The Magnificent Mayer House: No Such a Thing as a Free Gift

Dedicated to Ludmila Schwarzenberg Bidwell

“Following a decision by the Board of Trustees at their November 1997 meeting, the U.S. base for School activities since 1974, was put on the market and sold in May for $5,850,000.” This story appeared in the summer issue of the 1998 ASCSA Newsletter (“Mayer House Sold,” no. 41, p. 4). By then, the U.S. base of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) had already been transferred to Princeton. That fall I was invited by Catherine Vanderpool, the School’s Executive Director in the U.S., to visit Princeton for two reasons: to meet Homer A. Thompson who was contemplating the idea of leaving his personal papers to the School (which he did) and to examine a large number of boxes containing the administrative records transferred to Princeton after the sale of the Mayer House. Many of the records had been damaged by flooding that precipitated the sale of Mayer House.

Mayer House, entrance. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, 2014.

Built in 1882, the four-story brownstone house was one of nine houses on East 72nd Street from no. 39 to 55. The family of Bernhard and Sophia Mayer had moved into the neighborhood in 1899 after purchasing a pair of brownstones in the row at no. 16 and no. 41. (I draw some of this information from the Daytonian in Manhattan, a blog about the architectural history of New York city.) Two family members were later active in New York’s intellectual and academic circles. Albert Meyer (1897-1981), an architect and city-planner, designed many apartment buildings in New York, as well as the master plan of Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian Punjab. His older sister Clara (1895-1988) was an educator and associated with the New School for Social Research for more than thirty years. She served as Dean of its School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts (1943-1960), and from 1950 to 1962 also as Vice President of its Board.

Clara Woolie Mayer (1895-1988)

“Miss Mayer had her first acquaintance with the School in 1953, when she was shown around by Eugene Vanderpool, who was introduced to her by Emerson Howard Swift, Member and then Fellow of the School in 1912-15. On her departure from Athens she offered ‘to do anything to help the School on the other hemisphere,’ and, two decades later in 1974, she fulfilled her offer by giving her home to the School as a U.S. headquarters” wrote the author of “Mayer House Sold” explaining briefly Mayer’s connection with the ASCSA and the decision to donate her family’s house to the School. Indeed, in the School’s Administrative Records, there is a letter by Emerson Swift, Professor of Classics at Columbia University, announcing Miss Mayer’s visit to Athens and urging the School’s Director John L. Caskey to make an effort to contact her.

“Dean Mayer is a lady of wide interests, sound culture, and considerable wealth, it would seem advantageous from several points of view that she should be brought into first-hand contact with the American School, –to learn something of its history and attainments, and to be made aware of the problems it faces today.” (AdmRec 1001/4, folder 6, Jan. 17, 1953).

Speaking of problems in 1953, Swift must have had in mind the School’s efforts to finance the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos.

The Art of Negotiating

However, Mayer’s decision to donate her Manhattan house to the American School in 1974, “had nothing to do with her enthusiasm for our Agora Excavations,” correctly pointed out Richard (Dick) Howland in a letter to Catherine Vanderpool (Feb. 22, 1999). Howland was in a position to know more about Clara Mayer’s gift because he was Chairman of the School’s Managing Committee during the negotiations. According to Howland (and without his testimony we would not have known it since it is not attested in the School’s administrative records), the pivotal role was played by Charles Blitzer, founder and director (1988-1997) of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. Howland knew Blitzer from the Smithsonian, and Blitzer “knew Clara from his New York days, via academic circles, Jewish intellectual circles, and educational projects.” According to Howland, “in 1967 Clara told Charles that she was giving up the 72nd street house, and would the Smithsonian like it for a N.Y. ‘headquarters or guest-house’.” Mayer, who had severed her ties with the New School in 1961 when she was forced to resign after 35 years of service, was in search of a cultural institution to leave her property to.

Richard H. Howland, ca. 1996. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers

The Smithsonian declined Mayer’s offer since the Institution was in the process of acquiring the Carnegie House in New York for “its Cooper-Hewitt branch.” But “how to tell Clara diplomatically and politely NO?” recalled Howland in his missive to Vanderpool. In his letter he related how he met her at 41E 72St. and, after explaining why the Smithsonian had to turn down the offer, asked “if she would consider giving the house to the Archaeological Institute of America (which had no fixed central headquarters).” At the time Howland was also serving as Vice President of the AIA. “Clara said yes, to the above suggestion. The AIA mulled it over for a while and said no. Back to Clara, I asked her if she would consider the ASCSA as the recipient and she said yes” added Howland to his narrative.

The School’s Administrative Records offer a somewhat different version of Howland’s narrative, but this was not unexpected. Howland, at the age of 89, was recalling events that had occurred almost thirty years later. According to the School’s records, the initial proposal was for a joint ownership of the Mayer House between the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the ASCSA, with the understanding that AIA would own 80% of the building (26 July 1974). This proposal was drafted after a meeting attended by John Dane (ASCSA Trustee), Dick Howland, Andrew Newburg, and Alan Shapiro of Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff, an architecture, civil engineering consulting and construction management firm.

