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.

 
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