Sally Anderson Immerwahr (1914-2008)

I am very sorry to inform you that Sally Anderson Immerwahr died on June 25, 2008, in Chapel Hill, of heart and kidney failure. She was 93.

Sally has a long history of association with the American School. She was a Regular Member from 1938-1939 and Fellow of the School from 1939-1940 (serving as acting Librarian). She first met her future husband at the School in 1939, when Henry came to the School as a member. She returned in 1970-1971 as Senior Research Scholar at the Agora Excavations, being assigned the publication for Neolithic and Bronze Ages which culminated in her book, XIII of the Agora series, The Neolithic and Bronze Ages, published in 1971.

After teaching in the Art Department at the University of North Carolina for some years she returned to the School as the Director’s wife and Senior Research Fellow of the School from 1977-1982, organizing trips and museum sessions for the School’s academic program.

A memorial service is being planned for later summer or early fall. Burial will take place on Chebeague Island, Maine.

Condolences may be sent to Dr. Henry S. Immerwahr,
Carol Woods
750-1110 Weaver Dairy Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 918-3498

Mary C. Sturgeon
Chair, ASCSA Managing Committee

adapted from ΧΑΡΙΣ: Essays in Honor of Sara A. Immerwahr, edited by Anne P. Chapin (Hesperia Supplement 33, 2004) ISBN 0876615337, pp. xiii-xvi

Sara Immerwahr was born August 28, 1914 and raised in Pennsylvania, one of twin daughters to H. Edward and Mary Smith Anderson. By the time she was ten years old, she knew she wanted to become an archaeologist, and although that particular desire fades in most children as they grow up, for her the fascination for archaeology grew as well. The seed of her youthful interest was a fifth-grade history book’s description of Sir Arthur Evans’s discovery, through excavation, of the Palace of Minos and the Minoan civilization. The academic flower that Sara proceeded to cultivate is certainly a perennial, for her love of the field blooms each year through the influence of her publications, and even more so through the work of her former students, many of whom have made contributions to this volume.

Sara’s formal training began at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, under the tutelage of Professor Caroline Morris Galt, who, in the galleries of the Dwight Art Memorial, introduced Sara to the first-hand study of antiquities. Sara proceeded to graduate magna cum laude in 1935 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in archaeology. This was no mean feat, given that it was achieved during the Great Depression, but with the aid of scholarships, student loans, and odd jobs, the young student lifted some of the financial burden from her parents. She still remembers the raise from $0.35 to $0.45 per hour she received for working with the slide collection and for dusting the plaster casts of statuary held in the Memorial. Fair wage that it may have been at the time, it taught Sara early on that one doesn’t pursue a career in archaeology with an eye on the financial rewards.

With an archaeology scholarship in hand, Sara returned to Pennsylvania to start her graduate career at Bryn Mawr College, where she found a mentor in Mary Hamilton Swindler. Professor Swindler stressed current scholarship in the classroom, but her guidance outside the classroom would have a more important impact on Sara. She generously offered her time and advice to her students, guiding them in the right direction and helping them to become not only educated, but professional. It was she who arranged for Sara to use her first-year fellowship to spend her second semester working for Hetty Goldman at the joint Bryn Mawr/Harvard excavation at Tarsus in Turkey. Thus, it was in the spring of 1936 that Sara gained her first look at Greece and Turkey, as well as her first experience in the field. Later she served for two years (1940-1942) as secretary to Professor Swindler during the latter’s tenure as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Archaeology; during this time Sara further developed her organizational and editing skills, for which her own students owe Professor Swindler an indirect debt of gratitude.

En route to the 1943 defense of her dissertation on “The Mycenaean Pictorial Style of Vase Painting in the Thirteenth Century B.C.,” Sara embarked upon another sojourn overseas. She received an Ella Riegel Fellowship from Bryn Mawr to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the academic year of 1938/1939, and then used an ASCSA fellowship to spend a second year at the School. Such a program was then, as it remains today, an integral part of the educational experience of any student of Greek archaeology. And in those days, as today, things seemed to happen at the School—some say it’s the water, but lives do seem to change there.

On the morning of March 3, 1939, Sara was having breakfast as usual in Loring Hall, when in walked a new student fresh from Piraeus and a ship from abroad. He was not an archaeologist, but a philologist and historian (the School has always welcomed all students of Greek history). His name was Henry Immerwahr (though Sara still has a tendency to call him Heinrich), and five years and one day later, he and Sara were married.