A month later, after a special meeting of the AIA Trustees, on August 22, 1974, the President of the AIA, James B. Prichard, scribbled a slightly different story in a memo, namely, that “the American School of Classical Studies at Athens had been offered the gift of a brownstone house… [and that] the committee of the ASCS… would consider the offer provided the AIA would make use of a portion of the house as its central office and be responsible for a proportional share of the cost… We, as well as other Trustees who have been consulted informally, believe that the offer of the American School deserves serious consideration… The Managing Committee of the ASCS, which is meeting on September 10, would like to have some indication of our interest before their meeting.”

A preliminary report accompanied Prichard’s memo providing information about the size and the market value of the building, but also posing serious questions, such as “whether the AIA should now commit itself to permanent Manhattan quarters, or whether it [was] ready to assume the burdens of ownership, or whether it wished to engage in agreements with other organizations regarding shared occupancy of one building.”

Mayer House, sketch of ground floor plan. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records. Click to enlarge.

On September 17, 1974, William Kelly Simpson, the President of the ASCSA Board of Trustees, informed Clara Mayer about the results of the School’s investigation concerning architectural and legal questions, such as the tax status of the house and the need to be removed from the New York City tax rolls and be exempt. In addition, he stated that the house should be given unconditionally. Although the School was willing to keep some of the rooms unchanged (as the Mayer family wished), this commitment could not be “made a legal restriction and condition.” The School would use “the ground floor for its publication distribution, American office, and storage and use of archaeological records, and plans,” but it would rent the rest of the space to “related archaeological or Greek oriented societies.”

Jim McCredie, Director of the School at the time, was excited about the prospect of the School finally having a U.S. base. “A central office for the School in America would be a considerable help, both for us here in Athens and for the administration of the School in general. It might relieve some of the confusion to which our present scattered administration gives rise, and it would provide a central repository for records… There is no central address in America from which one might expect to receive information about the School, let alone to achieve action,” wrote McCredie to Simpson (Sept. 6, 1974).

A Gift That Keeps on Asking

The Mayer House was acquired on January 24, 1975 with the American School as the sole proprietor. The immediate market value of the property was estimated by Bowery Savings Bank at $400,000. The estimated costs of renovating the space were in the range of $100,000 to $150,000, while the annual operating expenses were assessed at about $30,000. The School appointed a “Mayer House Committee” (Richard H. Howland, Robert A. McCabe, William Kelly Simpson, Andrew W.G. Newburg, and James A. Duncan) to supervise remodeling and management of the House.

The gift was finally announced to the School community in the fall issue of the ASCSA Newsletter in 1978.

“It is said that good gifts come in small packages, but the American School of Classical Studies at Athens received as a gift a superb five story at 41 East 72nd Street in New York, together with a modest endowment.”

Howland, the author of the essay, probably was referring to the $50,000 that Clara Mayer had promised to give to the School for maintenance because she and her brother Albert wished the School to keep some of the rooms intact.

Albert Mayer would frequently inquire about the state of the furnishings. “I had hoped that by now the School would have reached the point of an early firm date for re-doing the silk panels in the drawing room.  My thought was that the occupancy of the entire second floor by the Park people would have been sufficiently revenue-producing to have made it possible to do now what is so urgently important, and really quite overdue.” Mayer also inquired whether “Mayer House” could be added to the School’s stationery (Mayer to Howland, July 30, 1980).

Robin Haag, Ludmila Schwarzenberg, Matthew Dickie and Betsy Gebhard, ASCSA gardens 1992. ASCSA Archives, Photographic Collection.

Albert Mayer died in October 1981. It is not coincidental that a month later, the new Administrator of the Mayer House, Ludmila Schwarzenberg sent a note to the tenants of the House (Central Park Conservancy, Royal Oak Foundation, U.S. Committee for United World College Schools, among others) that the School “had entered into negotiations with the Real Estate Division of Southeby and Co. for a possible sale of Mayer House” (December 2, 1981).  Two days later, the new President of the Board of Trustees, Elizabeth A. Whitehead, announced to Clara Mayer that the School was “deeply concerned about our ownership of the Mayer House in the light of new circumstances which have changed dramatically since our acceptance of your generous gift” and that the sale of the house was under consideration. To lessen the “pain,” the School promised that “in the event the house [was] sold, a suitable permanent and visible memorial will be established by the Board of Trustees in your honor at the School in Athens, as a living and lasting recognition of the gratitude we feel…” (Dec. 4, 1981). We do not have Clara Meyer’s answer to this news, but the School, for one reason or the other, did not proceed with the sale of the house.

Mayer House squeezed among modern buildings. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, 2014.

One gets the impression that the maintenance of the Mayer House was a source of constant worry to the School. In 1984 Schwarzenberg informed the tenants of the House about an upcoming increase of 8% in the monthly rent. A year later, she notified the Trustees that one of the tenants had left Mayer House “over Thanksgiving weekend without notice” and that his roommate had asked if she could continue to stay on a month-to-month basis…”  Ludmila agreed “on the theory that it is better to have half the rent rather than none.” In addition, two more tenants, the World Monuments Fund and the Kress Foundation, had also announced that they were moving out, which meant that “rental income would fall from the current budgeted figure of $4,680 to approximately $1,600/month.” Over the next 14 years, until its sale in 1998, the Mayer House would house a host of tenants, including the Friends of the Benaki Museum, the Trearne Foundation, the Robert Schalkenback Foundation, and the Phoenix Theater.

