Digs and Degrees
Jessie Crum's Tour of Greece
Easter 1901

Christopher Stray

University of Wales
Swansea (1)

Sir John Myres's Homer and his critics was left unfinished on his death in 1954, and was edited for publication by Dorothea Gray, who included several illustrations. Among these is a photograph whose caption reads 'Wm. Dörpfeld lecturing in the open air at Mycenae'.(2) 'Autos' (The Boss), as he was familiarly known, stands on a marble slab, addressing a small group which includes two women. To anyone who has seen photographs of Jane Harrison, the tall figure with the striking hat is clearly identifiable: but who is the younger and more quietly dressed woman standing next to her?

The list of illustrations tells us only that the snapshot was given to Dorothea Gray by H.L. Lorimer. Best known for her book Homer and the monuments [1950], Hilda Lorimer was classical tutor at Somerville, but had previously read Classics at Cambridge before holding a studentship at the British School at Athens in 1901-2. Now we know that Jane Harrison travelled in Greece in the spring of 1901, and that she joined the Peloponnesian tour conducted by Dörpfeld in his capacity as director of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens. We also know that for much of the time she was accompanied by her student Jessie Crum, who mentions the tour in the memoir of her teacher she published over half a century later.(3) The details of her stay in Greece, and of the reactions to her examination success, have recently become much clearer with the discovery of Jessie Crum's travel diary. In particular, the diary reveals that she and Jane Harrison were at Mycenae with Dörpfeld on Saturday the 13th of April; so that we can be fairly sure the photograph was taken, probably by Lorimer, on that day, and that Jessie Crum is the unidentified figure next to Harrison.

The two had similar family backgrounds. Harrison's father was a Yorkshire timber merchant; Crum's ran a calico printing business based in Manchester and Glasgow. In her second year at Newnham, Jessie Crum was 'adopted' by Jane Harrison, who found in her room a reproduction of an initiation scene from the Villa Farnesina which was her own favourite. Harrison took charge of her studies, prescribing 'a reading list which, however fascinating, "seemed to have little bearing on the Classical Tripos"'.(4) Like many other women students, she performed poorly in Part I of the Tripos, which was still dominated by the traditional emphasis on language and literature: she only managed a II.3, despite writing some outstanding examination answers.(5) But this was followed by a much happier experience, her 'year of archaeology', its highlight the three weeks in Greece with Jane Harrison at Easter. Jessie Crum's experience - escaping from the difficulties of Part I to the wider fields of Part II of the Tripos - was common among women students of the period. Hampered by a shorter and less intense linguistic training than boys received, they struggled with difficulty through the examinations in language and literature which still dominated the learning of Classics at Cambridge. The reorganisation of the Tripos in the early 1880s, however, had introduced courses and examinations in classical archaeology. This was an exciting time to study the subject. Schliemann and Evans were uncovering the material evidence of exotic pasts, and for those whose parents, like Jessie Crum's, were comfortably off, it was possible to tour the ancient sites and to learn about new discoveries and conflicting interpretations.

Soon after she returned to Cambridge, bursting with enthusiasm and archaeological information, Jessie Crum sat her final exams in the Classical Tripos and gained a striking First. Here again new evidence has recently emerged, in the form of a bundle of letters of congratulation. Both her encounter with archaeological digs - and with archaeologists - and her subsequent examination success were remarkable experiences for a young woman at the beginning of the century. In this brief paper, I draw on the diary and letters to try to convey a sense of these experiences, and to set them in context.(6)


Much of Jessie Crum's diary is taken up with notes on vases, sculpture and architecture. Most of these are accompanied by very competent sketches - witness to a talent she used later on to illustrate books by both her teacher Jane Harrison and her son-in-law George Thomson. The information she carried back, in some cases about newly-excavated material, was put to good use in her Tripos examinations that same summer. But she also records sights, meetings and conversations. The diary opens with the necessary cliché of the first-time classical traveller: the encounter with the Acropolis 'Sunday March 24th. 7 a.m. Acropolis quite irresistible.' (p. 4) Next day began 'the most thrilling week I've ever had'. 'First view of everything. JEH took us up at once ... to Areopagus - then up to Acrop. nearly screaming with delight all the time - Acrop. reduced us to silence ... All in a blaze - marble of propylaea against blue sky encausted in my mind - did same in evening light later - a sort of beatific vision and transfiguration of what one always knew the Acrop. to be into something wh. needed a revelation - heaven must be that.' (p. 10)

