Hewett, Edgar Lee
Edgar Lee Hewett (1865-1946)
By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint
In November 1865, Tabitha Stice Hewett gave birth to the last of her and her husband Harvey Hanson Hewett's six children, Edgar Lee. Over the next 18 years the Hewett family moved several times between rural Illinois, the city of Chicago, and rural Missouri. Young Edgar's formal schooling was fragmentary and frequently interrupted, but he managed to become the only one of the Hewett siblings to graduate from high school.
Immediately after graduation, Edgar passed the local teacher's test and began teaching students only somewhat younger than himself in Fairfax, Missouri. By the end of one semester of teaching, Hewett knew that he needed more education, so he began taking summer courses at Tarkio College. To pay for his tuition, he also taught at the college. In 1886 he became chair of literature and history at Tarkio.
He briefly flirted with a career in law, studying with an attorney in Sioux City, Iowa. But he was lured back to teaching by an offer of the position of Principal at Fairfax High. From that position he advanced to Superintendent of Schools in Fairfax and then Florence, Colorado. In 1891 Hewett married Cora Whitford, also a school teacher and a graduate of Tarkio. By 1893, Edgar Lee Hewett and Cora were living in Greeley, Colorado, where Edgar was teaching at Colorado State Normal School, completing work on his own bachelor's degree, and beginning a master's degree. He became superintendent of teacher training at Normal and then earned a masters degree in pedagogy in 1898.
As early as high school, Hewett had been exposed to the archaeological writings of Lewis Henry Morgan and Adolph Bandelier. His interest in archaeology was piqued during the years in Colorado. Edgar and Cora had a horse-drawn touring wagon built for them early in their marriage and spent part of each summer traveling around the Southwest, expanding their interest in prehistoric ruins, which they furthered by reading. As a consequence, Hewett acquired considerable firsthand knowledge of Southwestern prehistory, about which he spoke in public from time to time.
New Mexico attorney Frank Springer, encouraged people which an interest in archaeology and living in Las Vegas, to invite Hewett to lecture there. The lecture was so well received that Springer, who was serving on the board of regents of the just founded New Mexico Normal University (which later became New Mexico Highlands University), nominated Hewett to be the school's first president. As a result, Hewett was offered the presidency and accepted it in 1898, under a five-year contract. During his tenure, Hewett taught classes in archaeology and anthropology, as well as discharging the responsibilities of the president's office. He and Cora bought a summer house not far from the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, where he and Normal students undertook preliminary excavations. Hewett and his student crews also spent several summers mapping prehistoric ruins and excavating at Puyé and in Frijoles Canyon on the Pajarito Plateau on the eastern flank of New Mexico's Jemez Mountains.
Some members of New Mexico Normal University's board of regents passionately disliked Hewett's teaching methods, which often included fieldwork such as archaeological excavation. As a consequence, his contract as president was not renewed after the 1902-1903 school year. During his five years at the helm of the university, Hewett had become active in the archaeological communities of New Mexico and the United States generally. He was one of the founders of the Archaeological Society of New Mexico and spent significant time fostering archaeological work in the state. After Hewett was relieved of his responsibilities at the university, he decided to pursue further formal study and seek employment in the field of archaeology. This was a financially risky undertaking but Cora and he sold their properties in New Mexico and traveled to Europe, where Edgar enrolled in the University of Geneva in its doctoral program.
In 1905, while back in the United States during a year break from his schooling in Geneva, Cora died. To fill that void in his life, Hewett threw himself with even more energy into pursuit of his interest in archaeology. In 1906 he became a fellow of the Archaeological Institute of America, lobbying for a greater role within the Institute for the study of American prehistory. Until then, the Institute had focused almost wholly on classical Old World archaeology. Hewett's efforts were very successful. In January 1907 he became director for American research of the Institute, charged with establishing a school for archaeological research in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Back in New Mexico after several years' absence, Hewett asked another prominent member of the Institute, Frederick Putnam of Harvard University, to help him recruit Harvard students for an expedition to the Indian lands of the Southwest. In response to his appeal, three volunteers signed up for the summer of 1907 expedition: Alfred Kidder, Sylvanus Morley, and John Fletcher. Hewett took the three to a ranch in southwestern Colorado for a kind of sink-or-swim wilderness experience and asked them to perform a thorough archaeological survey of McElmo Mesa. That summer's experience profoundly affected the young men's lives. Kidder went on to become a dominant figure in Southwestern archaeology; Morley, after serving as Hewett's assistant two years later, made a very important career in Maya archaeology and later succeeded his mentor as director of the Museum of New Mexico and School of American Research in New Mexico; and Fletcher, although he did not pursue a career in archaeology, became a lifelong devotee of New Mexico and the Southwest.
