For our next early female archaeologist I want to introduce you to Ella Sophia Armitage.
Armitage was a particular challenge for me, as many of the women I will introduce you to will be, since there is so little known about her as a person, other than she lived. It’s aggravating but this is the product of so many years of ignoring and downplaying the contributions of women in our society All we can do is try to piece things back together and reconstruct what was forgotten.
Sadly, what we know about Ella is cobbled together through surviving correspondences, her academic writing, and notes. Though we know she kept personal journals, they are lost to us. What we know we’ve pieced together from her husband’s journals, letters to her cohorts, and her apparently copious academic notes. What this gives us is a picture of a very sturdy academic mind, but very little personal information. Still, her contributions were very important in the area of Irish archaeology, in a time when the practice was in its infancy.
During the mid 91th cen in Europe there was a revival of medieval studies focusing mostly on castles from the Normand, English, and Welsh traditions (Counihan 1998). The presence and history of Scottish and Irish castles were seen as fringe (Counihan 1998). This view caused quite the controversy in the academic community, one that Armitage weighed into fearlessly.
Ella Sophia Armitage was born Ella Sophia Bulley on 3 March 1841 in Liverpool, to Samuel Marshall Bulley, a cotton merchant, and Mary Rachel Raffles (Wiki). She enjoyed early education and encouragement to be a voracious student from a young age by her uncle Rev James Baldwin Brown (Counihan 1998), and she entered Newnham College in 1874 were she was the first ever research student (Counihan 1998).
Ella became Mrs. Armitage in 1874 when she married the Reverend Elkanah Armitage, and the couple had two children during their marriage. From 1877 to 1879 she taught history at Owens College, Manchester, and developed her interest in medieval earthworks and castles (Ogilvie 2000:54). She took copious and detailed notes during her time as a student and teacher, being recognized as an expert, her notes were were archived by the Yorkshire Archaeological Socisites in Leeds after her death (Counihan 1998).
Armitage had a great love for Irish castles, referred to as motte-and-bailey castles, or mottes (Counihan 1998). In 1895 she and her husband along with their young son, Godfrey, took a trip to Ireland to visit Armagh, Sligo, and Dublin (Counihan 1998). Her husband was completely unimpressed with the area, but Armitage and her son spent the trip examining as many mottes as they could, returning after the trip to further explore. It was during this time that her first major paper was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland by her cousin Gerard Baldwin Brown on her behalf as women were not permitted to to speak at this time (Counihan 1998).
She also compiled a list of Norman mottes throughout Ireland from Goddard Orpen’s translation of “The Song of Dermot and the Earl” and Sweetmen’s “Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland 1171-1307”, then sent her nephew Basil Stallybass to inspect 62 of them (Counihan 1998). Stallybass was an architect and well acquainted with earthworks and he sent her sketches and detailed descriptions of 32 of locations (Counihan 1998). She used these notes to write several articles on the mottes over a decade or so showing that the mottes were were not constructed until after the 1066 Norman conquest of England, so they were not the burghs of the Anglo-Saxon, as had previously been thought, but actual Norman Castles (Castles, Ogilvie 2000:54). She eventually collected these articles and published them in a two part article in “The Antiquary” in August and September of 1906 (Castels). Then in 1912 in her seminal work, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, was published along with Stallybass’ notes on his investigations.
The real battle over Irish Mottes begin with the 1902 publishing of T.J. Westropp‘s paper in the “Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy” on the ancient forts of Ireland (Counihan 1998). His conclusions didn’t sit well with Goddard Henry Orpen, and the two began a debate in print, into which G.T. Clark was drawn (Counihan 1998). Clark’s comments drew the attention of Armitage and John Horace Round and the war of words began (Counihan 1998). This “battle in print that spanned the Irish sea (Counihan 1998)”, apparently solidified Orpen’s and Armitage’s alliance and friendship and the two went on to collaborate and associate the rest of her life (Counihan 1998).
According to the Wiki, Armitage went on to be the assistant commissioner to James Bryce on the Royal Commission on Secondary Education to investigate girls’ education in Devon in 1894, and apparently led a full and seemingly rewarding life.
It would have been more rewarding to have a more personal look at Armitage, but I think we can draw a pretty complete picture of her from the surviving letters and notes from her. It took a very strong and forward thinking woman to not only step into a man’s world, but to challenge him in his own arena. She was certainly no shirking violet as she confronted Westropp, and others, when she believed they were wrong. She proved herself competent as a researcher, not only in college but in directing her nephew in their joint investigations of the Irish mottes. She was also not afraid to publish her own views and research, eventually proving her own ideas to be correct.
She also advocated for women’s education. She not only trail blazed with her own acceptance to Newnham College, but continued to work for the education and advancement of women though her own professorship and appointment to assistant commissioner. Her notes are still preserved for research, and her book The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, is lauded as being one of the most important works on Normand Castles.
Ella Sophia Armitage, certainly left her mark on the world of archaeology, for that I am happy to call her a Mother of the Field.
For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.
1998 “Mrs Ella Armitage and Isish Archaeology.” Anglo-Norman Studies: XX. Proceedings of the Battle Conference in Dublin 1997, Edited by Christopher Harper-Bill. The Boydell Press Woodbridge, Suffolk. http://bit.ly/XCJC40. Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.
2000 “Armitage, Ella Sophia A (Bulley) (1841–1931)”. The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. London: Routledge.
The Castle Studies Group
Nd “Ella Armitage” The Castle Studies Group. http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/page93.html. Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.