Pull up a chair, and have a chocolate. Let’s talk about witchcraft and hieroglyphs, universal suffrage, Pharaohs and gods, and – as we go – learn how to read long dead languages. Welcome to an ancient Egyptian lesson with Margaret Murray.

Margaret Murray (1863-1963) trained up several generations of Egyptologists and archaeologists, including the TrowelBlazers Gertrude Caton Thompson and Veronica Seton-Williams. Appointed as a junior lecturer in Egyptology at University College London in 1898 (though she had been teaching classes since 1895), Murray was the person who taught the lessons that Flinders Petrie was too busy excavating to bother with.

She had been one of the first people to sign up to Petrie’s Egyptology course, and quickly made her mark. Teaching and research followed, and then: excavation. In 1902, she and Hilda Petrie oversaw the excavations at Seti 1 in Gurna which uncovered an underground hall inscribed with the name of Sethos 1. High winds showered the women and workmen with sand and rubble as they worked at the bottom of a deep pit. Amusing in hindsight…

Apparently…

Margaret Murray was a member of the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union, and she took part in the Mud March on the UK Parliament in 1907. She championed the cause of women students and staff at UCL, demanding better and more equal facilities and working conditions. When activism failed, she dabbled in witchcraft, casting the odd spell to deal with problem colleagues or Kaiser Bill. The spells usually worked as well…

Apparently…

Murray was a TrowelBlazer, a teacher, an activist: a woman of strong and controversial opinions. She dug in Egypt, Malta, Minorca, Palestine and Britain. She unwrapped mummies, made exquisite and accurate recordings of tomb hieroglyphs, nursed in foreign wars and epidemics. She brought boxes of chocolates to tutorials. She had bright blue eyes, which flashed at the sight of her enemies, and looked like a small, dark witch. She was marvellous…

…Definitely.

Written by @ToriHerridge

The main source for this post was Margaret S. Drower’s excellent biography of Margaret Murray in Breaking Ground by Cohen and Joukowsky (eds). You should all read it!

Edited by Tori following corrections from Campbell Price (Manchester Museum) – Petrie is definitely not in the picture, and Seti 1 isn’t the site of the Sethos 1’s tomb. Thanks Campbell, for saving my non-Egyptologist ass!

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6 thoughts on “Margaret Murray

  1. Kathleen Sheppard says:

    You might also check out the full-length biography of Margaret Murray which goes in to a lot more detail on all this and more (Sheppard, 2013).

    1. Becky says:

      Thank you, and yes Murray really deserves more posts, our eventual aim is to have multiple pieces on each woman, focusing on different aspects of their work.

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