Swindler, Mary Hamilton (1884–1967)

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Swindler, Mary Hamilton (1884–1967)

American archaeologist. Born Mary Hamilton Swindler on January 3, 1884, in Bloomington, Indiana;died on January 16, 1967, in Haverford, Pennsylvania; daughter of Harrison T. Swindler and Ida Hamilton Swindler; University of Indiana at Bloomington, A.B., 1905, A.M. in Greek, 1906; Bryn Mawr College, Ph.D., 1912; never married; no children.

Wrote Ancient Painting (1929); was the first woman editor-in-chief of American Journal of Archaeology (1932–46); awarded an LL.D. from Indiana University (1941); received the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women (1951) and the prize of the American Council of Learned Scholars (1959); was a fellow of both the Royal Society of the Arts, London, and the German Archaeological Institute.

Mary Hamilton Swindler, born in 1884 in Bloomington, Indiana, to Ida Hamilton Swindler and Harrison Swindler, a merchant, was to become one of the most influential classical archaeologists in the United States. She studied Greek, played basketball, and acted in college productions at the University of Indiana, and was awarded an A.M. in 1906. Later that year, she moved to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, remaining there nearly all her life and helping to make it a distinguished archaeological center.

In 1909, the Mary E. Garrett European fellowship took Swindler to Berlin and Athens, where she studied at the American School of Classical Studies (to which she returned to teach in 1938). This exposure to sites, monuments and museums inspired her to later found a museum at Bryn Mawr and to raise an annual fellowship for Bryn Mawr students to study abroad. Swindler earned her Ph.D. in 1912 and became a professor of classical archaeology in 1931. She returned to her dissertation topic, Cretan culture, in her major published work Ancient Painting (1929), a richly descriptive, groundbreaking book on art from Paleolithic cave paintings to early Christian catacombs. Swindler's reputation was enhanced by her editorship from 1932 to 1946 of the American Journal of Archaeology, which she improved and expanded. The first woman to be editor-in-chief, Swindler transformed the journal into a truly international publication.

Swindler was an enormously respected and quietly charismatic scholar and teacher, with a direct, humorous manner. She challenged and inspired her students at Bryn Mawr and the other colleges at which she taught—the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan—after retiring from Bryn Mawr on an inadequate pension in 1949. Swindler began a second major work, which would have been called "The Beginnings of Greek Art," but a heavy workload and poor health prevented her from completing it. She died of bronchopneumonia in Haverford, Pennsylvania, in 1967.


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Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York