I first met the Immerwahrs in 1980, the third year of Henry’s directorship at the School, and as I got to know them, my main impression was of a couple hopelessly in love and devoted to each other. Inevitably, at some point during that, my first year in Athens, I heard the story. The story goes that in 1939, Sara Anderson—how shall I put this—was the “one” at the American School, the one woman whom every young man chased or dreamed of chasing. Then along came Henry, soft-spoken, shy-as-a-fox Henry, who won her heart and snatched her away from the other suitors. The accuracy of the story I cannot attest, but in recent years I have seen some contemporary photographs of the future Mrs. Immerwahr, and I can tell you that the attention she received was warranted. But I digress . . .

In 1942, Mary Swindler convinced Sara Anderson to accept a teaching position in art history at Wellesley College, replacing a professor who had gone off to war. Sara taught there until 1946, when she assumed Professor Swindler’s place for a year at Bryn Mawr. Married by that time, Sara then moved to New Haven to be with her new husband as he began his own teaching career at Yale. Despite her teaching experience and Ph.D., she found herself again working with a university’s slide collection, as Yale did not at that time embrace the concept of women faculty members. During the ensuing ten years in New Haven, however, Sara wrote book reviews for the AJA and an annual article on archaeology for the Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Yearbook; gave birth in 1948 to a daughter, Mary Elizabeth (now married to Jerome J. Hiniker), who has in her own turn presented the Immerwahrs with three grandchildren: Anne, Susan, and David; and continued her own research, publishing her first full article in 1956, “The Protome Painter and Some Contemporaries.”

The next stop on the academic trail for the Immerwahrs was Chapel Hill, where Henry joined the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina. Initially there was yet again no opportunity for Sara to teach, but she received a fellowship from the American Association of University Women that enabled her to begin work on her study of the Neolithic and Bronze Age material that had come to light during the American School’s excavations in the Athenian Agora. Her project received not only the support of her husband, but also the help of daughter Mary Elizabeth, who delighted in finding joins among the sherds (in part resulting in the rediscovery of a whole Neolithic pot). Sara finished this work in a remarkably timely fashion, the results being published in 1971 as volume XIII of the American School’s The Athenian Agora monograph series. The Neolithic and Bronze Ages became and remains an essential reference for work on Athenian material of the period, not least because Sara purposefully avoided the temptation to write the last word on every piece. It is perhaps the best physical manifestation of her belief that academic information should be shared, not hoarded.

In 1964 Sara Immerwahr returned to teaching, first on a part-time basis in the Classics department at Chapel Hill, and later as an Associate Professor in the Department of Art. The two departments instituted a joint graduate degree program in archaeology, and once more Sara was able to enjoy and share one of her greatest strengths—helping students. She was promoted to full Professor in 1971, and the stimulation of and from her students, combined with the excitement of the new excavations at Akrotiri, ultimately led to her most recent book, Aegean Painting in the Bronze Age, which remains the only comprehensive survey of the subject yet published.

It is difficult to say whether the five years in Greece (1977-1982), when Henry Immerwahr was serving as Director of the American School, was a greater help or hindrance to progress on the book. While access to storerooms across Greece became easier to gain and interaction with colleagues in the field became more frequent, Sara’s role as the Director’s wife added dimensions to her life that she had not anticipated. Yet she managed to handle it all with aplomb, in addition to leading museum sessions around Athens and, more importantly, advising even more students-her own as well as those whose official advisors were not on hand.

After their stint in Athens, the Immerwahrs returned to Chapel Hill, where Sara agreed to teach again a course on Aegean art, in 1993. Eventually they sold their small but comfortable house on Davie Circle and moved to Carol Woods, a retirement community north of town with a higher-than-average percentage of fellow academics in residence. Here, along with her other interests, Sara still has enough room to indulge her love of gardening.

Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Greece . . . just where is home for a career academic? In 1950, the Immerwahrs paid their first visit to a place they would eventually call home: Chebeague Island in Maine’s Casco Bay. The very next year they bought a cottage (a “camp” in local parlance) for themselves. Later they bought the camp next door, and their daughter Mary and her family were given the first (as I understand it, the operative adjective here is “rustic”). It is and has been on Chebeague that the family convenes each summer, once even for Mary’s wedding. There Henry has his own Argo, a hand-crafted wooden boat, and Sara enjoys a small wooden sailboat built by friend and neighbor Michael Porter (husband of Barbara Porter, one of the contributors to this volume—the academic world can be wonderfully small and congenial). It is home to the Immerwahrs in the midst of a sea of academic sojourns.

The running spiral was a popular motif during the Aegean Bronze Age, and it seems somehow a particularly appropriate image when recalling the life and career of Sara Anderson Immerwahr—though she might herself prefer a Minoan lily or crocus. She has made a place for herself in the continuous spinning of both family and career, accepting willingly and gratefully from her predecessors and giving freely and generously to her successors. The running spiral has no end.

Richard F. Liebhart
Chapel Hill, NC