Ellis, Florence Hawley (1906–1991)

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Ellis, Florence Hawley (1906–1991)

American archaeologist, anthropologist and ethno-historian who was a leading authority on the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. Name variations: Florence M. Hawley; Florence H. Senter. Born Florence M. Hawley in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, on September 17, 1906; died in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 6, 1991; daughter of Fred Graham Hawley and Amy (Roach) Hawley; married Donovan Senter (divorced 1947); married Bruce T. Ellis (curator of collections at Albuquerque's Museum of New Mexico); children: (first marriage) daughter, Andrea Senter.

In 1906, Florence Hawley was born to American parents in the Mexican copper-mining town of Cananea. Soon after Mexico's revolutionary turbulence made life too precarious for foreigners, the family moved back to the United States, and her father, a mining chemist, settled them in Miami, Arizona. There, the young Florence began her formal education. From both of her parents, she learned to rely on herself from an early age, later remarking that she had been "raised simply to be independent" which was "just part of my family's philosophy." An excellent student, she entered the University of Arizona at the age of 16. Her interests were literary, and she decided on English as her major. She also had a strong interest in history, but was soon floored by a course in American history, which from her perspective simply demanded "too many dates to remember." A family friend, anthropology professor Byron Cummings, suggested that she might find archaeology a more congenial subject to study. His suggestion was on target, and before long Florence had become fascinated by the prehistory of the American Southwest, artifacts of which were available to her literally down the nearest road.

By 1928, she had written a path-breaking master's thesis on ceramics fragments that had been excavated in sites near Miami, Arizona. She was able to distinguish three closely successive stages of pottery, separating three sequential types (Early, Middle and Late Gila Polychrome) and making a strong case for the relationships of these artifacts to certain Mexican Indian pottery types. These insights from the young scholar represented significant contributions to the development of what was at the time still an embryonic field of expertise, Southwestern prehistory.

At the same time that she was working on her master's thesis, Hawley collaborated with her father, whose expertise in chemical analysis enabled her to describe in precise terms the pigments of black pottery (carbon, carbon-mineral, and manganese). Here too her research represented pioneering work in the methodology of Southwestern American archaeology, establishing methods and criteria that would enable later researchers to effectively use chemical distinctions in their ceramic analyses as well as in their cultural hypotheses and interpretations. Her insights were communicated to the profession in an important series of papers published in the journals American Anthropologist and the Journal of Chemical Education.

After receiving her master's degree in 1928, Hawley began teaching as a member of the anthropology department of the University of Arizona. Although her salary, $1,350 per annum, was hardly munificent, she was enthusiastic. Her responsibilities, which included not only teaching classes but also museum and field work with analysis of ceramics and tree-ring specimens, provided Hawley with many opportunities to further her understanding of a vast and rapidly expanding field of knowledge. Among the most important skills she mastered during this period was a detailed knowledge of tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), which she learned from one of the pioneers of this archaeological technique, A.E. Douglass.

Starting in 1929, Hawley began to spend several months each summer in New Mexico, where she concentrated on field work at the archaeological site of Chetro Ketl. This site was situated in Chaco Canyon, which had been established as a National Monument in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt and was a treasure trove of archaeological artifacts from many centuries of American Southwestern Indian life and culture. The key figure in this research program was Edgar L. Hewett, a scholar who headed the University of New Mexico's anthropology department. Not only a brilliant theorist and indefatigable field investigator, Hewett was a man ahead of his time in his attitudes toward the role of women in this male-dominated field. He was highly unusual in his acceptance of women as field school students and encouraged them to work on significant research projects from the beginning of their careers. Aware of the glaring salary discrepancies between male and female faculty, Hewett made serious efforts to bring about meaningful increases in the pay of the female members of his department, including newly hired faculty like Hawley. The sources of Hewett's progressive attitudes toward the role of women in anthropological and archaeological research have not been definitively traced, but some sources suggest that his respect for the intellectual talents of women was fostered by his mother, as well as by the years he spent working on his doctorate in Switzerland, a nation with advanced attitudes toward women's education in the decades before World War I.

