Celebrating Women in Science: Marcelle Roigneau Hatt

Over the years the Kitchen Sink has remembered the stories of Cranbrook Institute of Science Director, Dr. Robert Torrens Hatt. But did you know that his wife of 22 years, Marcelle Roigneau Hatt, was also a respected scientist and exhibition curator?

Marcelle Roigneau Hatt by the “big bomb”, Mexico, ca 1947. Photograph by Robert T. Hatt. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Marcelle was born on October 19th, 1898, in Bordeaux, France, to Hubert and Francine Chetot Roigneau. After moving to America, she took courses at Columbia University in vertebrate zoology, evolution of man, and vertebrate paleontology with Profs. James Howard McGregor and William King Gregory, who both rated her highly among their students. Marcelle worked as a staff assistant in the department of Human and Comparative Anatomy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. Robert T. Hatt also worked at AMNH from 1928-1935 as the Assistant Curator of Mammals.

Robert and Marcelle were married in 1929. In the Fall of 1930, they traveled together to the Yucatan on a grant-funded expedition to discover evidence of a possible land connection between the Yucatan and the West Indies. The first few weeks were spent at the ruined Maya city of Chichen-Itza where mammals and reptiles were collected. Following this, the Hatts explored a large number of caves in the Yucatan’s low mountains, for the remains of extinct animals. Fossils were obtained in every site excavated, though the numbers were small.

Following the Yucatan expedition, Marcelle was engaged in planning a series of exhibitions as an introduction to Human and Comparative Anatomy. The exhibition, “Top of the World in Yucatan” described her experiences on the expedition with her husband. In 1934, Marcelle was promoted to Assistant Curator in the Department of Comparative and Human Anatomy at AMNH.

 

In the Spring of 1935, the Hatts moved with their young sons, Richard and Peter, from New York to Michigan when Robert accepted the position of Director of the Institute of Science. In response to her resignation, the Executive Secretary at AMNH wrote in a letter dated March 27, 1935:

“In transmitting your letter of resignation, Doctor Gregory paid high tribute to the excellent work you have done throughout your connection with his Department, emphasizing especially your invaluable assistance in supervising the preparation and installations of exhibits in the hall of “Introduction to Human Anatomy;” your splendid cooperation in the preparation for labels and guide leaflets and in his researches on the evolution of the skull of vertebrates; and the competent manner in which you handled the sale and exchange of casts and models. Congratulating you on this enviable record and assuring you that you carry with you, in your new field of activities, the best wishes of your associates and colleagues.”

Marcelle continued to work on a variety of projects at CIS during the 1930s and 1940s, including photographing specimens, assisting Dr. Hatt on additional field trips to Mexico, and curating an exhibition of Native American baskets that opened in April, 1941.

Exhibition catalog

Exhibition catalog prepared by the Art Project of the Works Project Administration, Detroit, by the silk-screen process. Printed on the Cranbrook Press, 1941.

“Basketry of the North American Indians” opened on Easter Sunday. The exhibition featured examples of baskets from pre-historic cave dwellers to woven hats, snowshoes, and mats of Modern Michigan tribes. Marcelle Hatt organized the display of 183 specimens and the accompanying catalog.

Basketry Exhibition

Visitors at the “Basketry of the North American Indians” exhibition, 1941.

On March 27th, 1951, Marcelle Roigneau Hatt passed away at the young age of 52. Her contributions to Human and Comparative Anatomy live on in the Journal of Mammalogy, Science, and The Science News-Letter of the American Museum of Natural History.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Sources:

“Science News.” Science 79, no. 2058 (1934): 8a-11a.
“In Science Fields.” The Science News-Letter 25, no. 684 (1934): 312-13.
Hatt, Robert T. “Notes concerning Mammals Collected in Yucatan.” Journal of Mammalogy 19, no. 3.
The Robert Torrens Hatt Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives/Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
The Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives/Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Forays in Metalwork: Cranbrook and Fairhope, AL

Women’s History month always gives us a good excuse (not that we need one!) to spotlight the accomplishments of some of Cranbrook’s lesser-known but equally important women. They may not have been famous artists or designers, but rather women who educated scores of students, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to catalog thousands of scientific specimens, or played a role in documenting the history and heritage of the Cranbrook community. So this month we have chosen to make each post about a Cranbrook woman – the work she accomplished, an artwork she created, or some other notable fact that we find interesting.

Margaret Elleanor Biggar (1906-1992) was born in Detroit, and became interested in silverwork when she attended spent her senior year in high school at Marietta Johnson’s experimental School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama. After graduation, Biggar returned home to Detroit, where she attended the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts school. In November 1929, renowned British silversmith Arthur Nevill Kirk (who headed the silver department at Cranbrook), called Biggar and asked if she would like to come and be his student apprentice. She worked for Kirk in the Arts and Crafts Studio until 1931, where she made thirty cents an hour executing and polishing Kirk’s designs.

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

Silver Teapot, 1929. Designed and executed by Margaret Biggar. Image Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM 1933.45).

In 1931, Biggar returned to Fairhope, Alabama in where she taught metals at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education and formed a lasting relationship with Elise Hooker (1895-1977), who was head of the school’s craft department. In 1938, the two women left the school to open their own studio where they taught metalcraft classes in silver, copper, and brass. Generous and hard-working, their primary objective was not to make money but rather to teach others the craft they loved. In 1946, they only charged fifty cents for a two-hour lesson!

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, Cranbrook Archives.

Biggar and Hooker’s home on Magnolia Avenue, Fairhope, AL. The studio was called “Metalcraft Studio.” Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook.

The studio was successful and works of their students were shown in local exhibitions. People came from around the country to take classes, and the studio became a part of local crafts tours in Fairhope.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Hooker (left) and Biggar at an exhibition in Pensacola, Florida. Photo courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Margaret Elleanor Biggar Scrapbook, U.S. Navy photographer.

Metalwork was not Biggar’s only interest. In 1943, she spearheaded the “War Dog Fund” effort in Fairhope. This was a project organized to enlist the help of dogs on the “home front” to secure funds through the donations of their owners. Dogs could be enrolled as a Sergeant ($1) or Lieutenant ($5) all the way up to General ($100). The funds were then used to help feed and care for the dogs in WWII combat zones.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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