Esther Boise Van Deman
10-1-1862 to 5-3-1937
First woman to be
a Roman Field Archaeologist in 1901.
Born in South Salem, Ohio,
Esther Van Deman was studying on scholarship in Rome when she decided that Roman
archaeology was to be her chosen field of work.
Born In South Salem, Ohio to Joseph and Martha (Millspaugh) Van Deman, Esther
attended school in South Salem until the early 1870's, and then in Sterling, Kansas
when her family moved there.
As a child she excelled in school and showed a tremendous talent and interest
in music, a field towards which her parents encouraged her. Consideration was
given to a career in music. In 1891, Van Deman graduated from the University of
Michigan, and in 1892 received her Bachelor Degree. She loved teaching, and for
the next fourteen years alternated teaching and being a student. Rules and regulations
were very bothersome to Esther, and her outspokeness often put her on the wrong
side of college administrators. She taught at Wellesley and Bryn Mawr and then
switched to being a student to study at the University of Chicago attaining a
Ph.D. in 1898. Afterwards, she taught for three years at Mount Holyoke College.
In 1901 she won a fellowship to the American School of Classical Studies in Rome.
In 1903 she returned to the United States as a professor at Goucher College, and
in 1906 again returned to Rome to study.
It was in Rome, in 1907 while
attending a lecture in the Atrium Vestae, that she noticed that the bricks blocking
up a doorway were different from those in the structure itself, and she speculated
that those differences in building materials might provide a wealth of information
for dating the choronology of those structures. Thus began thirty years of life
in Rome and signalled the end of her teaching career in a classroom.
Van Deman's thoughts were confirmed with further research and the Carnegie Institution,
in 1909 published her preliminary findings in "The Atrium Vestae." In 1910
she was placed on staff of the American School. In 1912,"The American Journal
of Archaeology" published "Methods of Determining the Date of Roman Concrete
Monuments" in which she outlined a very basic moethod, that with few modifications,
became the standard procedure in Roman Archaeology. The early period of World
War I interrupted her studies for a short time, during which she returned to America.
Again in 1917, a serious nervous collapse sent her to a sanitorium in the United
States. She held the Charles Eliot Norton lectureship in 1924-1925 and was again
in the United States for that. From 1925-1930, she was Carnegie Research Professor
of Roman Archaeology at the University of Michigan.
During her time in Rome, Van Deman firmly established the criteria for dating
ancient Roman Building construction which still remains a standard. She was not
just the first woman Roman field archaeologist. In her investigations of the fundamental
problems of the chronology of building materials and methods of construction,
she laid the foundations for serious study of Roman architecture.
When her observations at the Atrium Vestae were confirmed, she decided to apply
her method of identification to other buildings and constructions. The results
of these studies were published in several articles. After this, she turned to
a study of the Roman Aqueducts, which had never gotten any detailed attention.
Her ensuing studies and writings specializing in this field are a model of investigation,
record, and interpretation. However, it took so much of her time that only two
years were left for what she considered to be her life's work -- the perfection
of methods of dating brick and concrete construction. Ill, and knowing that she
wouldn't be able to complete her study, she began to concentrate on arranging
and organizing her notes for her colleague Marion Blake, the woman she had chosen
to carry on for her, and in 1937, at the age of seventy-four, Esther Boise Van
Deman died of cancer. Buried in the Protestant Cemetary in Rome, her grave is
quite appropriately marked by a pile of brick and concrete.