Clara Mayer died in 1988. Her obituary composed by Dick Howland appeared in the fall issue of the School’s Newsletter (1998, no. 22, p. 15). In addition to highlighting Mayer’s intellectual achievements, Howland, an architectural historian himself, ended his piece with a paragraph underlining Mayer’s intimate relationship with the house on 41 E 72nd: “Clara Mayer loved her family home… She refused to donate the magnificent 1898 mahoganny-panelled, leather walled dining room and its accoutrements to the Museum of the City of New York, preferring to keep the character of the entire house intact.” Trustee Doreen Canaday Spitzer described the interior with enthusiasm to Philip Hamburger, one of the most celebrated writers in The New Yorker:

“As for the salon paneled and curtained in gold damask and set about with gilt furniture, mirrors, marble sculpture, classical models and objets d’art.”

It reminded her of “Zeffirelli’s Traviata!” (AdmRec 307/4, folder 13, undated [January 1983]). It is unfortunate that no pictures of the Mayer House’s magnificent interior are preserved in the School’s Archives (if anyone does have any, please consider sharing copies).

After a meeting at Mayer House in May 1992, Wallace McLeod, Professor at the University of Toronto and member of the School’s Managing Committee, described the space as “a decayed elegant red limestone building” with two commemorative plaques on the entrance pillars, one commemorating the Mayer family, the other Clara W. Mayer’s gift to the American School.

Having heard for many years about the Mayer House, I made a point to look for it when I last was in New York in August of 2014. I took several photos of its exterior but hesitated to knock on the door.  I stood outside admiring the original lanterns and the Art Nouveau carvings on the stone balustrade and around the windows, and wondered whether any of its magnificent interiors still survived.

Mayer House, view of ground floor windows to the right of the entrance. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, 2014.


Note: Since I posted the essay, with the help of Cathy Vanderpool who remembered the family name of the new owners (Loeb), I discovered an article from 2012 that features the house and also includes a wonderful slide show of its interior spaces (https://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/magnificent-obsession/). The Mayer House remains magnificent!


Archaeological Hikes and Accidental Discoveries

 In addition to administering the School’s institutional records and hundreds of collections of personal papers in the archival repositories of the Blegen and the Gennadius Libraries (which will soon be consolidated under one roof), the Archivist of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also oversees the School’s Antiquities Collection. Catalogued by the School’s former Archivist, Dr. Carol Zerner, and a host of volunteer archaeologists, the Collection features more than 10,000 sherds, hundreds of pots, figurines, fragments of sculpture, various metal objects, and roughly 3,000 coins, all registered with the Ministry of Culture. With one exception, all of the antiquities are kept in a separate, well-guarded room. The exception is a small collection of Geometric vases displayed in the Blegen Library.

“… While on a Sunday excursion we ran across a newly looted Geometric grave out at Thorikos. The sherds showed lots of joins and after talking about the problem to Gene Vanderpool, we took them down the Agora and they were [competent?] to restore a handsome amphora, an oenochoe, a very fine tripod stand and a bowl fitting it. The problem now is to inform the [M]inistry and try to get permission to keep them for the exhibit to be housed in the new wing of the School. I must talk to Mr. Papademetriou this week about it…” confided William (Bill) A. McDonald to Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, on November 23, 1958.

Shortly after his discovery, McDonald published the four vases in Hesperia (vol. 30, 1961, pp. 299-304). Dated in the Middle Geometric period, the looted grave at Thorikos belongs to an extensive Early Iron Age cemetery spread on the sides of Velatouri hill. (The Belgian School at Athens has been surveying and digging the site of Thorikos since the late 1960s.) The School also received permission to display McDonald’s finds in the newly built Arthur Vining Davis Wing of the Blegen Library, which was inaugurated in the fall of 1959. Thirty years later, in 1991, when the New Extension to the Blegen Library was completed, the vases were placed (where they still are) inside a vertical glass case, on the ground floor, next to the Rare Book Room. A short text explains the conditions of their discovery.

Three of the four Geometric vases (ASP 85-87) that McDonald found on Velatouri Hill, Thorikos. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

 A Pathfinder

In 1958-59, McDonald (1913-2000), Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota, enjoyed a sabbatical year, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He was familiar with the School since he had participated in the academic program as a regular member the in 1938-1939. An athletic Canadian, who loved to play rugby and hockey at the University of Toronto, McDonald followed his professor’s advice (no other than Homer Thompson) to enroll for graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and also spend a year at the American School. While in Athens he made use of the School’s rich library to research his dissertation topic, The Political Meeting Places of the Greeks.

