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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
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Mary Butler Lewis, professionally known as Dr. Butler, was one of a very small group of women archaeologists who worked in the United States during the early 20th century and the first female archaeologist to be awarded a Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania (1936), as well as part of the first cohort of women archaeologists to earn Ph.D’s in the US. She was born on June 23, 1903, in Media, PA, the daughter of noted World War II general Smedley Butler, from whom she inherited her strong personality. Mary Butler received her B.A. degree from Vassar College in 1925 and also studied at the Sorbonne. Radcliffe granted her an A.M. in anthropology in 1930, and she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1936, with a dissertation on “Ethnological and Historical Importance of Piedras Negras Pottery.”
Her professional career was firmly rooted in the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a Research Associate in the American Section of the University Museum for 30 years, from 1940-1970. Prior to that she served as an assistant in the American section from 1930-1939. Her areas of professional interest included northeastern and central United States prehistory, as well as Mesoamerican archaeology. Mary Butler made four expeditions to Guatemala, the first in 1932 with the University of Pennsylvania Museum to Piedras Negras in the Guatemala Lowlands. The Piedras Negras “Preliminary Papers” indicate that her study of the ceramics collected at Piedras Negras proved pivotal to Linton Satterthwaite’s reconstructions of site history. The latter three expeditions she herself directed under grants from the American Philosophical Society in the Guatemala Highlands at Alta Verapaz and Quiche, 1939-41. Her archaeological research in the Highlands continued in some areas the work of Robert Burkitt (who had worked for the Penn Museum in Guatemala from 1913 to 1939), but she also carried out her own excavations. She excavated near San Pedro Carcha, as well as Chama and Nebaj, focusing on the ceramics, and developing a ceramic sequence for the region.
Her field work in northeastern and central United States began as early as 1930 in West Virginia and Illinois. She directed archaeological work in western Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission in 1936, including Somerset County. In 1939-1940, she made an archaeological survey of the Hudson River Valley for Vassar College. She also directed amateur archaeologists excavating an Indian rock shelter near Broomall, PA, for the University Museum in 1943. The University Museum and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) co-sponsored two Ceramic Technology Projects at the Museum between 1935 and 1943 as part of the Statewide Museum Assistance Program. The first Ceramic Technology Project, developed in 1935 by Mary Butler, analyzed artifacts using chemical, petrographic, and optical methods. At the time of her death in 1970 she was the historian-archaeologist engaged in the restoration of the 18th century Morton Mortonson House in Norwood, Delaware County, PA. Butler also held teaching positions at Hunter College (1937-38) and Bryn Mawr College (1942-43).
Her service to the Philadelphia Anthropological Society and the Southeastern chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology included the position of president. She was a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, a member of the Society for American Archaeology, and a member of Sigma Xi. Her publications included “Three Archaeological Sites in Somerset County, Pennsylvania,” “Pottery Sequences from the Alta Verapaz, Guatemala,” and “Spanish Contact at Chipal.”
In 1942, Mary Butler married Clifford Lewis 3rd; they had a daughter and a son. She placed family life first but maintained an active interest and participation in her professional field of archaeology, albeit closer to home. In 1943 she responded to an emergency call from the University Museum to supervise a dig at Broomall, PA. She took her 11-week-old daughter along to the dig, carrying on efficiently as director, and giving the baby her bottle during coffee and lunch breaks.
Mary Butler Lewis also had a lively interest in young people, who responded to her contagious enthusiasm. During her 1968-69 work on restoration of the Morton Mortonson House, she not only employed graduate students, but kindled the interest of neighborhood children, who volunteered as “Junior Archaeologists.” After her death in 1970, neighborhood parents requested that a memorial to her be placed in the Mortonson House as a tribute.
The Mary Butler Lewis collection spans the years from 1933 to 1969 and contains materials primarily related to her field research, professional activities, and articles and publications. The collection consists of three linear feet of material, divided into the following nine series: correspondence, professional organizations and activities; publications, articles, and lectures; Highland Maya excavations, Maya research (general), Hudson Valley Archaeological Survey, Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Morton Mortonson House. The original order was maintained as much as possible for the correspondence, dating from 1936 to 1969, which is arranged alphabetically by the correspondent’s name. All letters are then filed in chronological order. Correspondence with the Carnegie Institute, Washington, D.C., which funded several of Butler’s research expeditions, is represented. Major figures with whom Butler corresponded extensively are represented in their own individual folders: Erwin P. Dieseldorff, Carl E. Guthe, Alfred V. Kidder, Anna O. Shepard, Franz Termer and family, C. A. Weslager.
