June 12, 2023
In the first half of the twentieth century, the canyons and mesas of the Southwest beckoned and the burgeoning field of archaeology thrived. In this delightful biography, No Place for a Lady by Shelby Tisdale, we gain insight into a time when there were few women establishing full-time careers in anthropology, archaeology, or museums. Tisdale successfully combines Lambert’s voice from extensive interviews with her own to take us on a thought-provoking journey. Today we offer an excerpt from the Introduction of the book.
A Chance Meeting
I first met Marjorie Ferguson Lambert in 1984 while I was working for the School of American Research, now the School for Advanced Research (SAR), in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As the assistant collections manager at the SAR’s Indian Arts Research Center (IARC), I was periodically asked to transport Marjorie to meetings and “Brown Bag” lectures at the School. During these travels back and forth between her home and the SAR we would talk about southwest archaeology, and she mentioned her frustration with her failing eyesight and how difficult it was to keep up with her professional reading and writing. On one of these trips, I offered to read archaeological reports and other anthropological publications to her, and we agreed to get together on Wednesday evenings.
I would go over to Marjorie’s apartment after work and she would fix a light dinner or we would go out to eat at one of her favorite restaurants. Afterwards I would read whatever was on her list. I mostly read archaeological reports and book chapters. Marjorie was also fascinated with primates, so we sometimes ventured away from archaeology and anthropology to articles or books on the study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda by Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall’s study on chimpanzees in Tanzania. Marjorie contributed to organizations, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, that focus on the conservation and protection of primates and their habitats throughout the world.
Marjorie and I discussed what was in the reading each evening and sometimes our discussions turned to the issues faced by women in archaeology specifically, and in anthropology and museums in general. It was during these reading sessions that Marjorie started to share her experiences as a young female archaeologist in the 1930s. As these spirited discussions progressed and we got to know each other, we compared my own experiences as a 1980s anthropologist with hers and we both realized that the position of women in anthropology and archaeology had improved little over the years despite the attempts by feminists during the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately, this has changed as more women entered archaeology and anthropology and started taking on leadership roles at universities and in museums in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Throughout the years Marjorie and I continued to keep in contact with one another and we found that we shared many common interests. We especially shared a love for the Southwest, its diverse cultures and landscapes, and its deep history. In 1989 I left New Mexico for Tucson, Arizona to study for my doctorate at the University of Arizona. Shortly after I started my studies Nancy Parezo hired me as a graduate research assistant to work on the Hidden Scholars volume that she was editing. This project was an outgrowth of the papers delivered at the Wenner-Gren sponsored “Daughters of the Desert” conference held in Tucson in 1986. The conference was related to a traveling exhibition and publication by the same name organized by Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo.
Nancy and I discussed the women in these two publications at length and I felt that the history of anthropology and archaeology would benefit from more complete biographies on some of these “daughters.” I approached Marjorie about the possibility of writing a biography on her. I proposed it as a cross-generational collaboration, which would be a significant contribution to the intellectual history of women’s roles in southwestern archaeology. There is much to gain from the experiences of others, and for those of us following in a similar path we could benefit from Marjorie’s willingness to share her personal and professional experiences with us.