Lorimer, (Elizabeth) Hilda Lockhart
Lorimer, (Elizabeth) Hilda Lockhart
- Helen Waterhouse
Lorimer, (Elizabeth) Hilda Lockhart (1873–1954), classical scholar, was born at 38 India Street, Edinburgh, on 30 May 1873, the eldest daughter of the Revd Robert Lorimer (1840–1925), minister of the Free Church of Scotland at Mains and Strathmartine, Forfarshire, and his wife, Isabella Lockhart Cornish Robertson (1849–1931). She was the second of eight children; her two eldest brothers became distinguished oriental scholars and a third, William, became professor of Greek at St Andrews and translated the New Testament into Scots. She was educated at Dundee high school and, 1889–93, at University College, Dundee, earning a first-class BA (London). In 1893 she won an open scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge, and three years later was placed in the first class of the (old) classical tripos. From the Michaelmas term 1896 she was appointed fellow and classical tutor at Somerville College, Oxford, where she remained for the rest of her career. On resigning in 1934 as classical tutor she was instead appointed tutor in classical archaeology and, for five years, Lady Carlisle research fellow. After her retirement in 1939 the college made her an honorary fellow. From 1920 she shared with Professor John Myres in the teaching of Homeric archaeology, in which she was from 1929 to 1937 university lecturer. She occupied a distinguished place in the Oxford classical establishment, illustrating in her own person the distance travelled since her appointment in 1896 when, advised by the college to consult Professor Pelham (the Roman historian) about her research, he told her it was not necessary (or, he indicated, desirable) for her to take up any, since all advanced teaching would be provided by friends from the men's colleges. After her retirement she moved to 26b Norham Gardens, Oxford, but was a frequent and always welcome visitor at Somerville.
Hilda Lorimer took an Oxford MA at the first opportunity, in 1920, and went specially to Girton to take her Cambridge MA in 1948, when degrees were at last open to women. She valued highly her ties with Girton and often stayed there in the long vacation. She was made honorary fellow in 1951, and left her library to the college.
Hilda Lorimer was no armchair scholar. In 1901–2 she travelled widely in Greece, as (Somerville) Pfeiffer student at the British School at Athens; it was at this time that she studied under W. Dörpfeld, for whom her admiration never wavered. Later she assisted W. A. Heurtley in his excavations in northern Greece, in 1927 at Boubousti and in 1930 at Servia, and again in 1931–2 at Aetos in Ithaca, where she undertook much of the publication (see Annual of the British School at Athens, 33, 1932–3, 22–36). In 1934 she spent part of a term's leave of absence excavating with S. Benton in Zakynthos. In spite of the copious and important results of the series of Ithaca excavations she never wavered from her belief in Dörpfeld's identification of Homeric Ithaca with Levkas.
Hilda Lorimer's interests were not confined to Greece, and her travels included Turkey, Albania, and the Slav lands which became Yugoslavia. In 1917 she went to Salonica to work as nursing orderly in the Scottish Women's Hospital. In 1918 her services were requisitioned by the Foreign Office historical department; with R. D. G. Laffan she produced The Slovenes (1920) and The Yugoslav Movement, and later contributed to volumes on Yugoslavia (1923) and The History of Serbia up to 1914 in the Nations of Today series.
Scholarship was Hilda Lorimer's life; the acquisition of knowledge was her passion, her use of it meticulous. Articles published from 1912 ('Dress in Homer') to 1947 ('The hoplite phalanx') show how Homeric studies came to preoccupy her, and the breadth of her knowledge is fully displayed in Homer and the Monuments, published, after wartime delays, in 1950. This majestic work demonstrates both her mastery of all the evidence bearing upon the Realien of the Homeric poems and its dispassionate discussion. Its results and conclusions were described by Myres in Homer and his Critics (1958) as 'perhaps as near to historical truth as it is possible to go'.
Hilda Lorimer seems never to have used her first name. The family knew her as Hiddo; in Oxford she was affectionately termed Highland Hilda. She was slight but wiry, and her Scottishness was never in doubt. She is remembered as 'sitting very erect, on a bicycle with high handle-bars, still (at 76) attracting the attention of the casual passer-by'. The beauties of landscape and the study of birds meant much to her. Colleagues delighted in her witty and learned conversation; her pupils found her rigorous standards tempered by kindness and understanding. She died in hospital in Oxford on 1 March 1954.
- K. T. Butler and H. I. McMorran, eds., Girton College register, 1869–1946 (1948)
- M. Hartley and S. Benton, Girton Review (1954), 26–9
- M. Hartley, Somerville College Report (1954), 24–7
- correspondence, Somerville College Archive, Oxford
- private information (2004)
- P. Adams, Somerville for women: an Oxford college, 1879–1993 (1996)
- J. A. Grant, portrait, 1954 (posthumous; after photograph), Somerville College, Oxford
Wealth at Death
£7581 16s. 9d.: confirmation, 17 April 1954, CCI