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Emma Andrews, Egyptologist

March 4, 2016

Emma Andrews gets a bad and unfair rap.  As I posted here recently in a book review, Emma Andrews was a central character in the life of American millionaire and Egyptologist Theodore Davis’ life.  See Davis’ most recent biography by John W. Adams.  I first found out about her when I was shown her diary—well, a type-script of her diary because the hand-written one is lost—in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian Art Department archives when I was there for research in May 2015.  It was thick, and fascinating.

Logo of the Emma Andrews Diary Project (from the home page).

If you’ve ever read travel literature from trips up the Nile in the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Amelia Edwards’ 1000 Miles up the Nile you would recognize most of the descriptions of boats, daily sailing activities, getting stuck in the current or no current, the native people’s activities, the picturesqueness of Egypt, and more.  Andrew’s diary, which she kept from 1889-1913, does not disappoint in these features and descriptions.  Most importantly for us historians, she also includes heavy discussion of Davis’ archaeology activities when he finally started digging in 1903, and had financed the discovery of over 25 tombs in the Valley of the Kings through 1913.

Theodore Davis with Mr. and Mrs. Weigall and Ayrton

Davis (second from right) with Arthur Weigall and his wife (L) and Edward Ayrton in the Valley of the Kings, 1907.  From Millionaire and the Mummies.

As I read through the diary and took a few images here and there (I was looking for something specific at the time relevant to a new project), I picked up on their story.  Then, as I’ve been learning to do at the beginning of something, I Googled her.  There isn’t much about her except the growing and fascinating Emma B. Andrews Diary Project.  Most of what I’ve read about her life was in the Adams book.  She’s not a character on the Trowelblazers site yet, but in fairness to them, they are busy updating their site all the time.  Then, the fabulous Julia mentioned that she was a character in one of the Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody novels*, The Ape who Guards the Balance. Of course, I had to read the novel.  You know, for research.

Artist’s rendition of the infamous Emerson couple.

The book covers the Emerson family’s excavations in the 1907 season (pictured above).  Radcliffe Emerson bullies Ned Ayrton (above, R) into letting him into the tomb the Davis team discovers because Davis will do a terrible job of it.  Amelia and Radcliffe considered Davis to be a part of what they called “the dahabeeyah dining society” and not really archaeologists (p. 149).  Radcliffe expressed his feelings loudly and openly to Ayrton and to Gaston Maspero.  But Davis funded the excavations, so, as both the Emersons and Adams argue, Davis’s contributions were invaluable to Egyptology in the early 20th century.  KV55 was the main tomb Davis discovered that season, and he immediately attributed it to Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten.  The body found buried there may be that of the Heretic King himself.  But enough about Davis!  The Emersons disliked Emma Andrews very much as well, thanks to their Victorian propriety.  Amelia described her in the novel as “an amiable individual.  (I will not repeat [Radcliffe] Emerson’s rude speculations concerning the relationship between her and Mr. Davis.)” (p.149).

All this is a fictional account of the Davis crew, but I do think sometimes Andrews gets a bad rap in the history of Egyptology.  Not only did the Emersons think there was shocking behavior afoot on Davis’s dahabeeyah The Bedawin, Adams also argued that she was Davis’ mistress, his illegitimate “companion” for over 30 years.  It is possible that she only held this title because divorce was not as widely accepted at the time and this was the only recourse for two people who found each other later in their lives.  She has been demonized by others for throwing Davis’ wife out of their house later in life, when Davis was growing ill.  There are a lot of gendered aspects to the analysis (or lack thereof) of Andrews’ life in Egypt.  As a diarist, could she be defined as an archaeologist?

Her diaries indeed portray an Egypt that may be present in others’ diaries, but they also tell an amazing story of excavations, success, love, and loss in Egypt.  Her recollections include the likes of Howard Carter, JP Morgan, Arthur Weigall, Archibald Sayce, Percy Newberry, and more.  Many times, her description of a tomb, her mapping of the layout, and her list of objects found in it is the only accurate record of Davis’ finds.  For example, this map from Tuthmosis IVs Tomb in 1903 (image from Emma Andrews Diary tumblr)

After a gendered analysis and looking at the evidence in her diaries (only very little of I could reveal here), it is clear that Andrews was in fact an Egyptologist.  Davis is considered a huge factor in Egyptian archaeology–as a benefactor and excavator.  No one claims he was a trained Egyptologist explicitly, but his name is included with the likes of Lord Carnarvon and Charles Wilbour.  These men who had money, and therefore power in the field.  Andrews was keeping the record for the excavations, much like other female archaeologists would have done in the time.  She had just as much money as Davis (if not more), and just as much field training.

In the end, maybe my affinity for Andrews is part of my pathology of the archives.  I MUST track down all these women who have been mostly hidden from history (Emily Paterson), or who have gotten short-shrifted because of their association with men (Margaret Murray, Caroline Ransom Williams).  But I argue for her legitimacy and inclusion as a Trowelblazer.


*The entire Peters series may deserve its own post as a huge inspiration for my work.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. harngroup permalink*
    March 4, 2016 11:15 am

    Thank you Kate, I enjoyed this tremendously. It just goes to show that Amelia Peabody Emerson wasn’t always right in her analysis of other Egyptologists 😉
    I think we do need to trace and assess all of these peripheral – and not so peripheral – characters in order to have a more balanced and rounded history. It’s not just a matter of gender, race and class also had an impact on who has been considered to be a ‘real’ archaeologist. I think there’s still an awful lot of work to be done, but the rewards are impressive.
    I do have 2 questions, who was Caroline Ransom Williams? And, am I mis-reading Ayrton’s address as Eolith Road, West Kensington? Please say I’m not! That’s a fantastic address for an archaeologist.

    • Kathleen Sheppard permalink
      March 4, 2016 11:46 am

      Thank you, Julia! I agree that Amelia Peabody could be wrong from time to time. She admits that, sometimes, but not often. 🙂
      Caroline Ransom Williams was James Breasted’s student at the University of Chicago. I’ll be blogging more about her very soon. She was, arguably, the American Margaret Murray.
      I do believe it’d Edith Road. But you’re right. Eolith road is much better.


  1. Emma Andrews, Egyptologist | Adventures in History and Archaeology

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