In the 1990s, we have to peel away layers of cynicism, thoughts of the long debates about (over-) restoration and the Elgin marbles, and memories of a sky more yellow or brown than blue, to empathise with the extraordinary impact made by the first sight of the Acropolis. The classically educated already in some sense 'knew' what it was like, but the resultant expectations must often have contributed to a complicated experience when they actually saw what they knew about. Three years after Crum's visit, Sigmund Freud saw the Acropolis for the first time. For him, it represented not only a surprise - that it really existed outside the textbooks - but also the perfection he felt he did not deserve.(7) For a young Australian visitor in the 1930s, the view from the Acropolis at sunset was almost familiar, its radiant light reminding him of the Australian sky: '"Not, as in northern climes, obscurely bright," wrote Byron, describing the same scene. We had other comparisons. We had seen this "unclouded blaze of living light" in New South Wales and Queensland - this beauty was familiar, lasting, genuine...'(8) Confirmation and disconcertment, both were potentially there. The Oxford classicist Arthur Godley, speaking to the members of a Hellenic Travellers' tour in 1925, emphasised the contrast between the idealised expectations some had to Greece and the shock they had when they encountered the dirty, bustling reality. Some scholars, he added, refused to go to Greece for fear their ideal vision would be contradicted in this way.(9)

At the archaeological schools in Athens, Jessie Crum learned about classical scholars as well as Classics: as she wrote to her father, 'All the greatest archaeologists in the world, & none of them on speaking terms!' On one occasion we find 'Ernest [Gardner] mounting a stone and haranguing at intervals and Meta relapsing into giggles. Over by 12 with a complete (?) refutation of autos's OT theory. "I cannot bear him - any theory that he takes up, it is enough to ruin in my eyes" said A. B. C[ook].' (p. 18) The dominant males jostled for position with one another; how did they cope with someone like Jane Harrison, a mere woman who had staked a claim to be, despite this, a serious student of archaeology and religion? On the 28th March, Jessie Crum records that she and Harrison walked to the German School 'in great trepidation', an invitation having been secured from Dörpfeld. 'Introduced to autos and talked to him for quite 6 minutes, then a new set arrived - Fürtwangler! D introduced him to J. "You know Miss H I think you met in Berlin" v smilingly - F as stiff as a poker and looking furious. J rose in her most gracious manner and forced him to shake hands." (p. 22).(10) The great man seems to have unbent, however, since later in the diary he appears as 'Wilhelm': 'Interviewed Wilhelm and another savant about a relief... J wants it to show transformation of hero into Dionysus.' (p. 64).

This last comment is especially interesting as it shows the pupil's perception of her teacher's weaknesses. Another of Harrison's pupils, Hope Mirrlees, wrote that her teacher looked for 'a pattern, not the truth'. Hence perhaps Harrison's succession of love affairs with languages: first Greek (her aunt found her reading a grammar in the attic when she was 12), and, much later, Russian. Elsie Butler, to whom she taught Russian, felt that Harrison 'held the key ... to ... language ... a pattern in the chaos'.(11)


About three weeks in Greece, Jessie Crum returned to Cambridge, her diary full of references, descriptions and drawings of vases and buildings. In June she sat for the final examinations in the Classical Tripos, and emerged with a first class degree. This was a great achievement: only the second time since that a woman had achieved a First since the archaeology section had been added to the Tripos in 1882. 'You are my splendid - my first First will always be first to me' wrote her teacher in a letter of congratulation. The material which has recently emerged includes a collection of such letters, some of which display very clearly the concerns of their writers. The women are full of pleasure at Jessie's success; some of the men, however, are clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a woman who had scored more highly than many men. They will also have been aware that the men who sat Part II had had more time to prepare: A. B. Cook told Jane Harrison that 'it was a really remarkable performance for one year! and all the men had had two.'(12)

Even in notes of congratulation the current male alarm at the effect of overwork on women - mental exhaustion and physical sterility were often feared - is all too plain. 'I am sure you must have overdone yourself, and will need, not a casual holiday, but a long time, perhaps a year's recreation' writes one. To his credit, that fearsome male chauvinist Professor William Ridgeway, whose lectures she had attended, was much more straightforward: 'My heartiest congratulations on your excellent performance. I am indeed glad that you have got your first class, as I had hoped. This ought to convince you that you must be a candidate for the Essay prize. May the Cyclopes work out well!'

'The Cyclopes' probably refers to a plan to write an essay on the subject. There are two pages of references to ancient literary sources on the Cyclopes towards the end of the travel diary, suggesting that this had been developed during the Greek tour as a future project.(13) The essay was never written. Although she attended Harrison's lectures that autumn, Jessie Crum was by this time engaged to Hugh Stewart, a fellow of Trinity College, whom she married in April 1902. She applied for work in the internment ('concentration') camps for civilians set up by Kitchener in South Africa, but in the event did not attend the selection board. In both world wars she was active in working for a variety of causes, from women's suffrage to the housing of refugees. Otherwise, the rest of her life, until her death in 1966, was largely that of a don's wife. It was only in the 1950s that she assembled the materials for her portrait of Jane Harrison.

