An Examination of Gendered Space Through Glass, Ceramics, and the Occasional Doll Head

Written by: Amy Michael

Primary Source: Campus Archaeology Program Blog, October 15, 2015.

For the past year, I have been investigating the gendered landscape of the historic campus. University Archives keeps the scrapbooks made by past female students and we can find newspaper clippings detailing female exploits on campus, but until recently it has remained fairly difficult to “see” women in the archaeological record. Of course we know women lived, worked, and studied at MSU throughout the years, but why is their archaeological imprint so invisible?

Perfume bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage

Perfume bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage

This summer CAP field school students excavated a deposit believed to be connected to the Gunson House. The amount of materials culled from the site was incredible! I have spent the past month going through the many bags in the lab and selecting the glass and ceramic artifacts that appear to be those most exclusively used and belonging to women. We know that the house became a women’s home management home after Professor Gunsons death. We also know that the Gunson house was likely home to some pretty fancy dishware as Professor Gunson and his wife were known to throw parties. The number of different patterns of plates, cups, and bowls, however, was surprising even given this knowledge.

"Lu 1905" souvenir glass from the admin/Gunson assemblage

“Lu 1905” souvenir glass from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Some examples of artifacts found at the site are included below. A definite feminine theme unites the assemblage as perfume bottles, doll parts, delicate glassware, and ornate dinnerware are pervasive throughout. Perhaps most interesting was the souvenir glass artifact with the “Lu…” and “1905” inscription. Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I hypothesized that this was a personalized piece belonging to Lutie Gunson, the second wife of Professor Gunson (and housekeeper to the home when the first Mrs. Gunson was still alive!). This is the first piece of personalized material found in the assemblage so far. It was exciting to link an historical person with this assemblage!

 

Doll head from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Doll head from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Ceramic fragment from admin/Gunson assemblage

Ceramic fragment from admin/Gunson assemblage

 

Floral print and gilded ceramic fragments from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Floral print and gilded ceramic fragments from the admin/Gunson assemblage

 

Figure from admin/Gunson assemblage

Figure from admin/Gunson assemblage

 

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Amy Michael
Amy Michael primarily studies bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya and her dissertation research focuses on the skeletal remains of individuals buried in peripheral caves and rockshelters. Beyond that work, she enjoys the historical archaeology projects she’s able to work on through CAP, especially those that involve archival research. Amy will be continuing her project this semester using archival documents (memoirs, scrapbooks, diaries, etc…) written by female students to generate a predictive model for women’s space on the historic campus. We know when women were admitted and what they likely studied, but these documents provide clues to where female students would have gathered and experienced college life. Perhaps if we can isolate these spaces, we may be able to piece together a narrative (and a research excavation plan) focusing on gendered use of campus space.