was one of the greatest bargains in the College’s history. “Students know Leslie as a master teacher; they may not have realized that they were working with someone who was rewriting our understanding of Greek archaeology.” The LaFollette Professor of Humanities Emeritus sat down with WM last year following the publication of Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda, the second of a series of books that details her life’s work outside the Wabash classroom. Day is not content to inventory what was discovered, but sets each piece in the room in which it was found, imagining the individual lives of those who used them. As she looked forward to retirement, she reflected on her two vocations and some of the people who have made her time at Wabash unforgettable.
WM: Given a childhood “scrabbling in the dirt,” you seem almost predestined to become an archaeologist. Did you know you wanted to study it when you arrived for your undergraduate studies at Bryn Mawr?:
Professor Day: I had no clue. I was either going to be a writer or a chemist. The school sent out this letter saying, “You’re a big girl now; try a course in something you’ve never tried before.” They mentioned archaeology, and I thought, Well, I’d never considered this before. So I took it. I also took chemistry. I hated chemistry. I took English and ran amok of a truly dreadful English professor, and so I decided to give up the writing. But I went into archaeology class on that first day and entire cultures I’d never heard of were opened to me. I said, “Absolutely, this is it.” What was a Montana girl doing at Bryn Mawr?
My parents really pushed us not to be confined to Montana. It was gorgeous and I loved it, but in terms of intellectual stimulation, it was not the best place in the world. And I really wanted to experience urban life and intellectual sophistication. Of course, having worked so hard to get out of Montana, I would love to go back… Bryn Mawr was a women’s college.
Still is. A woman’s college made a lot of sense, and my sister was there. It was highly ranked in terms of what it offered. I don’t think I’ve ever heard your take on single-sex education.
For some people, I think it’s a very good thing. It certainly was for me. I made some very good friends at Bryn Mawr. Haverford was right next door, so there were actually men, graduate students, in my classes.
At that time, women didn’t have the same opportunities that men did. In high-school classrooms, the focus was clearly on the guys, even with female teachers. The guys were the serious ones. So it was important to go to a place where your gender was not an issue, where the only point was how good you were, whether you were going to be good enough to go to graduate school, whether you were going to be one of the top people. It never occurred to me that I would ever have any problem after I left Bryn Mawr. But, of course, I did. In grad school?
I went to [the University of] Cincinnati and nothing I did seemed right. I couldn’t figure out why. Then I had this “Damascus Road” experience: I was talking with one of the younger faculty and they had just made decisions about graduate fellowships for the next year. I said, “Oh, do you have good people coming next year?” He looked at me and said, “Nah, they’re all women.” I thought to myself, Okay; this attitude is part of the problem. Your career spans more than 30 years—today, more women than men are earning advanced degrees.
That’s been a very gradual thing. I suppose one of the major transitions I witnessed was in archaeology, where men had always run the excavations and women did the scut work, registering objects, running the workrooms, all the tedious and detailed work. But when we finally got the permit to run the excavations at Kavousi in 1978, there were three directors, and two of us were women. I think that was a major step. Did you run into resistance from either the workers or the people in the town?
We had a man with us, so it worked out fine. It was almost the ideal situation, in fact: As the man, he was the one invited to eat the sheep’s eyes at the feast. We were not expected to eat them, because we were women. [laughs] But things have changed, right? You could eat the sheep’s eyes now. Have you?
I have not. Let’s go from sheep’s eyes to a love story: When did you and Joe meet?
I had been living with my sister in Santa Monica, CA, unemployed after leaving a bad experience teaching at Wilson College. Joe was teaching at USC. But we met in the elevator at a convention in Chicago where we were both applying for jobs. We both had “Los Angeles” on our nametags, so we introduced ourselves. So what was it that drew you to him?
He has such a sweet smile. S p r i n g 20 1 2