Bleek, Dorothea Frances

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Bleek, Dorothea Frances

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1873-1948

History

Dorothea Frances Bleek, b. Mowbray, Cape 26.3.1873 - d. Plumstead, Cape, 27.6.1948. She was the sixth child of Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek and his wife Jemima Lloyd. During the 1880's Mrs Bleek took her children to live in Europe where Dorothea attended schools in Germany and Switzerland and studied at Berlin University, where she trained as a teacher and took a course in African Languages.
She returned to South Africa in 1904 and taught at the Rocklands Girls High School in Cradock until 1907. She accompanied one of her colleagues, Helen Tongue, on expeditions to copy rock paintings, and to London when the paintings were exhibited there in 1908. Some of these paintings were published the following year with notes on the Bushmen by Dorothea and her sister Edith. When she returned from London she devoted all her time to studying Bushman life and languages. She assisted her aunt in the preparation of "Specimens of Bushman Folklore" for publication, and edited and published much of the research left by her father and her aunt.
She went on many expeditions to study Bushman dialects and rock art, her travels taking her to the Kalahari, Botswana, Angola and Tanzania. Not only did she record vocabularies, genealogies and rock art in those areas but also took many photographs which illustrated their dress, shelters and weapons.
From 1923-1948 Dorothea Bleek was Honorary Reader in Bushman Languages at the University of Cape Town. Her major achievement was the publication of the "Bushman Dictionary" in 1956, eight years after her death, which incorporated the lexicon started by her father almost a century earlier and which was added to by Lucy Lloyd. In 1936 the University of the Witwatersrand wished to confer an honorary doctorate on Dorothea Bleek which she is reputed to have declined on the grounds that there could only be one Dr Bleek. She died in Plumstead in 1948.

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