Katharine Bartlett — anthropologist, archeologist, curator and author — told her biographer once that she did everything at the Museum of Northern Arizona during her 51-year tenure except "mop the floors."
The 93-year-old Bartlett died recently, leaving a legacy as a trailblazer in Southwest anthropology and an international reputation for her scholarship and dedication organizing the museum's irreplaceable library and artifact collection.
Bartlett came to Flagstaff in the summer of 1930 at the invitation of Harold and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, who had founded the Museum of Northern Arizona two years before.
The late Harold S. Colton was the preeminent expert in archeological and ethnological research in the Southwest for more than 40 years and made the museum a world-class repository of artifacts and research.
Bartlett, then just 23 and armed with a master's degree in physical anthropology from the University of Denver, was hired for the princely sum of $80 a month and provided a room at the Coltons' home.
She was given the arduous task by Colton to organize the museum's vast anthropology collection. Eventually her work made it possible for museum researchers and scientists from across the globe to access thousands of years worth of cultural material.
"This is the first job she got out of graduate school and the only job she had her whole life. Today people seem to change jobs every couple of years but she stuck with the same institution for 51 years and then continued to volunteer here regularly for another decade more," said Michael O'Hara, associate librarian and archivist at the museum's Katharine Bartlett Learning Center.
According to museum research associate Susan Deaver Olberding's unpublished biography, Bartlett "devised methods of collecting, cataloging and preserving artifacts" that served to shape the museum "into the prominent research and educational facility it is today."
For a young woman used to the urban comforts of her Denver home, life in rugged and wooly northern Arizona was a constant adventure during the 1930s.
She accompanied Colton in an archeological survey of the region in 1931, focusing on a 250-square mile zone on the Navajo Reservation in the Little Colorado River, writes Olberding.
The survey took Colton and Bartlett in a black Buick sedan across uncharted territory with few roads where they discovered and recorded 260 archeological sites.
"The fact that she did get to work with Harold Colton doing the archeological surveys of the Flagstaff area was fairly unique," said O'Hara.
Archeology and anthropology was a male-dominated profession and opportunities for women were scarce indeed when Bartlett was starting her career.
After her field survey work with Colton, Bartlett rarely participated in field work. Instead, her job was sorting, researching and cataloging cultural artifacts pouring into the museum from Colton's digs.
"That was kind of standard for the times. Women did the lab analysis, while men did the field work," said O'Hara. "And I think that may have been a source of frustration that she felt she wasn't given the opportunity to do the field work."
If Bartlett was frustrated about the gender inequity prevailing in anthropology, she kept it to herself, said Dorothy House, a former librarian at the museum who now works for SWCA Environmental Consultants Inc.
"I think it must have been frustrating at times but she reacted to it with patience. She was not at all an aggressive person. I think a dominant part of her personality was a sense of service and any way she could serve satisfied her," said House who worked with Bartlett for two decades.
For House and other staff at the museum, Bartlett is a legend and a lady of the old school they will never forget.
"I was the second librarian at the museum and her successor, but never her equal," said House.
Bartlett's role over half a century as the museum's librarian and archivist was punctuated by many accomplishments that earned her international recognition.
She was listed in the American Men of Science, 8th edition in 1949, the Directory of American Scholars-History from 1951 to 1978 and Who's Who of American Women in 1959.
Bartlett helped Mrs. Colton launch the first Hopi Craftsman Exhibition in 1930 and went on to organize a series of Hopi and Navajo craft shows that continue today. The Museum of Northern Arizona Craftsman Exhibitions "are a tribute to the legacy of Katharine and the Coltons" and have encouraged tribes to continue their traditional methods, said Olberding.
Bartlett also was recognized for her scholarship in a series of scientific papers concerning prehistoric tools, artifacts, ancient mines and modern-day Navajo weaving.
In the late 1950s, Bartlett and her longtime friend, amateur archeologist and artist Gene Field headed to Glen Canyon in order to document prehistoric sites, cliff dwellings and rock art destined to lie beneath Lake Powell.
The Bartlett expedition down the Colorado River located 100 sites, uncountable numbers of petroglyphs and precious artifacts.
When the Colton era ended at the museum in the 1960s, Bartlett helped with the transition and remained as the librarian. When staff had a question, the refrain around the museum was always "Ask Katharine."
In 1975 she became senior librarian and turned over daily management of the facility to House.
"She astounded me at her vast accumulation of knowledge. She could put her finger on the most minute details," recalled House.
House remembers Bartlett as a private person who didn't go in for socializing much. But weekly seminars at the museum where eminent archeologists and anthropologists would gather, Bartlett played the gracious host. She would serve tea wearing formal white gloves and serve it from a silver teapot into the finest china.
"She was always a perfect, perfect lady," said House.
Bartlett officially retired in 1981 at the age of 74 to take care of the ailing Field, who died two years later. For nearly a decade afterwards, she volunteered at the museum.
"The job she did organizing this library and providing reference support to researchers is perhaps her great contribution. If you look back through her correspondence files here at the museum, it's literally a Who's Who of Southwest archeology and anthropology," said O'Hara.
"They were all in contact with her asking her for hints and clues as to how to help with their research. She always had the answers for everybody."
Gary Ghioto can be reached at 556-2251 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Arizona Daily Sun