Kathleen Kenyon

(1906-1978) – Archaeologist and Head of House

Kathleen Kenyon grew up in London and came to Somerville in 1926 to study Modern History. While she was a student she became the first female president of the Oxford University Archaeological Society. She also won a Blue in hockey. It was the then-librarian  (and later Principal) of Somerville Margery Fry who suggested to Kenyon that she take up a career in archaeology.

After graduation, Kenyon’s first field experience was as a photographer for the pioneering excavations at Great Zimbabwe in 1929. She went on to work each summer for five years at the excavation of the Roman-British settlement of Verulamium (St Albans) under Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler. She also worked at Samaria (then under the administration of the British Mandate for Palestine). From 1936 to 1939, she carried out important excavations at the Jewry Wall in the city of Leicester. Kenyon was closely associated, along with the Wheelers, in the foundation of the Institute of Archaeology of University College London, later serving as its Acting Director and Secretary as well as Lecturer in Palestinian archaeology.

Kenyon’s was most famous for leading the excavations at Tell es-Sultan, the site of ancient Jericho, in the 1950s (her first findings from the site were displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951). She went on to excavate in Jerusalem from 1961 to 1967. From 1962 to 1973, Kenyon was Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford. In the 1973 New Year Honours, following her retirement as Principal of St Hugh’s, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) “for services to archaeology”.

Did you know? During the Second World War, Kathleen Kenyon served as Divisional Commander of the Red Cross in Hammersmith.

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