In the social world of 1900s Cambridge, the few female dons had to cope with the suspicious glances not only of conservative male academics, but also of the 'Cambridge ladies' - the wives of married dons, whose relations with these very different women were often uneasy. Not for Jane Harrison the quiet frumpiness of some female dons. Jean Pace remembers what a 'familiar figure Jane was in my childhood, with her picturesque dress and old-fashioned bicycle.'(14) The 1890s had witnessed a campaign for 'rational' dress - plain and functional - for women, and the passion for cycling also led to experiments with trousers and divided skirts. These in turn prompted a reaction towards delicately 'womanly' dress.

Jane Harrison, who became a fellow of Newnham in this decade, asserted her individuality and her independence through her 'picturesque' dress. She was fond of glittering shawls and flowered hats, and those who attended her lectures were at times more struck by her appearance than by her words. A pupil at Winchester, asked about a talk she had just given there, could remember only that Harrison had looked 'like a beautiful green beetle'. And her striking cycling outfits certainly attracted attention. The silk leggings and 'bishop's apron' she wore on a trip to France in 1897 'almost caused a riot ... at the Gare du Nord'.(15)

Jessie Crum chose a quieter and more conventional path. Yet the exhilarating experience of her Easter tour of 1901, and the remarkable triumph of her examination success the following year, deserve to be remembered. She herself kept the memory of Jane Harrison as a 'lodestone ... from eighteen to eighty'.(16) When the role of women in the history of classical scholarship comes to be studied seriously, a prime subject for investigation will surely be the lives of the first generation of students at Oxford and Cambridge in the last quarter of the 19th century. Some of them, like Jane Harrison and Eugénie Sellers, made careers in scholarship; but even those who, like Jessie Crum, did not, played a part in breaching the walls of prejudice which had for so long excluded women from higher education.


1. This article draws on Jessie Crum's unpublished travel diary of 1901, and on 'Letters to Jessie' (October 1992), an account by her daughter Mrs Jean Pace of the letters of congratulation Jessie received after gaining a First in the Classical Tripos in 1901. Mrs Pace's text was kindly sent me by Professor Margaret Alexiou of Harvard University, Jessie Crum's granddaughter and daughter of Professor George Thomson. Jessie's intellectual interests and enthusiasms have thus continued through two further generations of women in her family. My particular thanks to Mrs Pace for allowing me to quote from her mother's diary and from her own article.
2. J.N.L. Myres, Homer and his critics (London, 1958), plate 3a.
3. J.G. Stewart [= Jessie Crum], Jane Ellen Harrison: a portrait from letters (London, 1959); see pp. 14-15 for a brief account of the Greek tour. Letters home to her family are quoted by S. Peacock, Jane Ellen Harrison: the mask and the self (New Haven, 1988), p. 104.
4. Jean Pace, Letters to Jessie, 1992, pp 3-4, quoting from her mother's Jane Ellen Harrison: a Portrait from letters. (see n. 3 above).
5. It is unfortunately typical of Sandra Peacock's biography of Jane Harrison that she gets the facts of the matter wrong. The commiserations at Crum's second class in Part I in 1900, Peacock takes to be mistaken anticipations of disappointing results in Part II in 1901, and so tells a tale of initial alarm and final triumph at the end of the year, see Peacock (note 3), p.102.
6Jessie Crum's travel diary, now on deposit in Cambridge University Library, was shown me by her daughter Mrs Jean Pace in 1993. Dr Elisabeth Leedham-Green of Cambridge University Archives kindly supplied me with a xerox copy of the diary.
7. S. Freud, 'A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis', Complete Psychological Works, ed. J. Strachey, vol. 22 (London, 1964), pp. 239-48.
8. Bert Birtles, Exiles in the Aegean. A personal memoir of Greek politics and travel (London, 1938), p. 27.
9. A.D. Godley 'Greece in dream and reality', Proceedings of the Hellenic Travellers' Club (1925), pp. 5-16.
10. Cp. the letter home of April 2nd quoted by Peacock (note 3), p. 104, which gives substantially the same account. It may be that Dörpfeld was using Harrison to embarrass Fürtwangler.
11. Quoted in Stewart (note 3), p. 173.
12. Letter to Jessie Crum from Victoria Buxton, quoted in Jean Pace's Letters to Jessie, p. 8.
13. Quoted in Letters to Jessie, p. 9. The force of Ridgeway's personality is very well caught in the charcoal sketch by Frances Darwin, another of Harrison's pupils, reproduced in Stewart (note 3), opposite p. 16.
14. Letters to Jessie, p. 12.
15. Hope Mirrlees, quoted by Peacock, (note 3), p. 88.
16. Stewart (note 3), p. xiv.
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