.

After a she broke her arm during her 1889-1890 tour in America, her health began to deteriorate. She then caught the flu, and died on April 15ht, 1892 at Weston -super-mare, three months after he partner died.

Her as an Early LGBTQ+ Figure

As I mentioned previously, Amelia Edwards was a lesbian and did not keep a secret. Some modern biographers, and even on Wikipedia, have tried to hide or avoid talking about this aspect of her life, but Edwards never did. Her friend John Addington Symonds, told this to Henry Havelock Ellis, who was the co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897. She told both Symonds and Ellis that she had forged a menage a trois with and English woman and her clergyman husband, who were most likely John Rice Byrne and Ellen Bryne. One day the husband had married the women at the alter of the church. And when they moved away from Bristol, it was “like a death blow” to Edwards.

She was most likely in a relationship with Lucy Renshawe while they traveled Europe and Egypt together. Unfortunately, little is known about Lucy. The only other partner of Amelia was Ellen Drew Braysher (1804-1892). They lived for 30 years together in Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol. There is also little known about Ellen, although she had a daughter named Sarah Harriet Braysher (1832-1864). All three women are buried together in St. Mary the Virgin, Henbury, Bristol, with Ellen labeled as Amelia’s “beloved friend.”

Amelia Edwards, Ellen Braysher, and Sarah Braysher’s grave, embellished with a large ankh and obelisk

In September 2016, Historic England designated the grave as a historic landmark in English LGBTQ+ history.


After her death, she bequeathed her collection Egyptian antiquities and her library to University College London, with a sum of 5,000 pounds to found an Edwards Chair of Egyptology. This chair position was first gifted to her good friend Flinders Petrie. This was the first Egyptology teaching position in England. She offered this to UCL rather than Oxford or Cambridge, because UCL was the only university in England where degrees were given to women.

Image of Amelia Edward’s office, with some of her Egyptian collection on display

She also supported Sommerville College Library, leaving books, papers, and watercolors to Sommerville College, Oxford, along with a small collection of Greek and Roman pots. Check out these links for a list of her collection at Sommerville College.

The copy of Amelia Edwards’ bust in the entrance of the Petrie Museum

Her collection is the core of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian archaeology at the University College London. Edwards typically though that the art of ancient Egypt, should be left in Egypt, but she did have a substantial collection of small finds. She was even quoted to say,

“Dearer to me than all the rest of my curios are my Egyptian antiquities… I have enough to stock a modest little museum.”

In comparison to Petrie’s collection, Edward’s has very little provenance or provenience information. The top of a staute of a man and woman, a small head of a statue of Amenemhat III, a wooden stela of Neskhons, and a fragment of a coffin of Amenemipet are some of the treasures of her collection. Unfortunately the majority of her collection has been confused in the mix of items the museum owns. More research is needed to separate her collection, posthumous additions to the Edwards collection, Petrie’s collection, and other items donated to UCL.

Her legacy is established in her presence in University College London, the Petrie Museum, and even as the namesake of Elizabeth Peters character Amelia Peabody.













Photo Credits

Amelia Photograph – Wikimedia Commons (unbekannt – entweder der Verlag oder eine Zeitung – aus dem Buch von Amelia B Edwards “PHARAOHS, FELLAHS AND EXPLORERS”)

Drawing of the Dolomites, Philae from the South, Digging for Mummies – Amelia Edwards

Amelia in black – https://americanliterature.com/author/amelia-b-edwards

Cover of the Phantom Coach – Barnes and Noble

A Thousand miles up the Nile cover – Amazon

Blue Plaque unveiling – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/search-news/amelia-edwards-blue-plaque/

Bust and Photographs of Amelia – National Portrait Gallery

Objects from the Edwards Collection, Photo of Newspaper cutting, her office, and bust in Petrie Museum – https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2015/03/04/the-edwards-museum/#more-40195

Photo of her grave – https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/lgbtq-heritage-project/homes-and-domestic-spaces/under-scrutiny-at-home/