The series on Butler’s professional organizations and activities includes the Eastern States Archeological Federation and the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. Butler’s Publications, Articles, and Lectures contain book reviews and miscellaneous Maya publications and articles written by her. The Maya article, “Spanish Contact at Chipal,” which Mary Butler was asked to contribute for the Franz Termer Festschrift in 1959, is represented by correspondence relating to it, as well as the article itself. Her personal notes in the informal anthropological newsletter, “The Teocentli,” are also included. The Maya Research, General series includes manuscripts related to her Ph.D thesis on Piedras Negras pottery, research notes and drawings dealing with specific aspects of Maya pottery, plus shell, bone, fresco, teeth; research notes, drawings, and photographs of clay figurines and stone figurines. See also the finding aid to the Piedras Negras Excavation Records for additional records detailing Mary Butler’s work at that site.
Highland Maya Excavations is the most extensive series of the Mary Butler Lewis Collection. It includes materials written and photographed between 1934 and 1941. Included are her notes and drawings on Chipal, Kix Pek, and other sites excavated by Robert Burkitt. Miscellaneous notes and drawings deal with Guatemalan Highland Pottery, including the Burkitt collection. Grant applications and reports to the American Philosophical Society, financial records, and correspondence with the Guatemalan government, all dealing with her Highland Maya excavations, are included. Butler wrote extensive letters home between 1939 and 1941, which are filed chronologically. Handwritten journals cover Mexico, 1934, and Guatemala, 1939, 1940, and 1941. Her work at Chama and Chama-Chichun is represented by notes and drawings, field notes, plans, catalogues, reports, and a comparison of Burkitt and Butler material from Chama. A major report of this work is titled “A Pottery Sequence from Chama.”
The Highland Maya Excavations series continues with Butler’s work at Nebaj, which includes Field Notes from 1941 and Notes, 1946-1947. Additional notes cover Pottery, “Pots left there” (1941), typology charts, plus Nebaj Reports, Catalogue, and Photos. Franz Termer’s article, “Some Notes on the Geography and Ethnography of the Zona de Nebaj—Guatemala,” (German and English texts) also includes photos and Termer’s hand-drawn map from his work there during the 1920’s, all material which Butler had requested that he send for inclusion in her publication on the area. The series also includes records for excavations at San Pedro Carcha and a number of other small sites in the region (1939-1941).
The photographic collection relating to Butler’s work is interfiled with the relevant documentary collection, arranged alphabetically by subject. Photographs relating to Highland Maya excavations are extensively represented. They include a Master Photo List of her excavations for the American Philosophical Society: Chama and Chichun, Alta Verapaz in 1940 and Nebaj, Quiche in 1941. Many of the photos are of drawings done by Antonio Tejeda, located in the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, of pottery housed in the Aurora Museum, Guatemala and the Penn Museum. Antonio Tejeda Fonseca (1908-1966) was a noted Guatemalan artist who later served as director of the Guatemalan National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Other photographs of objects and excavations were taken on site by Mary Butler and others, and were mounted and organized by her.
The Hudson Valley Archaeology Survey series includes correspondence, notes, limited photographs, reports and publications relating to Butler’s work as Director of the Hudson Valley Archaeological Survey from 1939-1940. The Survey was organized under the auspices of Vassar College through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and uncovered tools and ornaments of the last phase of Woodland Indians prior to contact with white men and also objects from one or two earlier periods. The Pennsylvania series consists of notes and publications on pottery types in Pennsylvania. Butler read a paper on this topic at the 1946 annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, which was also published in the Pennsylvania Archaeologist Bulletin in 1947.
Butler’s archaeological work at American Indian sites in western Pennsylvania, including Somerset County, for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission in 1936 is represented in the Pennsylvania—Western PA series. It includes correspondence, field notes, and reports and manuscripts. Major correspondence was conducted with Edgar Augustine, James Griffin, William Ritchie and concerning the Horn Papers authenticity controversy.
From 1968 until her death in 1970, Butler served as the historian-archaeologist for the restoration of the 18th century Morton Mortonson House in Norwood, Delaware County, PA. The Morton Mortonson House series includes correspondence, financial records, historical research and background information, including the Morton/Mortonson families and early Swedish settlement in the Delaware Valley area. Historical research and background three by five inch cards, field cards (3 smaller boxes of three by five inch cards), field notes, including field catalogue and project program and schedule; and maps (historical, present, and excavation/trenches) are also part of this series. Two folders of photo prints of the building exterior and exterior and interior excavation work, many with identifications by Butler; architect’s and archaeologists’ reports, and publications complete the Morton Mortonson House series.
Dr. Butler’s film footage of four motion picture films contained in the Penn Museum collections consists of fieldwork documentation in the Hudson River Valley digs and people and places of Guatemala, with a small section of Guatemalan fieldwork in one motion picture film.
- Burkitt, Robert James, 1869-1945
- Butler, Mary, 1903-1970
- Dieseldorff, Erwin P., 1868-1940
- Termer, Franz, 1894-1968
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Janet A. Simon
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