The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster

Temple of Poseidon at Sounion by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) has an interesting, albeit odd, art collection. It comprises mostly oils and watercolors, with a few three-dimensional exceptions, such as Paul Manship’s bronze Actaeon. The card inventory that George Huxley and Mary Lee Coulson created in the late 1980s was replaced by a database I developed in the 1990s, in order to record the whereabouts of the artworks which frequently moved from building to building without any notice.

While some of the objects were bequeathed to the ASCSA by former staff and members, most of the material lacks provenance. My first database was short on content, but the more I delved into the School’s institutional records and collections of personal papers, the more interesting information I discovered about the origin of some of the art pieces. In the case of Amory Gardner’s fine portrait by Anders Zorn, I found that it was a gift from the Groton School in 1938.

The sources of some of the modern paintings (e.g., those by Martyl Langsdorf or Tita Fasciotti) were puzzling at first because I could not connect them with any gifts. The advent of the internet, however, has solved many of these mysteries.  Searches for artists’ names revealed that some of the modern paintings were connected with Saint Louis, suggesting that some may have come to the School together with the personal papers of archaeologist George Mylonas, who taught at the Washington University in Saint Louis for several decades. (See “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens“.)

Inventorying purposes aside, my preoccupation with the School’s art collection did not stem from an art historical interest but instead from a need to contextualize it: for it seemed that each piece had a biography that continued past the death of its creator and owner(s). With patience, some luck, and a good amount of research in the School’s archives, I soon concluded that there was an interesting story to be told about many of these objects, a story that connected them with men and women once intimately bound up with the ASCSA.

The Elusive Mistresses of the American School

As I have noted elsewhere “of the 200 men and women who attended the School’s academic program from 1881 to 1918, the outgoing letters of fewer than a dozen members have survived, and of those only the letters of about six students (or spouses of students, such as Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor) have found their way back to the School’s Archives.” Their letters are treasure troves of information about expatriate life in Greece in the late 19th/early 20th centuries as their creators wanted to capture and convey to their across-the-Atlantic families every moment of their exotic adventures. The letters are also full of people’s names, but, unless a name appears in the official records of the American School, they are meaningless.

“Saturday afternoon Mrs. Townsend gave a picnic at Kephissia… The Gardners were there, Mr. Henderson, Miss Thorman, Miss Negreponte, the Gulicks, Admiral Tufnell, Bijou Eliot, the Salmonds… and Mr. Drope from the British School” wrote Zillah Dinsmoor to her mother (April 29, 1912). Aside from the Gardners (Ernest Gardner was the director of the British School of Archaeology) and the Gulicks (Charles B. Gulick was the Annual Professor for 1911-1912) most of the other names are not traceable. Even Miss Negreponte (Helen Negreponte), who is also frequently mentioned in Carl Blegen’s diaries… remains an elusive one. There is the additional difficulty in identifying people in old letters: married women were always referred to by their husband’s surname, without any other indication.

Looking to satisfy my curiosity about the origins of this custom to name women after their husbands’ name, I came across an informative article titled “Mistress, Miss, Mrs or Ms: Untangling the Shifting History of Women’s Titles” on the NewStatesman (September 12, 2014). There I learned that “Mistress is the root word of both of the abbreviations ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’, just as ‘Mr’ is an abbreviation of ‘Master’”; also that “neither ‘mistress’ nor ‘Mrs’ bore any marital connotations” in Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary of 1755; and that until the 19th century most women did not have a prefix before their name, only women of higher social status, married or unmarried. When a woman was referred to as ‘Mrs’ (i.e., a mistress), it meant that “she governed servants or apprentices,” whether in a household or in a business.

