Harrison, Jane Ellen, 1850-1928

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1850-09-09
Death 1928-04-15
Britons
English

Biographical notes:

Jane Ellen Harrison was born on 9 September 1850 in Cottingham, Yorkshire, the third daughter of Charles Harrison, timber merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Hawksley Nelson, who died of puerperal fever within a month of Jane's birth. She was educated at home by a succession of governesses until at the age of 17 she was sent to Cheltenham Ladies College to complete her education, gaining a First Class Certificate in 1869. After leaving Cheltenham in 1870, Jane Harrison returned home to her family to teach her younger siblings. In 1874 she passed the Cambridge University Examination for Women and won a scholarship to Newnham College, just three years after it was founded. In the Classical Tripos examinations of 1879 she was placed in the second class, and thus failed to get the College lectureship in classics that she had hoped for. From 1879 on for almost 20 years she was based in London where she studied archaeology under Sir Charles Newton at the British Museum, and did a great deal of travelling, visiting archaeological sites in Greece, and museums throughout Europe. She also lectured on Greek art. In 1882 she published 'Myths of the Odyssey in Art and Literature', followed in 1885 by 'Introductory Studies in Greek Art', which grew out of her lectures at the British Museum. After returning from a tour of Greece and Turkey with DS MacColl in 1888, she began work on a commentary to Margaret Verrall's new translation of the first book of Pausanias, 'on Attica'. This resulted in 'Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens' in 1890. In collaboration with MacColl, 'Greek Vase Paintings' was published in 1894. As her reputation as a classical scholar grew, Jane Harrison received honorary degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen (LLD) and Durham (D.Litt) in 1895 and 1897 respectively. In 1898 Jane Harrison returned to Cambridge as lecturer in classical archaeology at Newnham College and then became the College's first Research Fellow; her position on the staff of Newnham was renewed continuously until her retirement in 1922. Harrison's research now centred on the history of Greek religion, in which she frequently collaborated with Gilbert Murray, Francis Cornford and to a lesser extent, AB Cook. Her two most important publications were 'Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion', 1903, and 'Themis, a Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion', 1912. The First World War changed forever the scholarly lives and interests of Jane Harrison and her group. In 1915 she published a collection of pamphlets and lectures written between 1909 and 1914 'Alpha and Omega', several of which were autobiographical. That same year, whilst visiting her heart specialist in Paris, she enrolled in a course of Russian at the nearby Ecole des Langes Orientales. Russian language, literature and refugees now became the focus of her energies; she taught Russian for three years at Newnham after the end of the war. 'Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion', 1921, which summed up her two major works, was her last book on the history of Greek religion. In 1922, at the age of seventy-two, she retired from Newnham, burnt all her papers and letters, dispersed her library, and moved to Paris to live with her former student and companion, Hope Mirrlees (born 1887). Together they continued to study Russian and published translations from Russian works: 'The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum' (1924) and 'The Book of the Bear' (1926). Harrison also wrote a memoir, 'Reminiscences of a Student's Life', published in 1925. As her health continued to deteriorate, they moved back to England, in 1926. She died of leukaemia at home in London on 15 April 1928

From the guide to the Jane Harrison Collection, 1870-2001, (Cambridge University: Newnham College Archives)

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SNAC ID:
27324538

Subjects:

  • Women teachers
  • Women's education

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Cambridge (England) (as recorded)