March 1, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 11

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    Oriental Institute to give guided tour for Women’s History Month

    William Harms
    News Office

    As part of its observation of Women’s History Month, the Oriental Institute is organizing “Women in Ancient Egypt,” a special guided gallery tour that will illustrate the roles of women in that culture.

    Museum docents will show visitors ancient Egyptian clothing, jewelry, furnishings and decorative arts during the tour, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, in the Joseph and Mary Grimshaw Egyptian Gallery.

    “Women in ancient Egypt held a legal status that was unparalleled in the ancient world, and which even today is barely equaled in the Western world,” said Emily Teeter, Research Associate and Curator of Egyptian and Nubian Antiquities. “Women could own property, inherit from their husbands and from their own family, disinherit unworthy heirs, serve on juries, and buy and sell goods and land.

    “They could institute marriage and divorce, and no stigma was attached to a woman who remarried. Indeed, Egypt was one of the few premodern cultures in which women had complete legal equality to men,” she said.

    The status of women is evident in Egyptian texts and art. Women are prominently depicted, either alone or alongside their husbands and children. Young girls are as prominently shown as young boys.

    Reliefs from private tombs exhibited in the Egyptian gallery show men and women side-by-side carrying funerary offerings into the tomb. Women could hold very high offices, such as priestesses of Hathor. A brightly decorated mummy case in the museum (10th century B.C.) is inscribed for a woman named Meresamun who was a Singer in the Interior of the Temple of Amun, a sort of divine chorus. Other stelae show women officiating before the gods.

    Women of ancient Egypt, like their male counterparts, paid great attention to their physical appearance. Statues and reliefs show women in the idealized manner, which favored slender bodies, long legs, a sensual curve to the abdomen, and small high breasts.

    The Oriental Institute gallery exhibits examples of clothing, sandals, cosmetic containers, and even a section of a wig, all of which were essential to women of the elite.