In 1928, Hewett had begun an archaeological field school in Chaco Canyon that operated under the joint auspices of the University of New Mexico and the School of American Research. Imparting her knowledge to the select group of 20 graduate and advanced undergraduate students permitted to register for the field school, Hawley worked in the meticulous excavation of the canyon's trash mound. As shards of ceramics and various tree-ring specimens saw the light of day, she began the painstaking process of identifying and cataloguing them.

In Chaco Canyon, Florence Hawley and the other young diggers were enthusiastic "boys and girls of summer" who learned immensely from the direct confrontation with thousands of years of Native American history. Conditions in the canyon were rudimentary at best. When torrential rains came, she and the others had to push the expedition's supply truck through the rapidly flooding arroyo to safer grounds. Communications with the outside world were erratic and often interrupted when a cow leaned too hard against any of the 40 miles of fencing which carried the sole telephone line to Chaco Canyon. Each member of the group was allotted a single gallon of water a day, which was delivered to her or his tent in a canvas bag. This precious gallon was for brushing one's teeth, for washing clothing, and for personal hygiene. Those who felt they needed more water had to go to considerable effort to fetch an additional supply. On weekends, Hawley and the others each took their baths in a bucket, using the leftover water to temporarily tame the dust on their tent floors. The few hours of leisure were spent at the trading post looking for snacks or attending a ceremonial at the nearby Navajo settlement. Evenings were often spent in front of a campfire listening to a talk on archaeological theory and practice by Professor Hewett, or occasionally hearing one of the Zuni workers' songs and traditional stories.

In 1933, in the depth of the Great Depression, Hawley and several other young University of Arizona faculty members were informed that due to a budgetary crisis they would have to be laid off for one academic year. Viewing the situation as much as an opportunity as a catastrophe, Florence Hawley signed up for the doctoral program at the University of Chicago and went north with her modest savings and a substantial amount of data from her years of work at Chetro Ketl. Aware that Chicago scholars demanded mathematical skills, Hawley took a course prior to her trip north. This decision would be of great value for her doctoral research, for it enabled her to scientifically establish the significance of the stratified variations in ceramics she had observed in the Chetro Ketl East Dump. The result of her investigation was one of the earliest uses of form statistics (Chi square) in American archaeology. Hawley's dissertation, and the published monograph based on it, combined this solid data with dendrochronologic (tree-ring dating) studies from nine Chacoan sites to explain human occupation and desertion of the region in terms of ecologic change. The scientific community came to consider this publication as the first of several research milestones in the development of Southwestern archaeology.

Upon her graduation from the University of Chicago, Hawley was offered a position with an academic institution she had come to know well in recent years, the University of New Mexico's anthropology department. She had for some time regarded its longtime chair, Edgar Hewett, as a giant in the field of Southwestern anthropological research, and she had an equally strong personal respect for him. Arriving in Albuquerque in 1934 with little beyond her prestigious doctoral degree from the University of Chicago, Hawley was rich in hopes but poor in finances. In fact, her impoverished state compelled her to pawn her wristwatch and take a lien on her battered old Ford. Nevertheless, she quickly felt at home in Albuquerque and would serve with great distinction as a member of her department for almost four decades, retiring in 1971.

In her early 30s, Hawley was already nationally recognized as a pioneering scholar. Her specialized knowledge of American Southwestern archaeology led to an arrangement between her own institution and the University of Chicago which allowed her to share her knowledge and talents. From 1937 to 1941, she was on loan half-time to Chicago to teach dendrochronology and added to her knowledge by developing a dendrochronological sequence for the Midwestern American states. The publications that resulted from her years in Chicago remain classics in the field.