“Mt. Hymettus from the American School”

Back to the mistresses who were frequenting the grounds of the American School in the spring of 1912: “I have been quite a bit with Mrs. Wheeler, Mrs. Brewster and Mrs. Robinson” wrote Zillah to her mother a few days earlier (April 18, 1912). It wasn’t difficult to guess the identity of two of the women: Mrs. Wheeler (née Jane Hunt Pease) was the wife of James R. Wheeler, professor of Greek at Columbia University and Chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee (1901-1918), while Mrs. Robinson was probably the wife of Charles A. Robinson, professor of Classics at Princeton, who was also spending time in Greece in 1912.  Brewster’s name, however, did not appear either in the narrative or in the lists of Louis E. Lord’s History of the American School (1947). It was only in a recent reading of Zillah’s letter that it flashed in my mind that I had seen Mrs. Brewster’s name before. But where?

Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952)

The following passage in Zillah’s letter helped me make the connection. “Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Brewster gave us an exhibition of her paintings and dearest, I wish you could see them… She had about seventy-five, some from Spain, many of Egypt and a few she had done in Greece. You would love Mrs. Brewster,” asserted Zillah to her mother further adding that “her father was an artist, Mr. Richards.” It was then that I realized where I had seen the “Brewster” name before: signed on a painting in the School’s art collection. A quick check on the database confirmed my suspicion. One of the oils was signed: A.R. Brewster. The google search proved even more rewarding. There were several entries for Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952), including a short documentary about her on YouTube, as well as references to a recent exhibit catalog by Judith Kafka Maxwell, Anna Richards Brewster, American Impressionist (Berkeley 2008).

The daughter of two gifted people, the poet and playwright Anna Matlack and the landscape painter William Trost Richards, Anna Richards Brewster studied painting in good schools (Cowles Art School, Art Students League of New York, and Académie Julian) and with famous teachers such as the muralist John LaFarge. She also travelled extensively with her family to Europe (1890-1895) and painted alongside her father during their travels. In 1896, Anna settled in London where for the next nine years she kept a public studio at Chelsea. Convinced that she would remain unmarried, her meeting and marrying William Tenney Brewster, a professor of literature at Barnard College, was an unexpected but welcome event in Anna’s life. Bill Brewster never ceased to support his wife’s work throughout their life together. They continued to travel a lot and to faraway places, including trips to North Africa, Syria, and Palestine. On their way to one of these places, they stopped in Greece, in the spring of 1912, to join the Wheelers. Brewster and Wheeler were colleagues at Columbia. It was through the Wheelers that Bill and Anna Brewster socialized with other members of the American School including the Dinsmoors.

“Mt. Hymettus from the American School” by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Brewster’s painting, which adorns the small sitting room in the Director’s house, is, like most of her other paintings, of small dimensions (12×16 inches). On the back of the old frame, the theme is identified by Anna herself as: “Mt. Hymettus from the American School.” Looking at the painting, one sees in the foreground the School’s lower garden, once full of olive trees, with its characteristic stone wall. Next come the tall cypresses of Moni Petraki (the near-by monastery) and part of the church’s bell tower (which no longer exists). The entire scene is set against a barren Hymettus. Her greens are soft but vibrant. The painting is signed on the lower left side.

Translucent Greece   

Brewster’s painting of the School’s garden and Mt. Hymettus is a modest one compared to her other work. Anna was a gifted, versatile painter who drew inspiration from a wide array of themes. Her scenes of Arab streets and markets are simply enthralling. The streets of New York are equally captivating.  Zillah’s description implied that Anna had displayed at the School a fair number of paintings inspired from Greece. With this in mind I embarked on a quest to locate Brewster’s other Grecian paintings. I was curious because while I could recall the names of several British and American women travelling to and writing about Greece in the 19th/early 20th century, I couldn’t evoke any foreign woman traveler painting Greece during the same time. (While discussing this with Professor Geraldine Gesell, she reminded me of Mary Hogarth’s watercolor of the Church of St. Eleutherius in Athens from ca. 1890). I think that paintings of Greece by women travelers are rare or remain unknown because very few of them exhibited their work publicly for lack of institutional support or other patronage.

Outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem by Anna Richards Brewster. Private Collection.