In 1908, Hewett was awarded a doctorate from the University of Geneva, the first of many degrees conferred on him during his lifetime. Also in 1908, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice John R. McFie, and other well-placed amateur archaeologists, urged the Territorial Legislature to permit Hewett's School of American Archaeology (changed ten years later to School of American Research) to be housed in the Palace of the Governors, which they did. The Palace was no longer used as the seat of territorial government, but was occupied then by Santa Fe's post office and the nearly fifty-year-old Historical Society of New Mexico. But the legislature did not stop there. After intense lobbying by the same group of Hewett's friends, the Museum of New Mexico was created as an entity of the territorial government, with Hewett as director. He would head both the museum and the School of American Research simultaneously for nearly 40 years.
After three years of summer archaeological field schools in New Mexico, Hewett began a similar program during the winters at the Maya ruin of Quirigua in Guatemala. Students who worked under Hewett at Quirigua included such later luminaries of Southwestern archaeology as Earl Morris and Neil Judd. Sylvanus Morley, Hewett’s former pupil, now with the Carnegie Institute of Washington, shifted his own work to the prehistoric Maya site of Chichén Itzá.
1911 was a momentous year for Hewett. He married Donizetta Jones Wood, a former classmate of his first wife and, more recently Hewett's secretary at the Museum of New Mexico. Like Cora, Doni accompanied Edgar on all of his many field trips and world travels. That year also saw revival of the Santa Fe Fiesta, in which Hewett and the School of American Research were to play a prominent role for years. From 1919 through 1926, the School took responsibility for most fiesta activities and initiated the first Santa Fe Indian Market in association with the Fiesta in 1923. Also in 1911, Hewett began a five-year tenure as director of exhibits for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego, which included replicas of monuments from Quirigua. During that period he and Donizetta split residence between Santa Fe and San Diego. Hewett became first president of the San Diego Museum Association and was director of the San Diego Museum, 1917-29. One of the 1915 expo's buildings became San Diego's Museum of Man, which still functions today.
The possessor of seemingly endless energy, Hewett and his supporters next took on the challenge of creating a State Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe, as part of the Museum of New Mexico. Largely with gifts from Hewett's old friend Frank Springer, a Pueblo Mission-style building was erected at the corner of Lincoln and Palace Avenues to house the new museum, which was dedicated in November 1917. Springer also purchased the house immediately north of the new building and gave it to the School of American Research as its director's residence. Thereafter, it was usually referred to as "the Hewett House." Donizetta even continued to live there at the School's expense for years after Edgar's death.
In 1923 the Hewetts made the first of a series of long trips oversees to study Old World archaeology and for Edgar to give invited lectures and attend professional meetings. The first trip, which was to the Middle East, was almost fatal for the couple. They were involved in a serious automobile accident, in which Edgar and Donizetta were significantly injured. But they both recovered and made other such trips: in 1926 to North Africa, in 1930 to Turkey, and a sabbatical year in Southern Spain in 1935.
Added to Hewett's many responsibilities were part-time teaching and administrative stints at San Diego State Teachers' College (1922-1927) and the University of New Mexico (1928-1940). At UNM, Hewett served as chair of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. Students under his mentorship at UNM and who later became well known in Southwestern archaeology include Bertha Dutton, Marjorie Furgeson, Arthur J.O. Anderson, Paul Reiter, and Reginald Fisher.
The 1930s were also the major period of Edgar Hewett's publishing about what he called the "Science of Man." At the beginning of the decade, he published his best-known book, Ancient Life in the American Southwest. That was followed in 1936 by Ancient Life in Mexico and Central America and Ancient Andean Life in1939.
With Edgar's responsibilities in San Diego, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, the Hewetts maintained homes in all three cities. From the 1930s on, they spent their summers in Santa Fe and winters in Albuquerque. In 1946 they made the move as usual, but as winter set in Edgar suffered a stroke and then another, from which he did not recover. He died December 31, 1946 at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, at the age of 81. His friend and colleague Frederick W. Hodge presided at his memorial service the following August. Hewett's ashes were interred behind a plaque in the patio of the Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe.
Donizetta survived her husband for 13 years, dying in 1959 in the California home of the Hewetts' longtime friend, Native American singer Tsianina Blackstone. Following Edgar's death and Donizetta’s move from the house on Lincoln Avenue, the School of American Research's offices moved into that building. They were located there until 1972, when the School moved to property on Garcia Street, bequeathed by Amelia White.
Chauvenet, Beatrice. Hewett and Friends: A Biography of Santa Fe's Vibrant Era. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1983.
Fowler, Don D. A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846-1930. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.
Hewett, Edgar Lee. Ancient Life in the American Southwest. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1930.
Walter, Paul A.F. "Edgar Lee Hewett, Americanist, 1865-1946." American Anthropologist 49(2) (April 1947):260-71.
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