In 1936, within two years of taking the job in Albuquerque, she published a classic typological study of Southwestern ceramics, the Field Manual of Southwestern Pottery Types. This highly detailed volume remains after more than two generations the standard reference work for the prehistoric pottery of the New Mexico region. In 1936, Hawley married Donovan Senter, and had a daughter, Andrea Senter . From her earliest years, Andrea accompanied her mother on her field work, growing deeply attached to the Indian lore of New Mexico. For a while, Hawley and her husband collaborated on several ethnological projects related to New Mexico's Spanish American population. In time, however, cooperation led to perceptions of competition, and the marriage was terminated in 1947. Several years later, she married Bruce Ellis, who became curator of collections at Albuquerque's Museum of New Mexico.

For nearly four decades, Florence Hawley Ellis was one of the academic luminaries of the University of New Mexico. By the 1940s, her name and the field of Southwestern archaeology were virtually indistinguishable. Possessing extraordinary energy, she would often complete one research project to commence on another one before the raw data from the earlier work had been prepared for publication. A number of projects that had not progressed beyond the initial write-up stage remained in her personal files at the time of her retirement, which was a long and active one. By the end of her writing career, she had produced over 150 separate publications, an enormous body of writings universally regarded as foundational works in the literature of the field.

Florence Hawley Ellis' scholarly productivity was fueled in large part by the catholicity of her research interests, which revealed the inter-action of ethnographical and ethnological approaches to data. Her unusual sensitivity toward the cultural values and moral insights of the Pueblo began from her first contacts with them in 1929. A decade later, the relationship had matured to one of mutual respect. Accompanied by her daughter Andrea, Ellis spent countless hours with members of the Pueblo and Navajo tribes, sharing work, food and confidences with them, thus coming in time to be regarded not as an interloper but rather as a trusted friend.

She became a strong defender of Indian rights and in 1983 testified on behalf of the San Ildefonso, Nambe, Tesuque and Pojoaque Pueblos in a water rights case that had dragged on for 17 years. With a profound knowledge of Pueblo culture, she argued persuasively that, even though Pojoaque Pueblo had been abandoned between 1912 and 1932, its people had never ceased being members of the social unit, and thus their moving into houses near their fields "would have nothing to do with the extinguishing of membership" in the Pueblo.

Florence Hawley Ellis spent her final years working on many projects including a museum of anthropology named in her honor. Located in breathtaking "Georgia O'Keefe country," 60 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, her museum is situated in Abiquiu, site of the Ghost Ranch Conference Center of the Presbyterian Church, USA. Here both the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the associated Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology serve scientists and amateurs alike by organizing excavations of native artifacts, fossils and dinosaur remains. The museum has mounted a number of regionally oriented exhibits representing successive cultures in the northern Rio Grande, from Paleo-Indian through Archaic, Pueblo, and finally the Spanish and the Anglo. Active to the very end of her long career as a scholar and teacher and highly respected by her colleagues, Florence Hawley Ellis died in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 6, 1991.


Aveni, Anthony F., ed. Archaeoastronomy in Pre-Columbian America. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1975.

Babcock, Barbara A., and Nancy J. Parezo. Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest, 1880–1980: An Illustrated Catalogue. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.

Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.

Ellis, Florence Hawley. An Anthropological Study of the Navajo Indians. NY: Garland, 1974.

Frisbie, Theodore R., ed. Collected Papers in Honor of Florence Hawley Ellis. Norman, OK: Archaeological Society of New Mexico/Hooper Publishing, 1975.

Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. "Women in the Field: The Role of Women in Anthropology before 1960," in Gabriele Kass-Simon and Patricia Farnes, eds., Women of Science: Righting the Record. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 1–41.

Joiner, Carol. "The Boys and Girls of Summer: The University of New Mexico Archaeological Field School in Chaco Canyon," in Journal of Anthropological Research. Vol. 48. No. 1. Spring 1992, pp. 49–66.

Parezo, Nancy J., ed. Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.

John Haag , Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Ellis, Florence Hawley (1906–1991)

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