I succeeded in locating five more Grecian landscapes by Brewster: the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, the Temple of Aphaia on the island of Aigina (?), the Nike Temple on the Acropolis, as well as a view of the Corinthian Gulf. Notice how in her paintings of Greek temples, Brewster opted for a partial and angle view, just as if she were catching them with the corner of her eye. (One of her paintings, the Olympieion I believe, was sold for $12,000 a few years ago. The Jaffa Gate was sold for $10,000 at Christies, April 12, 2007.)

Temple of Zeus at Athens by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

Yet, I found from other sources that she painted many more Greek landscapes. Coverage in the press of an exhibit that Anna held in 1915 at the Arlington Galleries on Madison Avenue, writes that “the sketches along the Ionian isles [were] simply delightful” (American Art News, February 6, 1915). In The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (February 7, 1915), which dedicated the largest part of a column to Brewster’s art show, her Greek landscapes received special praise: “and [if] her set of Greek canvases is more attractive than any other, which is doubtful,” it is because “of her revelation of the translucent atmosphere in Greece. Several canvases reveal delightfully the Acropolis at Athens, for the famous building is seen in many aspects, and with its surroundings. Elsewhere is the wild region of Greece in ‘Taygetus, From the Acropolis of Sparta,’ and that in the ‘View from the Temple of Delphi.’ And there is the classic ‘Mount Hymettus from the American School at Athens,’ besides a view of Salamis from the Acropolis at Athens… Very beautiful is ‘Nauplis from Tiryns,’ from a panoramic standpoint, as, also, is ‘The Argive Plain’.”

Temple of Aphaia at Aigina (?) by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

Very few of Brewster’s Grecian landscapes appear in the Smithsonian’s large database (SIRIS) which lists 254 of her works. About half of her catalogued paintings belong to the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London, Connecticut, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia, the Museum of City of New York, the Butter Institute of American Art in Youngstown in Ohio, and the Massillon Museum in Ohio. The other half is still being traded in the art galleries of New York and Philadelphia. Finally, about a dozen are listed in private collections. With the exception of the “The Foothills of Parnassus,” which belongs to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (no image available, however), almost all of her other Greek paintings must be part of private collections (some could also be lost).

The Nike Temple by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

If “Mount Hymettus from the American School at Athens” was on display in New York in 1915, how did it find its way back to Athens? Through the so-called Blegen collection, after Carl Blegen’s death in 1971. (Elizabeth Blegen bequeathed their house on 9 Ploutarchou to the American School.) But when and how did the Blegens obtain the painting? I suspect that it was Elizabeth who acquired it, naturally because of its theme, but also because she herself as a good painter must have known and admired Anna Brewster’s art. It is also likely that Elizabeth knew the Brewsters personally, from the time she did graduate work at Columbia in 1912-15. Did she also attend Anna’s show in February 1915? And did she buy “Mount Hymettus” as a present to her close friend and teacher Ida Thallon, who had lived at the American School for two years at the turn of the century? Maybe I am imagining too much…

A New Alice in the Old Wonderland

Something more to add about Anna Richards Brewster. Anna was raised in a Quaker family in Philadelphia, one of eight children. Her father William Trost Richards was a landscape painter associated with the Hudson River School and the pre-Raphaelite movement.  Anna and her siblings (one of who would win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1914) were unusually lucky to also have an enlightened mother, the writer Anna Matlack Richards (1834-1900). Today Matlack is remembered for her alternative version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in the Wonderland. Hers, A New Alice in the Old Wonderland, which appeared in 1895, offered an expanded version of the main story based on the stories she invented for her children when they were small. New Alice was the product of Matlack’s collaboration with her daughter Anna, who illustrated her mother’s stories, following, however, the style of the original illustrations by John Tenniel. According to Carolyn Sigler, an authority on alternative “Alices,” Matlack’s New Alice was a brave one who “maintained power over her own fantasy, rather than allowing herself to become its victim,” very much like the daughter she had raised.

One of Alice Richards’s illustrations for her mother’s New Alice in the Old Wonderland, ca. 1895.