In the spring of 1939, McDonald was invited by Carl W. Blegen to join his new dig at Pylos. It was in McDonald’s trench on the first day of the excavation (April 3, 1939) that the pick hit the rich cache of Linear B tablets. McDonald would return to Pylos in 1953 for another season. He was so eager to get back to the field that he offered to do anything on the dig. “Please feel no constraint in putting me at whatever job you have that needs doing-even washing potsherds. Remember how useful I proved in 1939 in the luncheon commissary department?” McDonald wrote to Blegen a couple of months before arriving to Greece (McDonald to Blegen, undated but postmarked April 2, 1953). By then he had already found a position in the department of Classics at the University of Minnesota, where Theodore Blegen (Carl’s brother) was dean of the Graduate School. It was during that season that McDonald, most likely at Blegen’s suggestion, went on a four day field trip (June 18-20, 23, 1953) in the company of Charalampos Christophilopoulos to survey the area that once comprised the Mycenaean kingdom of Pylos.  McDonald continued his project in 1955, this time with the help of Nionios Androutsakis (Blegen’s trusted foreman), and during his sabbatical year in Greece, in 1958-59.

William A. McDonald, Nichoria 1969. ASCSA Archives, Nichoria Excavation Records.

An interdisciplinarian in the making, McDonald sought to combine the results of his first field survey with a study of modern toponyms. The study of place names and their origin flourished in the wake of Michael Ventris’s decipherment of the Pylos tablets in 1952. Ventris’s discovery “had made it possible to compile a list of phonetic approximations of the names used ca. 1200 B.C. to designate the towns, villages, and districts which belonged to the kingdom of Pylos,” as McDonald explained in the preface to his publication of the place names (Place Names of Southwest Peloponnesus: Register and Indexes, Athens 1967).  To publish his research McDonald collaborated with lexicographer and professor of Modern Greek at the University of North Dakota, Demetrius J. Georgakas.  “This valuable pioneer work, however, has been overshadowed by his later achievements,” noted Nancy Wilkie and William Coulson in the preface to their Festschrift for McDonald, titled Contributions to Aegean Archaeology: Studies in Honor of William A. McDonald (Minneapolis 1985).

The Nichoria Excavation team in 1969. Except for McDonald in the middle, I also recognize Mary Sturgeon on the lower right. ASCSA Archives, Nichoria Excavation Records.

In addition to his extensive survey of Messenia under the auspices of the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition and his excavations at Nichoria, today McDonald is remembered as a “pathfinder,” who “pioneered in bringing about changes in the theory, methodology and general conduct of archaeological research in Greece” (for the quote see N.C. Wilkie, “William Andrew McDonald, 1913-2000” AJA 104:2, 2000, p. 310). He was one of the first archaeologists who applied interdisciplinary—not multidisciplinary, as he emphatically stressed— methods on his field projects. McDonald summarized his contributions to Greek archaeology in a daring speech (still remembered by Aegean archaeologists who are in their 60s and 70s today) that he gave on the occasion of his acceptance of the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, awarded by the AIA on December 29, 1981. (The speech is reproduced in the preface of Wilkie and Coulson 1985.) His speech, which criticized the elitist, art historical approach that dominated the studies of ancient Greece until the 1970s, must have felt like a manifesto to a new generation of field archaeologists, particularly prehistorians. After all, it was the time of the “Great Divide,” but unlike the “New Archaeologists” who chose to break away from classical studies and history, McDonald looked for ways to build bridges between classics (that focused on the extraordinary) and anthropology (the ordinary). McDonald strongly objected to compartmentalization and envisaged Classics departments that reached out and hired scholars with expertise in geology, metallurgy, botany, etc.

Οξυδερκείν or the Act of Sherding

Archaeologists love to take field walks (frequently dragging their entire family with them) looking for ancient walls, horos (boundary) inscriptions, pottery sherds, stone tools, or rock art. Older archaeologists, such as Bert Hodge Hill and Blegen, called it “οξυδερκείν” (to be sharp at sight), using an ancient Greek verb to describe the act of sherding. This is how Blegen discovered the site of Korakou in 1915. In search of Homeric Ephyra, one Sunday morning very early in May 1915, Blegen and his friend Emerson H. Swift “climbed the hill from the landside and immediately began to find prehistoric potsherds. There were great quantities of Mycenaean fragments scattered about the surface of the ground. We filled our pockets in no time… There were many sherds that looked earlier than Mycenaean but neither of us could identify them properly…”  By Friday, May 8, 1915, Blegen and Alan Wace, the famous British archaeologist, were excavating at Korakou.

Royal Walks

In the personal papers of Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the ASCSA (1906-1926), there is a letter from Princess Alice of Battenberg, wife of Prince Andrew of Greece (1903) and mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, written on April 7, 1922, at Mon Repos. (Prince Andrew and Princess Alice appear in the last episode of Season 2 of The Crown on Netflix.) Addressing Dr. Hill, whom she obviously knew from before, she described some recent finds from Corfu and invited Hill for an autopsy: “I wonder if you are very busy just now, for walking along the shore of our little property we found what we think are the remains of an ancient Greek necropolis. Quite close to the sea is a fairly perpendicular beak of clay which at a certain level is full of fragments of pottery and bones and traces of skeletons lying horizontally… As we are rather ignorant of the periods of Greek pottery, we send you some samples which we think are characteristic and should be glad to know your opinion… If by any chance you think the matter sufficiently interesting to investigate it yourself we should be only too pleased if you will come to be our guest for a few days.”

Princess Alice of Battenberg writing from Corfu to Bert H. Hill, 1922. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Princess Alice of Battenberg (aka Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark after her marriage). Portrait by Philip de László, 1922.
Private collection of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Public Domain.

