Bandelier, Fanny Ritter
By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint
Fanny Ritter Bandelier was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1869. Little is known about her early childhood in Switzerland before her parents and two sisters moved to Peru in 1884 when Fanny was fifteen. Sometime after the Ritter's arrival in Lima her father died, leaving the family in difficult financial straits. The record is silent on how the Ritters managed, but certainly the expatriate Swiss community in Lima helped alleviate some of the family's worries.
In 1892 Fanny's and Adolph's lives took a dramatic turn. The renowned anthropologist Adolph Bandelier arrived in Lima with his wife, Josephine (called Joe), and Charles Lummis, a newspaperman, to conduct field investigations of pre-historic South American Indians with funds from the railroad financier, Henry Villard, and Century Magazine. At the time of this trip to Peru, Bandelier had established a distinguished career in the field of Southwestern archaeology.
Upon the party's arrival, they met the Ritter women. As both families were Swiss (Joe was a Swiss-American), they reminisced about the mother country and mutual acquaintances. In December Joe became violently ill with abdominal pains and placed herself under the care of the Ritters. Despite all their efforts, Josephine Bandelier died on December 14th. Regarding the loss of his wife of thirty-one years, Bandelier wrote in his journal: "I do owe the Ritter's my friendship and assistance. I am too deeply indebted to that family for what they did for Joe. They acted like Angels."
To the surprise of some in the Swiss community, Bandelier proposed to the Ritter daughter, Fanny, only eleven days after Josephine's death. Adolph described his decision as, "The girl is a lovely prize, worthy in every respect. Joe loved her, and shy, then, did she join our hands on her deathbed." Apparently, he believed that his own wife wanted him to marry Fanny. However, it may be that the financial struggles of the widowed Mrs. Ritter and her daughters, was a contributing factor in Fanny's decision to marry him. The courtship continued for another year in which Bandelier came to learn a bit more about Fanny. He described her as "loving and faithful, I am sure, but not as soft and sweet [as Joe]." On December 30, 1893 the couple was married in the Ritter home in Lima. Adolph was fifty-three and Fanny twenty-four.
Immediately, the newlyweds went to the north coast of Peru to continue Bandelier's work. During the summer, he had collected artifacts from the pre-Incan ruins of Chanchan near Trujillo, and they now returned to make final arrangements to ship them to the American Museum of Natural History. Thus, began ten years of joint fieldwork in northern Peru and Bolivia.
Bandelier extolled Fanny's virtues when he wrote: "[S]he is the companion I need in these regions….She is exactly what I need for my mission and for myself. Always ready to help, always pleasant and cheerful, always contented." Although Fanny was a small woman, weighing at the time only 109 pounds, her youthfulness was an advantage in enduring the rigors of field research and living in less than ideal conditions.
The Bandeliers remained in the field for long periods of time during these ten years in South America, working at various sites, gathering artifacts to ship to the United States, as well as drawing plans of ancient ruins. Their archaeological and anthropological investigations focused on Lake Titicaca and the island of Koati between Peru and Bolivia. By the fall of 1895 they were back in Lima and together were writing the seminal report The Islands of Titicaca and Koati, with Fanny doing much of the final work needed to prepare it for publication. After long delays, this volume was ultimately published in 1910. Fanny later wrote of her experiences in Bolivia and northern Peru in her autobiographical "My Introduction into Archaeological Research."
It was decided in 1896 that Fanny's mother and sisters would return to Switzerland. The Bandeliers made the arrangements and said their sad farewells. While in Lima they busied themselves in shipping the Garcés Collection from Lake Titicaca (named for Miguel Garcés, the owner of the hacienda on the island), and quickly returned to Bolivia to continue fieldwork on the slopes of Cacaaca, east of La Paz.
There was some disagreement with the landowner of the Cacaaca site, so they returned to Lake Titicaca to gather additional anthropological information on the Aymara Indians. They made field trips to Carabuco on the eastern side of the lake and to the slopes of 13,000' Illimani, where valuable collections were obtained from ruins and burial cists. One can only imagine Fanny in her long skirts hiking up the 13,000' mountain in search of artifacts. During this period of research the couple was in the field for years at a time. Unfortunately, finding sources of money to fund their projects became increasingly difficult. The Bandeliers' ten years of funding from Henry Villard of New York and the American Museum of Natural History expired. So, in 1903 they left Peru for New York City in order to either seek additional financial backers, or to find other employment.
The couple took up residence near the Hispanic Society of America's buildings in uptown Manhattan. It was at this time that Fanny Bandelier emerged from the long shadow of her husband. Using all her considerable skills as a linguist and translator, she began work on a translation of Cabeza de Vaca's harrowing account of the 1528 Pánfilo de Narváez expedition's disastrous shipwreck and his and his three companions' eight-year survival trek. In 1905 Barnes and Company of New York published the first English translation of The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Even today her work is considered a classic.
With Adolph's eyesight beginning to be compromised, Fanny took dictation from him, edited, and proofread his writings becoming his equal in their joint archaeological publications. It has been said that Fanny helped "to bulwark Bandelier's strengths-his historiographic skills-and also to compensate for certain weaknesses, such as his inadequacies in the finer points of languages." The couple made a brief visit to Switzerland in 1907 to visit relatives. In order to finance the trip they presented lectures to eager Europeans. By 1909 Bandelier was recovering from cataract surgery.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC financed two years of research in the Archivo General de Nación in Mexico City between 1911 and 1913. Their objective was to collect and transcribe documents relating to the viceroyalty of New Spain. The couple amassed some seventy-two transcriptions. After the two years they returned briefly to the United States and by October of 1913 they were off to Spain to work in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla.