 


Grace Macurdy of Vassar College: Scholar, Teacher, and Proto-Feminist


This is a guest post by Robert L. Pounder

Robert L. Pounder, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Vassar College, here contributes a review of Barbara McManus’s posthumous book about Grace Harriet Macurdy, titled The Drunken Duchess of Vassar. Pounder, who has been conducting in-depth research on the social history of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in the 1920s-1930s, writes that Classics was “dominated by unaware, myopic, smug, unsympathetic men, men who viewed academic accomplishment by women with condescension and skepticism.”  Women in academia, like Macurdy, were thought to be anomalies–a different species. Based on his work at the ASCSA Archives, Pounder has also published an essay, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal & Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015.


Born in 1866 in Robbinston, Maine, Grace Harriet Macurdy was the sixth of nine siblings whose parents had immigrated to the United States from the nearby Canadian province of New Brunswick just a year before her birth. Her father, Angus McCurdy (the spelling of the name was later changed to Macurdy because he did not want to be thought Irish) was a carpenter who barely eked out a living.  After leaving his children in the care of their mother and paternal grandmother for long periods and thus improving his situation somewhat, he was able to move the family to Watertown, Massachusetts by 1870; there they grew.  Watertown provided a better series of houses and slightly improved material circumstances for the Macurdy children.  Moreover, they profited greatly from the guidance of their mother and grandmother, both of whom encouraged the children, including the girls, to read, write, and pursue their educations.

Barbara McManus, The Drunken Duchess of Vassar, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press (2017).

There arose from this unlikely beginning one of the most distinguished, if not suitably recognized, American classicists of the 20th century.  The life of this scholar and teacher forms the inspiration for an exemplary biography by the late Barbara McManus, herself an important classicist. McManus has composed a study of Grace Macurdy’s life and career that enriches our knowledge of the history of classical scholarship in America and Great Britain.  It also broadens our understanding of the social contexts that shaped the study and teaching of Greek and Roman antiquity in the early 20th century, shedding fresh light on the challenges that women scholars faced in order to be taken seriously in a field dominated by unaware, myopic, smug, unsympathetic men, men who viewed academic accomplishment by women with condescension and skepticism.  The relative obscurity of Grace Macurdy today, even among scholars in her field, attests to the long and rocky road that women scholars had to follow in the 20th century – in the U.S., England, and Europe alike – with no guarantee that excellence and innovation would be rewarded or even noticed.  McManus addresses this issue head-on, pointing out that, even into the 20th century, women scholars were viewed by the academic establishment as anomalies, even as oddities, a different species, weaker personages who tried but could not equal the intellectual achievements of men. To illustrate: when a Festschrift comprising twenty-two articles was published to honor Macurdy’s dear friend, the British classicist Gilbert Murray (who claimed to admire her work), every one of the twenty-two authors was a man (Greek Poetry and Life, Essays Presented to Gilbert Murray On His Seventieth Birthday, 1936).  These men believed that the natural state of women was as wives and mothers, not as leaders in business or politics or the academy. This state of affairs had grown out of 19th- century attitudes, and it would take many decades, into the 1970s and the women’s movement, for the foundations of such beliefs to start crumbling, a process that has not ended but continues to this day.

Grace Macurdy (1866-1946) showed promise from her childhood years onward.  By 1879 she had advanced in her studies to the point where she could enroll in Watertown High School’s college-preparatory course. There she studied English, French, history, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and – significantly – Greek and Latin, in which last subjects she particularly excelled.  The next step was application to the “Harvard Annex” – renamed Radcliffe College in 1894 – a private program that offered women  instruction, by Harvard professors, equivalent to that received by men at Harvard College.  In 1884, after three days of Harvard entrance examinations, she passed without any conditions, achieving honors in classics.  Grace entered the Annex in September 1884.  Her performance placed her at the top of her class.  As McManus points out, Macurdy did not share the ambitions of most of her fellow students, who aspired to teaching positions in New England schools: “She was determined to win recognition as a classical scholar with a professional career like her Harvard mentors.”  And she miraculously did not suffer the pangs of uncertainty and self-doubt – engendered by ambivalent attitudes of many of the Harvard professors toward the higher education of women — that afflicted many of her friends.  Helen A. Stuart, class of 1891, wrote to a friend:

It was always impressed upon us that we must be inconspicuous, and must never cross the Harvard Yard, unless we were attending some special lecture or reading…As to the relations between Harvard and the Annex, it was borne in upon us very frequently that the University as a whole scorned us, and only the broad-minded professors were really interested in our success.  The students in general thought of us as unattractive bluestockings and compared us unfavorably with the Wellesley girls.

