Hilda Petrie, nee Urlin (1871-1956), led an archaeological life that anyone would be impressed by, but as one half of an archaeology power-couple with her husband Flinders, her contributions get a bit overshadowed by her famous husband (and his impressive beard). But Hilda was very keen on Egyptology, and contributed to her husband’s projects in a variety of ways. How keen? Margaret (Peggy) Drower, a #trowelblazer in her own right, writes in Breaking Ground how newlyweds Hilda and Petrie skipped their own wedding breakfast to depart for Egypt. And then, upon arrival at the Pyramids at Giza, the new Mrs. Petrie decided the only thing for it was to climb the Great Pyramid (Khufu)sans cumbersome skirt – in her underwear!

Besides her enthusiasm, Hilda contributed to many different projects in Egypt, a true hit-list of wonderful sites including Saqqara, Abydos and Al- Amarnt. But her major unsung contribution, as detailed in a recent article by R. Sparks, was as a fund-raiser. Responsible for drumming up subscriptions to the nascent British School of Archaeology in Egypt, Hilda’s was the hand that kept the funding pump primed. Flinders would have had to pack up and head home several times if it hadn’t been for the publicity and funding generating ability of a woman Margaret Murray once recounted ‘had a charm of words which could make the dullest subject entrancingly interesting’ (Murray 1956: 13; quoted by Sparks 2013).

When she wasn’t raising money, children, or pots out of the ground, Hilda was working with a vast array of TrowelBlazing women – she was part of a crowd that included Tessa Wheeler, Margaret Murray, Grace Crowfoot and others. Her legacy lives on in the continued excavations in Egypt at many of these sites, almost a hundred years later.

There is so much more to this fascinating woman, TrowelBlazers recommends checking out her Breaking Ground chapter by M. Drower, and this fantastic article by R. Sparks:

Sparks, R 2013 Publicising Petrie: Financing Fieldwork in British Mandate Palestine (1926–1938).
Present Pasts, 5(1): 2, pp. 1-15, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pp.56

The quote above comes from:

Murray, M A 1956 Lady Petrie. Study of egyptology. The
Times, 4 December, p. 13.

Written by @brennawalks​

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