In March of 1914, a brief five months after arriving, Adolph developed bronchitis and died in Sevilla. Fanny signed a ten-year lease on a burial plot in the San Fernando Cemetery in the northern part of the city. She had written to friends that she hoped at some point to remove Adolph's body to Berne, Switzerland for permanent burial in a family plot. But for the time being she wrote: "My life was simply all his and if I live now, it is only to do his work." Thus, she forged ahead alone.
Although she continued living at Atanasio Barrón 2 near the Puerta de Carmona, the months after “Dolph's” death (her affectionate term for Bandelier) were a low point for her. The Carnegie Institution extended its grant to Fanny, enabling her to stay until late 1915 to complete her work. Despite working conditions fluctuating between extreme summer heat and very chilly winters, she located and transcribed probanzas (proofs of meritorious service to the king), royal cédulas (royal orders), and other types of documents pertaining to the colonial administration and founding of New Mexico. Many of the documents shed light on Juan de Oñate's governorship, the general Rio Grande region and the modern states of Sinaloa and Sonora, Mexico (called Nueva Vizcaya in colonial times).
She eventually produced a bound volume of about 500 pages, and a collection of unbound transcripts of 900 pages. The bound volume included the seventy-two transcripts the Bandeliers did together in the Mexican archive. As historian Charles Hackett emphasized in his book, Historical Documents relating to New Mexico, which contains Fanny's documents: "Indeed the material is of such range that to understand it one must keep in mind the outlines of Spanish achievements in North America from the very beginning."
At the expiration of the Carnegie money, Fanny was unable to extend her research to include the archives in Madrid and Simancas. Despite having received $300 from the Hispanic Society for some of Adolph's personal belongings, it proved insufficient to keep her abroad.
In December 1915 she was in New York attending conferences and making connections in the hope of obtaining employment. She returned to Washington, DC briefly the following year but could find neither work nor financial backers for her projects. She returned to New York City, living at 181 Claremont Avenue, and remained there for nine years. With help from various New Mexico friends, Ina Cassidy (the wife of painter Gerald Cassidy), journalist Charles Lummis and archaeologist Frederick W. Hodge, she obtained some translation work from the Smithsonian and taught Spanish. At this time she successfully struck a deal with the publishers of Bandelier's novel, The Delight Makers, and it was reissued 1916. During World War I she volunteered for the Red Cross and was selling Bandelier's extensive library in order to survive.
Her financial situation, shaky and often dire, may have been a contributing factor in her marriage to the artist Charles Wilson. She had known him while in Bolivia and he had remained a devoted friend. Again, tragedy struck Fanny when Wilson died only a year after their marriage. She was now fifty-one years old. At this point she put her hand to writing short stories, and continued copying manuscripts.
At the end of 1924 Fanny attempted to interest the American Museum of Natural History in an expedition to Cuzco, Peru for archaeological purposes, but failed. However, in the following year she did obtain a position with the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, História y Etnografía in Mexico City to teach a course on South American archaeology, which she continued for a couple of years. By 1928 she was once again without means of support and back in the United States. At this point she obtained status as an American citizen through the good offices of the American consul in Mexico City, Mr. Weddell, and Frank Kellogg, Secretary of State in the Coolidge administration.
The final stop in her much-traveled life was Nashville, Tennessee. In 1929 she was assistant to Dr. Paul Radin in the Anthropology Department at Fisk University, taught French there, and delivered occasional lectures on archaeology at Vanderbilt University. Fanny made another important contribution to Latin American scholarship with her translation of the first volume of fray Bernardino de Sahagun's A History of Ancient Mexico, published by Fisk University in 1932.
At the age of sixty-five she resigned from Fisk, and continued efforts to publish Bandelier's journals. She also donated many of his books, personal documents, and photographs to the Museum of New Mexico, where they are now located in the History Library. On November 10, 1936 she died in Nashville at the age of sixty-seven.
Like many couples working as a scholarly team in the same field, Fanny often took a backseat to Adolph. However, it is quite clear that she herself made major contributions to our knowledge of Colonial Mexico in general and New Mexico in particular. She has been described as "an estimable and charming woman, who, by reason of her linguistic training, her appreciation of the problems to the elucidation of which her husband was devoting the remainder of his life, and the breadth of her intellect, was a helpmate in every sense to the day of his death." It has also been said that:"Her flair for language, her ability to work long and hard hours, and her strong sense of historical methodology might well have made her an independent scholar of considerable stature."
Bandelier, Fanny Ritter. "Letters." El Palacio 56, No.8 (August 1949), 241-251.
Hackett, Charles Wilson. Historical Documents relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, and Approaches Thereto. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1923.
Hodge, F.W. "Biographical Sketch and Bibliography of Adolphe Francis Alphonse Bandelier." New Mexico Historical Review 7 (October1932), 353-370.
Lange, Charles H. and Carroll L. Riley. Bandelier: The Life and Adventures of Adolph Bandelier. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996.
Schaefer, Jack. Adolphe Francis Alphonse Bandelier. Santa Fe: The Press of The Territorian, 1966.
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