Irene Vickrey, Arizona’s Unsung Archaeologist
Published: May 28, 2013 at 11:14 am
Though incredibly important to Arizona archaeology in her day, Irene Singleton Vickrey’s productive but brief career is known only to a handful of historians and archaeologists.
Tenacious research by historian Janolyn LoVecchio reveals that she was born to Christopher and Grace Singleton on April 4, 1911 in Hume, Illinois. LoVecchio interviewed longtime Globe resident Lowry Logan, who said that Vickrey was 5’8” tall, very outgoing, liked the outdoors, hiking, trout fishing, and climbed Baldy Peak.
According to a resumé she filed with the Arizona State Museum when applying for work as an assistant WPA archaeologist in the early 1930s, she took two years of law courses, one year of archaeology at the University of Indiana, another year at the University of Arizona, and two summers of field work in archaeology for the University of Arizona. She served as “sponsor’s supervisor” for a New Deal agency archaeology project for seven months, and from then until the time she filed her resumé she served as sponsor’s supervisor and Works Progress Administration (WPA) supervisor in archaeological work.
Vickrey had to accept the title “sponsor’s supervisor” because married women could not be employed by New Deal projects since it was felt that husbands needed the work more to support their families.
Irene married Parke E. Vickrey on June 6, 1931; she was 20 and he 44, but they shared a passion for archaeology. Parke arrived in Globe in
1910 and became a high school industrial arts teacher and coach. In 1919, he was part of Professor Byron Cummings’ first summer field trip, A Course Among the Cliff Dwellings. By the 1930s he added science teacher to his Globe High School duties.
Irene must have been efficient and well-organized, because she rose quickly through the ranks and soon served as assistant to Roy Lassetter, project superintendent for the WPA Statewide Archaeological Project. Irene was in charge of subproject E, the Besh-ba-Gowah ruins.
When Lassetter resigned to enlist in the Army on July 8, 1940, 29-year- old Irene became acting project superintendent for archaeology programs throughout the state, a position she held until the impending war halted all non-essential work on Oct. 4, 1940. By that time crews excavated more than 200 rooms and 350 burial sites in the Globe area.
Vickery wrote about the discoveries in Arizona Highways and Kiva, an Arizona State Museum publication.
Always energetic and socially involved, Irene was first vice-president of the Globe chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Association of Arizona, and also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Red Cross.
In May 1941, she involved the whole community in bringing Globe’s ancient past to life by directing “The Last Days of Besh-Ba-Gowah,” a pageant performed on the roof of the museum, depicting an attack by outsiders on the local prehistoric Salado people. It involved a small cast, including children, who played several parts. The night sky glowed with colored lights, the high school chorus provided background music, and San Carlos Reservation Apaches performed a “devil dance.”
In ensuing years, the cast for the annual pageant grew to more than a hundred.
Irene was so vibrant and involved in the community that all Globe’s townspeople were shocked and dismayed when she died in January 1946 at the age of 35. Lowry Logan said that she “came to Arizona with respiratory problems, and working with soil and dust didn’t do her any good.” He said, “She liked to keep active and was a Christian Scientist. My father worked at the Miami Hospital and said Mrs.
Vickery wouldn’t let a doctor make house calls at her home.”
Not many Arizonans know about her today, but Irene Vickrey’s legacy lives on in the reconstructed ruins and impressive museum at Besh-Ba- Gowah Archaeological Park, which includes a museum, library and botanical gardens. She would be pleased to know that thousands of visitors come from all over the world to appreciate her life’s work.
— Jim Turner, author of Arizona: Celebrating the Grand Canyon State. Photo courtesy of the author.