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Elderkin, Kate

    Full Name: Elderkin, Kate Denny McKnight

    Other Names:

    • Kate Elderkin
    • Kate McKnight
    • Kate Denny McKnight
    • Kate McKnight Elderkin
    • Kate McK Elderkin

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1897

    Date Died: 16 February 1962

    Place Born: San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Classical

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): Vassar College


    Historian of classical antiquity at Vassar College. Elderkin, born Kate McKnight, was born in 1897 in California. Her father died a year after her birth and she was raised by her mother and stepfather, Arthur Robinson Ocheltree (1877- 1956). Kate McKnight graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College in 1919 followed by a master’s degree in 1920. She returned as an officer of instruction in the department of art and archaeology, spending the first semester studying at Harvard. During this time she also excavated portions of northern Africa. She taught as a lecturer in the department of art and archaeology, receiving a doctorate from Radcliffe in 1922 with a dissertation entitled Chacrylion and His Vases. With the American School of Classical Studies in 1923 she visited the islands Aegina, Delos, Paros, Melos, Thera, and Crete in Greece. While she was a part of this trip, McKnight herself was not a member of the ASCSA. She went as a guest of her cousin Elizabeth Denny Pierce [later, Blegen] (1888–1966) and her fiancé, the distinguish archaeologist Carl Blegen (1887-1971), who was a member of the organization. In 1924 she left her position as an instructor at the art department of Vassar marrying George Elderkin in that same year. McKnight, now Elderkin, worked as Associate Editor on the book review section of the American Journal of Archaeology beginning in 1925. She is credited in part with the success of this section, a department that continues to exist today. Her last listing as associate editor is in the 1931 issue of the Journal, however, her book reviews continue to appear in the publication through 1946. In 1962 she died in her home at the age of 65.

    Elderkin wrote several different publications on the small and large objects of classical antiquity. She focused on objects ranging from the use of buttons on Greek garments to vase paintings to classical collections. Her first notable work, Chacrylion and His Vases, was her dissertation. This work was included in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. In this work she covers the work of Chacrylion and names both his teacher and possible student. She analyzes the stylistic changes of Chacrylion, as well as the two different signatures that are attributed to him. Unlike other authors, Elderkin categorizes Chacrylion as a potter rather than a painter.

    Her work, Buttons and Their Use on Greek Garments, was published in the American Journal of Archaeology. The article covers a variety of fastenings on clothing; including buttons, pins, and string ties. She links the use of each of these different fastenings to the various garments found in ancient Greece. Elderkin does so by using both literary and sculptural sources.

    Also included in the American Journal of Archaeology. is Jointed Dolls in Antiquity. This piece focuses on the toys found in both children’s collections and in temples dedicated to various goddesses. Elderkin also covers how gender roles affected children’s toys. She also covers the materials used in their creation, as well as the ties they show to Egyptian trade routes. Elderkin also spends a significant amount of time covering what the missing parts of the dolls also signify.

    Elderkin put particular emphasis on the role of women in classical antiquity with her work The Contribution of Women to Ornament in Antiquity, included in Classical Studies Presented to Edward Capps. In this paper she emphasizes the impact women of ancient Greece had on the art world, specifically noting their skills in painting and embroidery. Elderkin also covers the work of female vase painters, a topic previously given little attention. Her theme of acknowledging marginalized communities didn’t end with women, in From Tripoli to Marrakesh she focuses on the works of Northern Africa. The scope of the work covers major and minor details of the architecture from Tripoli to Morroco. A unique aspect of this work is written in a diary format that also archives archaeological descriptions. As explained in the preface of the book the intended audience was laymen rather than experts. Despite this purpose, reviewers of the book claim that it is of equal value to those working in the field of archaeology. (Müller)

    Selected Bibliography

    • Chacrylion and His Vases. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1924;
    • “The Ulysses Panels by Piero Di Cosimo at Vassar College.” The Art Bulletin 6, no. 4 (1924): 99–102
    • “Aphrodite Worship on a Minoan Gem.” American Journal of Archaeology 29, no. 1 (1925): 53–58.
    • “The Minor Classical Collections.” Art and Archaeology 20, (1925): 122.
    • “An Alexandrian Carved Casket of the Fourth Century.” American Journal of Archaeology 30, no. 2 (1926): 150–57
    • “Buttons and Their Use on Greek Garments.” American Journal of Archaeology 32, no. 3 (1928): 333–45
    • “Jointed Dolls in Antiquity.” American Journal of Archaeology 34, no. 4 (1930): 455-479.
    • The Contribution of Women to Ornament in Antiquity, Classical Studies Presented to Edward Capps, Princeton University Press 1936.
    • From Tripoli to Marrakesh Pond-Ekberg Company, 1944


    • [obituary:]  l”Mrs. George Elderkin” New York Times, (February 17, 1962) .pg19
    • Vassar Miscellany News, Volume III, Number 37, Vassar Miscellany News (March 8, 1919) – Vassar Newspaper & Magazine Archive;
    • “The Fifth General Catalogue of the Officers and Alumnae of Vassar College Vol. IX No.3 “Vassar College Bulletin. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie N.Y (May 1920);
    • “Vassar Confers Degrees” The Vassar Miscellany News, (June 17, 1920);
    • “A College Romance” New York Times, (May 6, 1924): 2;1
    • “Resignations and Terminated Appointments,” The Vassar Miscellany News, (June 12, 1924);
    • Dugas, Charles. “Kate McKnight Elderkin, Chachrylion and His Vases.” Revue Des Études Grecques 39 no. 179 (1926)): 195-196;
    • “Contemporary Notes,” Vassar Quarterly, (July, 1928);
    • Walters, H. B. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 71, no. 414 (1937): 148–148;
    • Müller, Valentine. American Journal of Archaeology 48, no. 3 (July-September, 1944): 314;
    • “‘All Aboard:’ Cruising the Aegean in 1923.” From the Archivist’s Notebook, (June 1, 2015);
    • “The History of the Aja.” The History of the AJA American Journal of Archaeology;
    • “All Aboard: Cruising the Aegean in 1923.” From the Archivist’s Notebook, June 1, 2015
    • “Carl W. Blegen Papers: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.” Carl W. Blegen Papers | American School of Classical Studies at Athens;
    • “Kate Denny McKnight.” geni_family_tree, November 25, 2020;


    • Vassar Miscellany News
    • Harvard Archives
    • “Archives and Personal Papers. “Archives and Personal Papers, American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
    • “Carl W. Blegen Papers: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.” Carl W. Blegen Papers American School of Classical Studies at Athens 

    Contributors: Caitlin Childers


    Caitlin Childers. "Elderkin, Kate." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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