You would think that Hill would not have passed on an invitation to take a trip to Corfu as a guest of the royal family; but he did, delaying in answering her letter for two months (his response dates to June 6, 1922) and then begging her Royal Highness not to judge his “dilatoriness intentionally discourteous.” Nevertheless he dated the sherds to the “fifth century B.C. (one or two may be of the sixth) to about the first century B.C.,” and hoped that the graves would be “properly excavated someday” because there had been “altogether too little scientific investigation of ancient nekropoleis.” What they could not have imagined –Hill and Princess Alice- was that a few months later Prince Andrew would be blamed, arrested, and court-martialed for the Asia Minor disaster of August 1922, and that he and his family would be sent into exile for the rest of their lives.

Sherding in Boeotia

Blegen was also aware of another site with large concentrations of surface material. “Near the site of ancient Thespiai on the south bank of the river Thespios opposite Eremokastro, there is a low mound which marks the place of a prehistoric settlement. As early as 1920 it was known to Professor C.W. Blegen, who first showed it to me. In recent years members of the American School have stopped there several times and have gathered samples of the fragmentary pottery that lies scattered over it whole surface,” wrote John L. Caskey in the introductory paragraph of a short, two-page article about one fragment of pottery that one of the School’s students, Charles Fleischmann, had picked up and presented to the School’s study collection in 1950 (Hesperia 20, 1951, p. 289).  The fragment, which preserves small part of a rim and side wall and dates to the Neolithic period, is highly unusual because it preserves a human face. “The brows are heavy, ending at either side in projections that are almost hornlike. The forehead, where the brows meet is unnaturally prominent and forms a sort of lug; the nose is disproportionately small. Eyes and mouth are formed by lumps of clay, deeply cut with horizontal slots… Bulbous eminences on either side of the mouth portray the cheeks,” according to Caskey’s accurate description of the fragment, who also sees “character and individuality” in the piece.

Fragment of anthropomorphic vessel found at Thespiae. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

A few years later, another student of the School, George F. Bass (Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University and a pioneer in the field of underwater archaeology) would publish in 1959 (Hesperia 28:4, 1959, pp. 344-349), at Caskey’s instigation, a small collection of Neolithic steatopygous figurines in the ASCSA study collection, also from Thespiai. With accentuated breasts and buttocks and well-defined navels, the Thespiai figurines fit within a strong, local Boeotian tradition with parallels in near-by Chaironeia and Eutresis.

Young George F. Bass at Lerna, 1956. ASCSA Archives, George F. Bass Photographic Collection.

Caskey was intrigued by the site, and, if he had had the time, I think he would have applied to conduct excavations at Thespiai. But he was near the end of his term as ASCSA director (1949-1959), and already involved in another major prehistoric excavation at Lerna in the Argolid. His interest in prehistoric Boeotia, however, led him and Elizabeth Caskey to revisit the site of Eutresis, dug by Hetty Goldman, in 1958 to conduct a one-season dig. In addition to refining the stratigraphical sequence of the site, the Caskeys also found fragments of two Neolithic female figurines, also “built up with pellets of clay,” like their “sisters” from Thespiai and Chaironeia.

I became aware of the Thespiai figurines in the School’s study collection about three years ago when Kalliope Sarri of the University of Copenhagen visited the Archives to examine them for inclusion in an article she was writing (“The Neolithic site at the Thespiai Magoula,” for the Boeotia Project, vol. II: The city of Thespiai, ed. J. Bintliff, E. Farinetti, B. Slapšak, and A. Snodgrass 2017). In fact, we had to re-identify some of the Thespiai figurines since their “provenance” had been lost over the years. Thanks to Bass’s article, this was easy to do.

One of the Neolithic female figurines (AST 36) found at Thespiai and published by George F. Bass. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

Sherding: A No-No

Many study (or teaching) collections in archaeology departments of Greek and foreign universities have been built through οξυδερκείν, at a time when Greek Law still allowed for the collection of surface material. Today the act of “sherding” should be limited to a brief, in-situ examination of the material before fragments are placed back on the ground without any disturbance of their context. Archaeologists have become very conscious of the dangers of destroying evidence valuable for future archaeological surveys. We are, however, still able to glean important information from these earlier methods and data. In 2015 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first investigations at the site of Korakou and inspired by Blegen’s οξυδερκείν, the ASCSA organized a conference that featured results from both old and more recent fieldwork in the Corinthia. This scholarly bridge would no doubt have also pleased the likes of Bill McDonald.


 


“If a Jesuit should prove not to know Latin we’d better shut our doors!”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. I

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.


Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987)

Last summer, I began researching the life of Professor Gertrude Smith at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School), particularly in her role as Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships. (On Smith see D. Rogers, “Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene.“) Smith guided the selection process of students during the Academic Year and the Summer Session (SS) deftly for nearly 20 years (1945-1963). Delving into her correspondence with various people associated with the School, I was struck by one letter in particular, as she was discussing Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987), and his desire to be a SS Director at the School in 1961:

I wonder with him just what the Roman Catholic situation would be. Don’t think I have anything against the R.C.’s. I haven’t, but I do not want the summer session turned into an adjunct of the church, and, if he once does the school, I foresee an avalanche for that particular summer of applicants for that particular summer of applicants from people who have used his dratted Homeric Greek books and who will be urged by their priest or nun teachers to take the session when they can have it under his guidance. In the two sessions which I have done I have had each time four or five Roman Catholics, but I could usually control that and get them meatless meals when they had to have them and get them to places where they could get to church on time and so on. But we do not want the summer session dependent of the Roman Catholic church, and I think it might be if Father S. were leading around people, the majority of whom were R.C.’s. (ASCSA ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 26 October 1960)

Did this mean that the School, as a whole, had a bias against Roman Catholics? Certainly this would not be unheard of in American academic circles. Even as late as 1977, Catholic priests were still noticing a bias in academia, which stemmed from deep-roots in America against Catholics (particularly immigrants from Catholic countries of Europe, creating a so-called nativism, or bias, in society). Fr. Andrew Greeley noted that people often told him not to wear his collar, or he would not be taken as serious as his lay counterparts. Indeed, he questioned:

Is the nativism in education conscious or unconscious? I suppose the best answer is that it doesn’t matter. Those who ask, Isn’t Catholicism incompatible with independent intellectual activity? might as well be asking, Isn’t it true that blacks have a distinctive body odor? Or, Isn’t it true women are happier at home raising children? The person who asks the question is prejudiced whether or not he knows it. (Greeley 1977, 43)

Further, the School has been noted for occasionally making less-than-polite comments about religious groups outside of Protestantism, particularly Judaism. In correspondence in the early twentieth century, if an applicant was Jewish, oftentimes that was noted in their files (See J. L. Davis, “A Preamble to the Nazi Holocaust in Greece: Two Micro-Histories from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.”) While this did not hinder students and scholars of Jewish origin from coming to the School, it is disconcerting to a modern academic audience that such issues would indeed be brought up.

So I began to go back through the Archives to see if there were any anti-Catholic tendencies in the School’s past, as Smith’s letter of 1960 had the potential to suggest. What I did find was a fascinating history of Catholic religious figures (of both genders) coming to the School as students and scholars and flourishing. Almost from the beginning of the School’s foundation in 1881, Catholic clergy had been part of our history, with the first Catholic priest in 1887-1889, Fr. Daniel Quinn.

Fr. Daniel Quinn: An Overt Philhellene

Daniel Quinn (1861-1918) completed his A.B. and M.A. at Mount St. Mary’s College (Maryland) in 1883 and 1886 respectively. Fr. Quinn would then go to the ASCSA as a student from 1887-1889. At the School, he was reported to be one of the students that excelled in learning Modern Greek, while focusing on Greek philology, including research on topographical elements important in Greek mythology, such as the hills of the Aegiplanctus and the Arachneum (Annual Reports 7 (1887-1888), pp. 8 and 43-45; 8 (1888-1889), pp. 38-39). After two years in Athens, Fr. Quinn returned to the US, where he was subsequently appointed as a Professor of Greek at the newly established Catholic University of America in 1891. As was the custom in America at the time, Fr. Quinn was sent back to Europe to complete his PhD, working at the University of Berlin (1891-1892), and finishing his studies at the University of Athens in 1893 (Klingshirn 2016). Fr. Quinn’s dissertation was written in Modern Greek, and the subject of which was based on Christian epigraphy in Greece, evident in later articles he published (Quinn 1902).

Fr. Daniel Quinn. Photo: Catholic University of America, Archives.

Upon completion of his dissertation, Fr. Quinn returned to Catholic University, where he began to build up the Department of Greek and Latin. Around that time, he helped to establish the Washington Society of the Archaeological Institute of America (Klingshirn 2016). And it was clear that his love of Greece, especially its history and language, was a prominent part of his teaching at Catholic: “An overt philhellene, Quinn’s zeal was manifested in his spelling habits (Keramics, Mykenaean, Sophokles) and in his Academy of Hellenic Studies, which students were eligible to join upon completion of a thesis of four thousand words, written in Greek or Latin. In 1895-96, Academy discussions (to take place in Greek!) centered on Aristophanes’ Acharnians and Sophocles’ Antigone, and were reported in the quarterly in-house journal Deltion” (Klingshirn 2016).

Quinn continued at Catholic University until 1897, when he resigned his position, “dissatisfied with the University’s level of support for Greek studies” (Klingshirn 2016). In all likelihood, Fr. Quinn quit his post, because the university would not hire his brother as an instructor of Greek, despite the fact that there were only three students at the time (Nuesse 1990, 112). In a letter to John Gennadius of 27 December 1897, Fr. Quinn informed him of these new developments: “Since the time of my last writing to you I have undergone a number of changes of circumstances; I have resigned my professorship at the University, forced to do so by motives that appealed to my sense of duty and honor. This step brings with it a number of temporary loses; and I must begin life anew. I leave America for Greece early in February. There I shall study everything that pertains to Hellenism. I shall be among friends, I am sure” (Joannes Gennadius Papers, Box 10.3, Folder 3).