Ironically, McManus observes, Grace Macurdy’s working-class background helped her to conquer this sort of self-doubt and ambivalence.  Her family had to scrimp and save, and they lacked the niceties of life, including social status and interactions, except within their modest circle.  Grace “could not afford ambivalence,” since “success was her only option.”  In 1893 she was hired by Professor Abby Leach to teach in the Greek department at Vassar College.

Abby Leach (1855-1918).

Thus began the remarkable career of Grace Macurdy as scholar, teacher, and proto-feminist.  Her charismatic personality and sparkling intelligence captivated students, bringing her popularity within the Vassar community.  Abigail (Abby) Leach, a formidable figure who had been the initiating force behind the establishment of the Harvard Annex, was revered by Macurdy, but not to the same degree by students, many of whom found her an uninspired, rote teacher.  One of them, Margaret Shipp, Vassar 1905, wrote home: “Miss Leach may know a lot and be very famous, but she is absolutely the most uninteresting instructor I ever came across… She is about as flexible as a wooden post.”  But Leach was a formidable figure at Vassar.

Hired in 1883, she had singlehandedly built up the Greek department, an offshoot of the former Department of Ancient Languages, and after having taught many Latin courses for several years, by 1886 was in charge of all the courses in Greek, now a separate department, “my” department, as she referred to it in an early conversation with Macurdy. Upon her arrival, Macurdy was given the freshman and sophomore Greek courses to handle, though the upper level work was reserved for Professor Leach (who did not like to be referred to as “Miss”). At first, Abby Leach offered strong support to Macurdy, urging her to take a year off to study in Berlin and elsewhere in 1899-1900.  Upon her return, Macurdy was advised by Leach to enroll in the doctoral program at Columbia.  There she spent two highly productive years that produced a dissertation on the chronology of the plays of Euripides, and her PhD was conferred in 1903; Vassar immediately promoted her to associate professor of Greek.

With clarity and precision, Barbara McManus presents the story of the conflict between Leach and Macurdy that began soon after Macurdy’s return to teaching.  Alarmed by Macurdy’s growing popularity in the classroom and by the recognition she was receiving outside the walls of Vassar, Leach invented numerous excuses to hold her back and prevent her from teaching advanced courses. She dreamed up dubious charges of poor or negligent teaching. It was a classic case of jealousy and envy.  Leach felt threatened: Greek was her department, and an upstart was undermining her authority, or so she thought.  In 1907 she recommended that Macurdy be fired.  The Vassar president, James Monroe Taylor, was drawn into the battle,which was waged for another decade, and so were the Committee on Faculty and Studies of the Board of Trustees and the next president, Henry Noble MacCracken.  Despite the angry opposition of Leach, Macurdy’s demonstrated achievements resulted in several reappointments in this period, which came to an end only with Abby Leach’s death in 1918.

James Monroe Taylor and Henry Noble MacCracken, Presidents of Vassar College, 1915. Source: ASCSA Archives, Ida Thallon Hill Papers.

As the years went on, Grace Macurdy’s career blossomed.  As was mentioned above, she became a good friend of the Oxford classicist Gilbert Murray and his wife. She also entered into a friendship with another British classicist, J.A.K. Thomson, with whom she corresponded and traveled.  The relationship with Thomson was close but probably not a conventionally romantic one;  rather it was borne of deep and sympathetic intellectual affinity. Thomson, thirteen years her junior, a King’s College, London classicist with Marxist leanings, translator of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and author of popularizing works such as The Classical Background of English Literature, probably clicked with Macurdy in part because of shared leftist politics. Both Murray and Thomson became important soulmates for Macurdy, forming a sort of family for her in England.

Barbara McManus (1942-2015)

Macurdy became the Vassar representative on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (although she had not studied at the School).  In that capacity she was drawn into the feud between the director, Bert Hodge Hill, and the chair of the Managing Committee, Edward Capps, a battle that was waged in the mid-1920s and ended with the dismissal of Hill, who had been director since 1906.  Macurdy fought on the side of Hill and his wife Ida Thallon Hill (Vassar 1897), her former student and now intimate friend, and bravely spoke out in Managing Committee meetings against the campaign to impugn Hill and his directorship. The quarrel had grown out of Capps’s irritation with Hill’s slowness to publish assigned material from Corinth and the Athenian acropolis as well as his failure to provide timely reports to the Managing Committee about School excavations and activities, reports that were needed for Capps’s growing fundraising initiatives.  A triumph of Barbara McManus’s biography is her masterly analysis of the voluminous materials that document the Capps vendetta.  Housed in the American School archives, these letters, cables, copies of petitions, memoranda, official minutes and reports, and other documents present challenges to anyone attempting to make sense of the twists and turns of what happened.  McManus gives us a clear interpretation, and she also corrects mistakes present in earlier publications. Her achievement in writing about the Women’s Hostel controversy at the American School – it ended with the construction of Loring Hall, a residence for both sexes – is equally impressive. Her scholarly method is meticulous and exhaustive, the results always easy to follow (see also N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall“).  The premature death of this scholar is a blow to classical scholarship; her quiet role in the advancement of classical studies is now seen as an essential one, too soon ended.

The life of Grace Macurdy had its share of heartbreak and misfortune.  A mysterious ailment caused the loss of most of her hearing in both ears  in the early 1920s.  This disability she managed to deal with, using ear trumpets and other methods, until her death. The deaths of family members over the years brought sadness, but this remarkably chipper, wry woman surmounted all obstacles to happiness and serenity.  Her books, Hellenistic Queens: A Study of Woman-Power in Macedonia, Seleucid Syria, and Ptolemaic Egypt (1932) and Vassal-Queens and Some Contemporary Women in the Roman Empire (1937) were met with appreciative and, in a few instances, glowing reviews (though there was a tendency among her fellow ancient historians to regard powerful women in the Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean as tangential figures, scarcely worthy of serious study).  Her final book, The Quality of Mercy: The Gentler Virtues in Greek Literature (1940) returned her to the literary roots of her dissertation.  Following her retirement from Vassar in 1937, Macurdy continued to write and to play an active role in such institutions as the American School of Classical Studies.  As her health declined, life became more difficult, especially owing to a deterioration in her sight that a costly and difficult eye operation failed to cure.  She died in Poughkeepsie in 1946.

One of Grace Macurdy’s books. ASCSA, Blegen Library.

Barbara McManus has unearthed unexpected and intriguing nuggets about Macurdy. For instance, although her immediate background was working-class, her ancestors in Canada and the United States included many eminences; indeed, she was a distant relative of both Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (an appendix provides her family tree).  She herself formed some surprising friendships, such as those with the novelist John Galsworthy and the poet John Masefield, men who were drawn to her charm and magnetic intelligence.  Only now is her importance coming to the fore, and we have McManus to thank for that.  A final quibble: the title of the biography seems off-base to me.  An affectionate nickname applied to the teetotaling Macurdy by her adoring students — who were bent on capturing her whimsical eccentricity – the flippant term “drunken duchess” undermines the seriousness of the biographical subject.  Fortunately, it cannot undermine the laudable achievement of the biographer.


An African American Pioneer in Greece: John Wesley Gilbert and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1890-1891.

Posted by John W. I. Lee

John W. I. Lee, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, here contributes an essay about John W. Gilbert, the first African-American student to participate in the Regular Program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in 1890-1891. Lee is writing a book about John Wesley Gilbert, the early history of the ASCSA, and the development of archaeology in Greece.


In his official report to the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) for academic year 1890-1891, Director Charles Waldstein praised students Carleton Brownson, Andrew Fossum, John Gilbert, and John Pickard, who had “proved themselves serious and enthusiastic” throughout the year.  Waldstein went on to describe the School’s 1891 excavations at ancient Eretria on the island of Euboea.  While Fossum and Brownson excavated Eretria’s theater, Pickard and Gilbert “undertook the survey and careful study of all the ancient walls of the city and acropolis, and will produce a plan and an account which… will be of great topographical and historical value.”

Waldstein’s report gives no indication that one of the students, John Gilbert, was African American—the first African American scholar to attend the ASCSA.  With the passage of time, memory of Gilbert’s pioneering contribution was forgotten at the School, until Professor Michele Valerie Ronnick of Wayne State University searched for him in the ASCSA Archives in the early 2000s.  Ronnick’s work on Gilbert, featured in the School’s Ákoue Newsletter, forms the foundation of my research.

John Wesley Gilbert. Photo: Daniel W. Culp, Twentieth Century Negro Literature (1902)

John Wesley Gilbert was born about 1863 in rural Hephzibah, Georgia; his mother Sarah was enslaved.  After Emancipation, Sarah took her young son to the nearby city of Augusta.  From childhood Gilbert thirsted for learning.  An 1871 Freedman’s Bank register bearing his signature gives his occupation as “go to school to Miss Chesnut.” Read the rest of this entry »


Dollies and Doilies: Priscilla Capps Hill and the Refugee Crisis in Athens, 1922-1941

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about the (forgotten) relief efforts of Priscilla Capps Hill through Near East Industries during the great refugee crisis that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922.


In the months that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in September 1922 and the population exchange of 1923, more than a million Orthodox Christians were ultimately compelled to desert their birth rights in Anatolia. Their influx to Greece generated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. American expatriates in Greece took immediate action. Darrell O. Hibbard of the YMCA and Jefferson Caffery, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission, created the Athens American Relief Committee, which notified Red Cross missions in Europe and America about the crisis and organized the first relief efforts. Bert H. Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), was appointed Chairman of the Relief Committee, in which role he was expected to coordinate communication with the Greek government.  Harry Hill (no relation to Bert), an Englishman, head of the American Express Company in Athens, was charged with purchases and banking.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were collected by the time the Committee was disbanded on November 24, 1922, when the American Red Cross arrived in Greece to provide humanitarian aid together with Near East Relief, the latter focusing largely on Turkey.  Its work had been invaluable. (See also E. Daleziou, ” ‘Adjuster and Negotiator’: Bert Hodge Hill and the Greek Refugee Crisis, 1918-1928,” Hesperia 82, 2013, pp. 49-65.)

The ASCSA’s involvement did not stop there. In the years to come “the School continued to be a hub for Americans offering their services to a variety of refugee relief efforts such as the ARC, the American Women’s Hospital Organization, Near East Relief, the YMCA, and the Athens American Relief Committee” (Daleziou 2013, p. 58). In addition to relief work, Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee and a professor of Classics at Princeton University, was asked by Greece’s former prime-minister Eleftherios Venizelos to raise awareness in America of what was happening in Greece. Without wasting time, Capps, who knew Venizelos personally from his days as U.S. Minister to Greece (1920-1921), founded The American Friends of Greece (AFG), the broader mission of which was “to promote friendly relations between Greece and the U.S.” (The AFG later published booklets in support of Greece during World War II and a monthly newsletter, “The Philhellene,” which circulated from 1942-1950.)

Priscilla’s Story

Incorporation of the AFG on October 15, 1923 marked the start of Priscilla Capps’s involvement in refugee affairs, a much less well-known story than her father’s.  Priscilla Capps (1900-1985), a graduate of Smith College, had assisted her father in Athens during his service as Minister, while she was a student at the ASCSA, as a kind of “first daughter.”

Priscilla Capps clad in a traditional Greek costume, ca. 1920s. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Read the rest of this entry »


Imagining and Reimagining Greece


Posted by Clayton Miles Lehmann

Clayton M. Lehmann, Professor of History at the University of South Dakota, here contributes an essay about American college students coming to Greece, as part of study-abroad programs. This post represents a modified and shortened version of the 63rd Annual Harrington Lecture, which he delivered 28 October 2015 to the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of South Dakota.  Lehmann was a Regular Member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1982/3, lived in Greece while he wrote his doctoral dissertation, and has returned often, three times as the Director of the Summer Session for the American School and regularly since 2005 as one of the professor-captains of the University of South Dakota’s short-term faculty-led study-abroad program “The Isles of Greece!”.


After disappointing tourism numbers for the 2004 Olympics, the Greek National Tourism Organization launched a major campaign, “Live Your Myth in Greece,” to rekindle Greece in the world’s imagination.  When a group of my students arrived in Athens in 2005 for the study-abroad program The Isles of Greece!,[1] they saw the advertisements for this campaign on the billboards and buses on the way into the city.  At first glance, the images appeal to the typical touristic expectation of the Greek quartet of sea, sun, sand, and sex.  But the classical architecture and supernatural figures suggest a more complex imaginary mix.  The fine print on some of these posters read:

Greece: a land of mythical dimensions. Where the spirit of hospitality welcomes you as a modern god. And the siren song draws you into its deep blue waters. Where a gentle breeze through ancient ruins seems to whisper your name. And a dance until dawn can seem to take on Dionysian proportions. In Greece the myths are still very much alive. And in amongst them sits your own . . . patiently waiting for you to live it. Live your myth in Greece.  Ask your travel agent.

 

Eros and Mermaid posters for Live Your Myth in Greece, Greek National Tourism Organization campaign, 2005; designed by K. Karavellas; and creative design by McCann Erickson-BBDO-Cleverbank Joint Venture. Photographs courtesy of the GNTO.

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Greece 1935-1938: Involuntary Testimonies

For the really significant history is that grass roots history which reveals the everyday life of people, in their homes, and at their retreats, in their work and in their play, in turbulence and in repose.
Theodore C. Blegen, 1948

“I suppose you have heard about the Revolution which is taking place here. It began last Friday night -March 1st. During dinner we heard various rumblings and shots out in the city, but didn’t think much about it, believing them just the ordinary noises of the city. But afterwards they became so pronounced that we knew something was happening. So Betty [Dow] and I went down-town, in the direction from which the shots came. We met many troops marching through the streets, and finally came to the region where the firing came from – near the Akropolis. A revolution is such a strange thing here – everyone takes it as a matter of course, and a little as a joke – and the firing isn’t widespread at all. We were able to approach so near –without any danger – that we witnessed a tank storming a barracks for soldiers, and saw the firing on both sides… after the attacks on the barracks which we saw (we were in a crowd of about 25 – the sole witnesses), we saw other tanks, at close range and finally came upon battalions of soldiers drawn up with guns and bayonets in the streets and ready for action… ” wrote Richard (Dick) H. Howland, age 25, to his family back in America.

Most of Howland’s letters carry the “Stadium” stamp, which was issued in 1932 as a supplementary stamp of the 1927 “Landscapes” set. The “Stadium” was withdrawn from sale in 1939. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

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Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort of Scholars

On February 17, 1901, a young American archaeologist and member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was “roaming over the city in search of Mr. Kavvadias, the general ephor of antiquities in Athens, in order to get a permit to begin work at Vari tomorrow” (letter of Charles H. Weller to his wife).  Together with a small group of students from the School, he had conceived of the idea of conducting a small excavation at the Vari Cave on the southern spur of Mount Hymettus, near the ancient deme of Anargyrous. Known since the 18th century, the cave had been visited and described by several European travelers who were particularly taken by the reliefs and inscriptions carved on its walls.

Vari Cave interior with sculpted figures, 1923. Source: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

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