|Katharine Bartlett was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1907 into a family that encouraged her to pursue her education. She received her bachelor's degree in 1929 and her master's degree in physical anthropology in 1930 from the University of Denver. She spent the summer following her graduation working at the fledgling Museum of Northern Arizona, which was housed in two rooms of the Flagstaff Woman's Club and run by founders Harold and Mary-Russell Colton. After a summer spent cataloging artifacts from excavations in the Medicine Valley, she became a permanent employee in the fall of 1930 and continued to serve the museum until her retirement in 1981.
Bartlett worked in a number of different roles over the years at the Museum of Northern Arizona. She was the museum's first curator from 1931 to 1952, creating the organizational system for the museum's collection and establishing the museum's conservation policies. From 1952 until 1981 she served as librarian and curator of history, creating a library of research materials on anthropology, geology and natural history for northern Arizona.
She planned museum exhibits, edited museum publications and contributed articles that appeared in more than 60 publications. Her breadth of knowledge was staggering, covering topics such as Hopi and Navajo history, along with Spanish exploration of the Southwest. Her study of ground stone food- processing technology is considered the standard reference guide for the field.
Bartlett earned numerous accolades over the years. She was named the first Fellow of the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1984 and featured in a Smithsonian exhibition, "Daughters of the Desert," which documented the accomplishments of pioneer female anthropologists. She and other early women anthropologists gave "voice, visibility and respect to disenfranchised Native Americans," according to Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo, authors of Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest, 1880-1980.
In 1991 she received the Sharlot Hall Award for her contributions to Arizona history. Her professional associations included a charter membership in the Arizona Academy of Science, and she was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Anthropological Association, and the Society of American Archaeology.
In the 1950s, she traveled with partner Genevieve Foster through the Glen Canyon region, cataloging archaeological sites before their destruction from flooding by the Glen Canyon dam. After her retirement, Bartlett moved to Oak Creek and continued to work as a part-time volunteer. She continued to live and travel with Genevieve. She died at the age of 93. The library at the Museum of Northern Arizona is named in her honor. She was inducted into the Arizona Woman's Hall of Fame in 2008.
For more information, see Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American region, 1880-1980 by Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo.
Courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Bartlett standing, #C-100B-1958-4.