Indeed, it seems that Fr. Quinn made it back to Athens. There he continued to work on his studies of the Greek language, including a number of articles that appeared in American magazines—and later collected in a volume aptly titled, Helladian Vistas (Quinn 1908). From 1900-1902, Quinn was again a member of the ASCSA. In 1902, he was appointed the rector of the Leonteion (Lycée Léonin/Λεόντειο Λύκειο), on 4 Sina Street, which was originally established by Pope Leo XIII as a secondary school for children of Catholic parents in Greece and later acted as a Catholic seminary for Catholic priests of the Greek East (Quinn 1907; Quinn 1908, 40). (The Leonteion continues to operate today, in a different location, as a Marist Roman Catholic School, which has taught numerous Greeks, including the late Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos and the composer Vangelis.) Fr. Quinn returned to his birthplace of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he became the pastor of St. Paul’s Church there, in addition to being a professor at Antioch College there, until his death in 1918.

Lycée Léonin on 4 Sina. The building no longer exists. (See a wonderful video by Dimitris Tsalkanis here.)

It is apparent that Fr. Quinn was able to learn Modern Greek with ease and facility, given his background in classical languages. And this must have been case with a number of other students of the ASCSA in the 19th century, when Katharevousa (a form of Modern Greek developed in the 19th century as a cross between ancient Greek and Demotic Greek, and often spoken in literary and scholarly circles) was flourishing. Indeed, Fr. Quinn remarked that:

The stranger will find that if he is able to speak classical Greek he can, by using modern pronunciation, converse with any scholar in Greece. He will discover that Sokrates and Demosthenes would be understood by the literati who to-day frequent the club rooms of the Parnassos. (Quinn 1895, 70)

With his training as a scholar of Classical Greek and Modern Greek, Fr. Quinn was aptly in a place to write on the state of the Greek language at the turn of the 20th century. In 1901, in the US Bureau of Education’s “Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1899-1900,” Fr. Quinn, tracing the historic development of the Greek language, analyzed the “diglossy” phenomenon of the language, where both Katharevousa and Demotic Greek were spoken by the same people. Fr. Quinn, in his conclusion, stated that the rise of the Demotic was “a sign of the decay of the historical national consciousness and a bad omen for the future,” but the “Philhellene will always be glad to learn that [the Greeks] take a high and noble care of their historic tongue, and that they do not intend to let it wither itself out into a few interesting glossematic dialects” (Quinn 1901, 1319). I wonder what Fr. Quinn would think of the adoption in 1976 of Demotic as the national language of Greece, and the further abolition of the polytonic system in 1982.

“The soul is Hellenic”: On the Greek Education System

Because Fr. Quinn attended the University of Athens, attending lectures in Greek and writing a dissertation in Greek, he was familiar with the Greek education system. In a long article for the US Bureau of Education, Fr. Quinn traced the development of the Greek education system from its ancient origins until his time, particularly with the rise of the university system in Greece after the Greek War of Independence (Quinn 1898). In addition to using his own experiences at the University of Athens (and presumably discussing issues with his faculty), Fr. Quinn corresponded with Greeks who had ties to the education system of the time. One example is how Fr. Quinn reached out to John Gennadius, the Greek diplomat living in London and later would give his own personal library to the ASCSA, about Gennadius’ father, George Gennadius (George Gennadius Papers, Box 10.3, Folder 3). In their correspondence of 1897, John Gennadius provided Fr. Quinn with a concise biography of his father. Fr. Quinn would then later include it in his report, highlighting the fact that George Gennadius was instrumental through his own teaching in instilling in Greek youths of the early to mid-19th century a sense of patriotism for Greece (Quinn 1898, 290-291, 309, 332).

Excerpt of letter from Quinn to John Gennadius, Sept. 13, 1897. Photo: ASCSA Archives.

Fr. Quinn’s discussion of the Greek education system, especially after the independence of Greece from the Ottomans in the 1830s, illustrates how Greece at the time was at a crossroads, particularly in how they were going to build their new nation and educate its inhabitants. Indeed, early on in his discussion, he prompts readers that they will think that the education system has foreign influences, but is unique: “the outward form of modern Greek education is German and French in character, but the soul is Hellenic” (Quinn 1898, 267). A true philhellene himself, the text is full of various admirations of Greece and its people, in addition to its growing commitment to education. For example, in discussing education in the last years of Ottoman rule, Fr. Quinn describes the situation of the Parthenon:

Yea, within the very Parthenon itself a school was opened in the year 1824 for little tots of girls whose fathers were fighting the war of freedom. We love the Parthenon for its beauty; but it is more worthy of being loved on account of having been a shelter to education than because of being the Parthenon. (Quinn 1898, 295.)

Fr. Quinn, the product of higher education system in at least three different countries, was truly a proponent of the importance of education, particularly in the humanities. In his 1898 report on education, Fr. Quinn pardoned the famous Greek general of the War of Independence, Theodoros Kolokotronis: “Old Kolokotrones said on a certain important occasion that ‘books could not be used for better purposes than for gun wads.’ We forgive him, because Kolokotrones’s gunshots were intended to protect home and altar” (Quinn 1898, 295). But more broadly, Fr. Quinn argued in 1896 that higher education, especially from his viewpoint in the US, was to publicly educate a populace to help train new leaders. And the bedrock of such an education was the humanist tradition, and he still regarded “the philosophic and classic studies, which have created the modern university, as the studies best suited to remain its centre” (Quinn 1896, 21). Thus, with classics at the core of public education, we could build a society that was well equipped to better itself.

Fr. Quinn evidently loved practically every aspect of Greece, which began with his early education in Greek and Latin. And the ASCSA was Fr. Quinn’s entrée into the world of Athens and Greece—a point he never forgot. In his 1898 report on education, while he mentions the other foreign archaeological schools of the time, he naturally spent more time describing the mission of the ASCSA, as:

American archaeological or classical students and scholars visiting Athens have found at the foot of the southeast slope of Lykabettos an institution that they may take just pride in. They find there an excellent library, adapted especially for the study of the art, topography, epigraphy, language, and literature of Ancient Greece. They find a small knot of young, enthusiastic men, who find highest delight in delving, now by book and now by spade, into the marvelous life of the people which has been the civilizers of the world. (Quinn 1898, 336.)

ASCSA Library, 1902

As one of the first prominent example of the Catholic clergy, Fr. Quinn could have been the exception to the rule, as Smith’s invective at the beginning was quite harsh against Roman Catholics at the School. But we will delve further into this problem in next month’s post, and offer a resolution…


Author’s Note

I would like to thank Eleftheria Daleziou of the Gennadius Library Archives for helping me with documents related to the Gennadius family—and her willingness to reach out to other archival institutions in Athens on my behalf. Further, I must thank Shane MacDonald of the Catholic University of America’s Archives for providing a photograph of Fr. Quinn in their Photographic Collections. And, finally, I thank Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan for always supporting my intellectual journeys in the Archives of the ASCSA.


Works Cited

Greeley, A.M. 1977. “Anti-Catholicism in the Academy.” Change 9.6: 40-43.
Klingshirn, W.E. 2016, 3 October. “Early History of the Department, 1891-1918.” The Catholic University of America, Department of Greek and Latin. http://greeklatin.cua.edu/about/earlyhistory.cfm
Nuesse, C.J. 1990. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.
Quinn, D. 1895. “The American School at Athens.” Catholic University Bulletin 1: 65-72.
Quinn, D. 1896. “The Duty of Higher Education in Our Times.” Transactions of the American Social Science Association 34: 15-28.
Quinn, D. 1898. “Chapter VIII—Education in Greece.” Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1896-97 Vol. 1: 267-348. Washington,    D.C.: Government Printing Press.
Quinn, D. 1901. “Chapter XXIII: The Language Question in Greece and Some Reflections Suggested By It.” Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1899-1900 Vol. 2: 1297-1319. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Press.
Quinn, D. 1902. “Των τελευταίων αιώνων επιγραφαί Ζακυνθιακαί.” Αρμονία 553-600.
Quinn, D. 1907. “Modern Diocese of Athens.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by C.G. Herbermann, Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Quinn, D. 1908. Helladian Vistas. Yellow Springs, OH.


FULBRIGHTING IN POST-WW II GREECE (1952-1953)

The Surplus Property Act of 1944 was an act of the U.S. Congress which allowed the Secretary of State to enter into agreements with the governments of foreign countries for the disposal of surplus American property (mostly WW II scrap) abroad. The Fulbright Act, as it is better known today, became a pioneering platform for educational exchanges between the U.S. and a large number of countries, thanks to an amendment introduced by a young Democratic Senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, in 1945. The amendment allowed the sale of surplus property (e.g., airplanes and their spare parts, arms and ammunition) to foreign countries in exchange for “intangible benefits.” One of those benefits, at the insistence of Senator Fulbright, who had been a Rhodes Scholar as a young man, involved the international exchange of scholars. Since foreign governments did not have enough dollars to pay for the purchase of surplus material, the Act allowed them to use their local currencies to pay the expenses of American scholars studying in those countries.  Fulbright strongly believed in the transformative value of educational exchanges, that they could “play a major role in helping to break down mutual misunderstandings,” and contribute to world peace. On August 1, 1946, President Truman signed the Fulbright bill into law.

Graveyard of American jeeps after WW II

Senator Fulbright

The first European country to sign the Fulbright Agreement was Greece, on April 23, 1948.  The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School herefafter) with its superb reputation, was one of the immediate beneficiaries of the bi-national agreement. The School claimed that it was the only place of higher learning where American students could apply for research grants to carry out advanced work in classics and archaeology. “It is of course possible for Americans to enroll in the School of Liberal Arts in the University of Athens; but the lecture courses are largely theoretical, library and other facilities are sadly inadequate, and the language problem constitutes a difficult hurdle” argued archaeologist Carl W. Blegen to Gordon T. Bowles of the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils on September 15, 1948 (AdmRec 705/1, folder 1). Blegen, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati, had been appointed as Director of the American School for a year (1948-1949). Having served the interests of the School for a long time, Blegen naturally cared first and foremost for the institution’s well-being. Blegen and others, such as Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, saw in the Fulbright Act a new source of income to finance the School’s operations and, especially, the research that was carried out in the Athenian Agora. I have written elsewhere about the curious entanglement of the American School with the Fulbright Foundation in the early years of the program’s implementation, and I will be talking more about it on November 30th at Cotsen Hall in a joint event organized by the ASCSA and the Fulbright Foundation on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »


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. Read the rest of this entry »


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. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »