Posted by Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.
“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”
Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997).
While Smith was a prominent scholar and professor of ancient Greek, it was not until 1948 that she first made it to Greece. That summer, she was an ASCSA Summer Session (SS) participant, which provided her six weeks with nine other students to travel throughout Greece. Despite the post-War conditions of the country, particularly the fact that many of the museums were still closed, it was clear that Smith was hooked (AR 67 (1947-1948), 50).
The following academic year, in 1949-1950, Smith served as the Annual Professor of Greek Literature at the School. The annual professor offered a course to students of the Academic Program—the main goal of which was to expose American students to the history and archaeology of Greece on site. Smith decided to offer a seminar on Thucydides, which focused on examining the topography in person mentioned by the author (e.g., the siege of Potidaea). In addition, Smith became an integral part of the life of the School, as the then School Director, John L. Caskey, mentioned: “Giving up her right to one of the private houses, she has lived in Loring Hall [the School dormitory] with the students and taken part in their activities with great good humor. This fact in itself has contributed notably to the success of the year’s undertakings” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 30). That year’s students included Kevin Andrews, Anna Benjamin, Evelyn Harrison, Michael Jameson, Evelyn Lord Smithson, and Frederick Winter.
At the end of the year, Smith was worried that her students at the School were not as well qualified in the Greek language as she might expect. She also observed, however, the hard work of the students and the benefits of a year at the School afforded them:
“They have learned to study and to travel with independence. I am happy to report their keen interest in modern Greek life and affairs, an attitude which is a healthy one for the best interests of the School” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 57).
Thus, with Smith’s first extended amount of time in Greece in the late ‘40s, she learned a number of things, particularly as a scholar of ancient Greek. Students of the ASCSA should be well-rounded, especially in their language skills—but perhaps more importantly, they should be given the opportunity early in their career to experience the splendor of Greece and all that it had to offer. Smith herself even stated that she relished the: “several months in the midst of the beauty of Greece in the delightful and stimulating surroundings afforded by the School. This year will be of inestimable value both in my teaching and in my scholarly investigation” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 55).
GETTING STUDENTS TO GREECE
By 1950, Smith was in a prime position to be able to get students to Greece in the Academic Program and the Summer Session of the ASCSA. Smith was the Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (CAF) from 1945-1963—nearly 18 years! The CAF processed and evaluated the students who wanted to attend the School, whether during the year or in the summer. For the Academic Program, of paramount importance was a strong background in the ancient Greek language, demonstrated after 1952 through examinations taken by prospective students. Smith in her correspondence with various School Directors and Chairmen of the Managing Committee (MC) constantly refers to the necessity of language training, especially for archaeologists (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 28 May 1959). Indeed, the debate rages on today—with new structural changes to the Greek exam recently announced. (On the issue also see an older post by Jack L. Davis, “Barbarians at the Gate”.)
Smith’s Chairmanship had wide-ranging effects on the School. While concerned with the Greek language, Smith’s main goal was to be able to afford an opportunity for students from a variety of backgrounds to travel to Athens. Smith herself states that one of the main functions of the School is “to afford the opportunity to the uninitiated to get some acquaintance with Greece and really to learn something of its history, art, literature, and monuments” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 16 September 1957). She was also concerned about the fellowships that the School offered, especially how the School promoted the study of many parts of Greece’s history, including the Byzantine period. In order to help students of Byzantine history, Smith explored: “… the possibilities of diverting one of the School fellowships to Byzantine studies. Louis [Lord] tells me that this is impossible. They were established as fellowships for classical studies and with classical studies they must remain. […] So I think what we have to do is to raise a fellowship which is primarily for Byzantine studies or else get some students over there on special fellowships from their own universities” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 27 May 1955). It would not be until 1963, however, that the first Gennadeion Fellowship in Post-Classical Greece was awarded (Meritt 1984, 323).
The School’s Summer Sessions was another conduit through which Smith could ensure that students were able to go to Greece. The SS only had an application, without exams (unlike the Academic Program), which allowed for a wide variety of students who applied, from undergraduate and graduate students, college professors, to secondary school teachers—which is still the case today. By 1960, for the 20 available spots, the CAF had 70 applications (AR 80 (1960-1961), 44). Application numbers perhaps went up starting in 1958 with the dissemination of a new SS brochure by Smith, aimed at promoting the program and decreasing the amount of correspondence she received from potential students (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/5, Folder 4). While the tuition, room, and board for the SS were not prohibitively expensive in the 1950s (roughly $500 for the summer), Smith wanted to ensure that it would be made available to the most qualified students through a series of fellowships. Eta Sigma Phi started a matching-grant program with the ASCSA in 1957 (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 2, 4 December 1956). Smith herself also provided funds to start the Bert Hodge Hill Scholarship for students. In 1958, seeing the need for a very well-qualified student, Howard E. Oagley, to attend, Smith anonymously gave money to start the fund (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 2 February 1960). The Hill Scholarship continues to this day for SS students.
By the end of her tenure, Smith was instrumental in paving the way for non-Americans to apply for School membership, including well-qualified Greek students at U.S. universities (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962). In 1962, the School began to question whether or not it could accept students who were not American or Canadian citizens to the School. One of the first times the issue came up was in 1961, when Elly Travlos, the daughter of the School’s architect, John Travlos, applied for membership to the School (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 13 February 1961). Despite beginning her own graduate work in the U.S., the CAF had to deny her admission, because she was a Greek citizen, as per the rules of the MC (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 March 1961). The issue came up again the following year, when a Greek student at Bryn Mawr College, Maria Coutroubaki (the future wife of Joseph Shaw), who was on their Riegel Fellowship, inquired about School membership, under the advice of her supervisors, Machteld Mellink and Mabel Lang (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962). The Bryn Mawr professors cited precedent, namely the cases of Brunhilde Sismondo Ridgway and Claireve Grandjouan, who, according to Smith, received membership before the rule was in the MC Handbook and the fact that they did not apply directly to the CAF. Smith liked Coutroubaki’s qualifications and had no problem admitting her, in a letter to Bellinger, but:
“I don’t want trouble with other institutions if their darlings are rejected. The rule as stated in the Handbook has proved useful in a number of cases in rejecting undesirables, but one does not want to blight a really good potential archaeologist. I think the matter should be discussed at some length” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962).
In direct response to the issue, director Henry Robinson did not think that the CAF should bend the regulations, as Bryn Mawr professors should know them, especially Mabel Lang (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 April 1962). Robinson elaborates his concerns, which by the end, seem more like diplomatic issues than anything else, as he could potentially admit:
“… a Spaniard, a Belgian, a Hollander, a Pole, or the like. I wonder, however, whether it is wise to make an exception in the case of a student of Greek nationality. We may in that case be infringing upon the prerogatives of the Greek archaeologists and in particular on those of the Department of Archaeology of the Universities of Athens and Salonica. I am sure the professors at those schools feel that they are amply equipped to provide the archaeological training necessary for students of Greek nationality” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 April 1962).
At the May MC meeting of 1962, however, the issue came up for discussion and action. In the end, the MC would allow foreign nationals to apply for membership to the School. This was to be the last major School decision that Smith would have a hand in.
THE ADMISSIONS FOR 1959-1960
1959-1960 proved to be a big year for the CAF. In the early months of 1959, the front-runners for the White and Seymour Fellowships, given to archaeologists and philologists respectively, were T. Leslie Shear, Jr. and Ronald S. Stroud (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/6, Folder 4, 11 February 1959). Both students would win the respective fellowships for their fields. Shear, the son of the late Agora Excavations Director, was still finishing his last year of undergraduate studies. Only a year before had the ASCSA Managing Committee begun allowing well-qualified college seniors to apply and to take the examinations for School membership. Even if the MC had not changed its rules, Smith remarked to then School Director, Henry Robinson: “If Leslie had been refused as ineligible I think that there would have been an explosion that would have rocked the School to its foundations. It is unfortunate that he came along as the first test case. He has much more training in Latin and Greek than a great many graduate students have when they write the examinations and of course he has had unusual opportunities in the archaeological field” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 30 April 1959). Other well-qualified students admitted that year included David G. Mitten, James R. Wiseman, and Joseph W. Shaw. Shaw was the last student admitted that year, for whom Smith made special efforts that summer to admit (Shaw, private conversation, 4 February 2016). The year was a success, as Robinson informed Smith: “It is true that we have several prima donnas this year; but they are intelligent, even though trying. In fact, the intellectual caliber of this year’s group is much higher than that of last year’s—so is their self-esteem” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 23 January 1960).
GREEK SUMMERS WITH GERTRUDE SMITH
Serving nearly twenty years on the committee allowed Smith to shepherd generations of students through the School, many of whom have gone on to great careers in the field of Classics—in turn promoting Greece, just as Smith did. She herself led three Summer Sessions in 1958, 1960, and 1961. Smith worked with the staff in Athens to coordinate her summer itineraries for her students, which included: orientations around Athens; a Northern Trip (as far north as Boeotia); a Crete Trip, which included flying there and staying three nights to see the Mesara, Herakleion, and Knossos; the Peloponnese; Piraeus/Salamis; and a final day in Aegina for swimming after an examination (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/5, Folder 13). In 1960 and 1961, Smith even added Delos to show students the amazing archaeological site there.
Like the students that Smith admitted to the School in the Regular Program, the rosters of students in Smith’s own sessions went on to great things in and out of the field of Classics—although all with strong feelings for Greece. Many former students recount their summer with Smith with wonder, respect, and longing. Nancy de Grummond mentions:
“[Smith] struck me as very experienced and wryly skeptical about what she saw around [Greece]. As I recall she smoked heavily but managed to trip lightly across the hills and rocks, always wearing a pink hat. I remember the group saying ‘just follow the pink hat’ over the hill” (personal correspondence, 6 April 2016).
Charles Frazee describes Smith as “a person of great wisdom and someone immersed in ancient Greek History. Her judgment was sound and her concern for her students great” (personal correspondence, 22 February 2016). Smith indeed touched the lives of her students, whether they knew it at the time or not. De Grummond, who was still an undergraduate at the time of her SS, mentions that: “Years later continued to gasp as [she] learned what an array of the famous and great or soon-to-be-great [she] had encountered on that summer in 1961: Dinsmoor, Vanderpool, Smithson, Harrison, Blegen, Mylonas, the Vermeules. [She] did not know that Prof. Smith was great and famous either!” (personal correspondence, 6 April 2016). Frazee, intending to study U.S. history in graduate school, was inspired by Smith to switch to Greek history—although modern, not ancient (personal correspondence, 22 February 2016).
By 1963, Smith had been on the MC for nearly 28 years. And by this point, it is clear that in her correspondence she was tiring of her duties and obligations on the MC. In April 1963, just before she stepped down, she wrote to Henry Robinson: “I hope this letter does not sound too cranky. But I am getting awfully tired of this job. Nobody should undertake it who is trying to do a full time teaching load and at the same time do a little scholarly work. Of the latter I have not done a tap this year. The person who takes over must know what he is getting into. I think the Executive Committee should take some time to discuss what type of student we want instead of spending all the time on budget and sites to excavate. And the Managing Committee ought to get educated which they never have done” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 24 April 1963).
Smith wanted to leave before any criticisms of her work were raised, and she, like many academics, wanted simply to get back to research, although she never published a great deal. In addition to her published dissertation, she only wrote 11 articles, but co-wrote the influential two-volume work, The Administration of Justice from Homer to Aristotle, with Robert Bonner, her mentor at Chicago. Most of her published works came before 1946, when Bonner died, turning at that point to administration and teaching (Gagarin 1996-1997, p. 176). But was Smith, like many female scholars of her time, given these busy positions, so that their male colleagues could have more time to do research and be prolific scholars?
Smith passed away in 1985. Like her efforts to ensure that SS students received funding to attend, Smith left a gift of over $100,000 to the School (ASCSA Newsletter, Fall 1985, p. 9). To honor Smith’s dedication to the School and its students, let alone her devotion to Greece itself, in 1986, the MC decided to designate the SS Directors as the “Gertrude Smith Professor and Director of the ASCSA Summer Session”. The gift that Smith left to the School was allocated for SS scholarships, ensuring that future SS students may benefit from the program, as Smith intended.
Smith wanted to ensure that Greece, including its history, language, and archaeology, was studied with not only respect, but also passion. Indeed, it was her actions as Chairman of the CAF at the School, in addition to her thousands of students she taught over 48 years at various institutions, students in Eta Sigma Phi, and scholars active in any of the Classics-related organizations she touched, that have impacted countless numbers of people. Who knows how many people came to Greece for the first time because of Smith’s diligence.
And what we all share with her is a love of Greece. In her presidential address to CAMWS on 10 April 1941, she altered a fragment of Simonides to illustrate how much Greek culture has impacted modern life, saying that:
“Pericles said that Athens was the school of Hellas. Just as truly is now the school of the world” (Gagarin 1996-1997, 167).
After Smith’s death in 1985, her ashes were later scattered on the Athenian Acropolis, so that she would, in fact, always remain in Greece.
ADM REC: Administrative Records, Archives, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
AR: American School of Classical Studies at Athens Annual Report
Gagarin, M. 1996-1997. “Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1895).” The Classical World 90.2/3: 167-177.
Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton
I would like first to thank the ASCSA Archivist, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, for the opportunity to tell Smith’s story, using the archival records of the School. The Archives of Eta Sigma Phi, housed at Hewes Library of Monmouth College, were helpful in providing scans of Nuntius, the ΗΣΦ newsletter, for which I thank Lynn Daw and Tom Sienkewicz. I also had the pleasure of reaching out to a number of Smith’s former SS students and colleagues, who were generous with their memories and impressions of Smith and their own time in Greece: Nancy de Grummond, Charles Frazee, Geraldine Gesell, Ross Holloway, Suzanne Kilpatrick, Edgar Krentz, Joseph Shaw, Ron Stroud, and Susan Ford Wiltshire.
The Aunt from Chicago is one of the most beloved films in the history of Greek cinema. Produced in 1957, it became an instant hit and remained in demand for many decades. The movie had all the ingredients of a successful production: a great set and superior performances by the best actors of its time. As much as the film is a satire on the conservatism of the Greek family, it is also a subtle mockery of the “aunt’s” Americanization.
Proud of their successful relatives in America, but also feeling uncomfortable with their rapid assimilation by American culture, Greek intellectuals such as novelists Elias Venezis and Yorgos Theotokas tried to rationalize the loss of national identity by the Greek migrants. If, before WW II, stories of hardship and suffering prevailed over stories of success, after the war America’s new supremacy left little room for a narrative of failure. Instead, a new transnational narrative wanted Greek migrants — with their age-old values and in light of the bravery they had demonstrated during the war — to have contributed to the building of a new America. Novelist Yorgos Theotokas in his Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), in the wake of a visit to the United States in 1953, would go so far as to claim that “From now on, the American people will be—to a small, but considerable extent—descendants of Greeks also” (Laliotou 2004, p. 86). (For a thorough study of the Greek migration in America, see Ioanna Laliotou, Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004.)
At the same time, a new kind of philhellenism would flower in America, one stemming from the nation’s “courageous stand against the invaders, the work of the Greek War Relief Association and AHEPA, the Truman Doctrine [and] the Marshall Plan. … The period after 1940 was one of soaring philhellenism” wrote Theodore Saloutos in his well-known treatise, The Greeks in the United States (1964). The new philhellenes were no longer affluent Americans who had grown up studying ancient authors in ivy league universities, but Americans of Greek origin, who most likely had not studied Plato or Aristotle, with a revived interest in the mother country and hordes of them visiting the land of their fathers and forefathers (Saloutos 1964, p. 386).
American archaeologists working in Greece had tried already before WW II to reach out to successful Greek Americans, such as Ery Kehaya, the founder of Standard Commercial Tobacco Company (although there is no sound evidence that Kehaya ever supported the work of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter). Contacts between the Greek American community and the School did, however, escalate during WW II, especially in the context of the Greek War Relief Association (GRWA), the board of which included a mixture of successful Greek Americans such as Spyros Skouras, Tom Pappas, and Van Nomikos, Americans of such ilk as Winthrop Aldrich, Harold S. Vanderbilt, and Samuel Goldwyn, and a naturalized American-Swedish archaeologist by the name of Oscar Broneer (1894-1992).
Unlike most of his American colleagues who had joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war, immigrant Broneer followed a different path by joining Greek American relief organizations. In the GWRA found a life-long friend in Spyros Skouras, who was also invited to join the board of Trustees of the American School in 1947. It seemed natural that the School and its members would seek to find common cause with such new Greek American philhellenes. Two decades later the School would also extend an invitation to the oil mogul Thomas A. Pappas (1969-1982) in the hope that its archaeological work in Greece would appeal to him. But, although both Skouras and Pappas must have facilitated the School’s work through their high-profile professional networks, neither wrote big checks for its benefit. Instead, their “Greek benefactions” aimed at the modernization of their homeland (like the “Aunt from Chicago”). When Coca-Cola was first allowed to enter the Greek market in 1968, the “Milwaukee Journal” wrote: “This ultimate confirmation of western civilization is to be brought to the land of the Acropolis by a Greek American businessman Thomas A. Pappas of Boston… The Pappas go-ahead for Coca-Cola is part of a $27 million package deal… employment will be provided for 650 trained personnel and 4,500 laborers” (October 10, 1968).
“THEY ARE AN EXCEEDINGLY GENEROUS LOT”
Back in the 1950s, however, Oscar Broneer, former Executive Vice-President of the GWRA, recently hired by the University of Chicago, held high hopes that he could inspire the affluent Greek American community of that city to contribute to his new excavation at the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia, and thus steer dollars his way. (Dollars and Dreams is the title of another important Greek film of the 1950s.) In Chicago Broneer found a vibrant Greek community that was looking to revamp its image and establish connections to the city’s most prestigious university, as well as American intellectuals who were working in Greece. Based on his experience in the GWRA, Broneer believed that the Greek Americans were “an exceedingly generous lot, but the more progressive among them resented being treated as a minority group”; they liked to think of themselves as Americans without modification, and “they would rally to the cause better if they felt that they were part of a general program to raise funds for archaeology in Greece.” (Vogeikoff-Brogan 2008, p. 42).
Prominent members of the post-war Chicago community included businessmen John L. Manta and Andrew Kanellos, Harvard-graduate Christopher Janus, lawyer William D. Bellroy, actor and Homeric rhapsodist George J. Bourlos (who had played Prometheus in the Delphic Festival of 1927), publisher and editor of ATHENE magazine Demetrios Michalaros, and professor Philip Constantinides.
Shortly after his arrival in Chicago, Broneer pursued meetings with all the leading figures of the Greek community. With the support of Gertrude E. Smith (1894-1985), another professor at the University of Chicago, he organized luncheons for them, for interested members of the community, and for the chancellor of the University, Lawrence A. Kimpton. The purpose of making these contacts was “to bring together some representative American-Greeks to find out what they, as a group, would do for the University.” As a first-generation reformed immigrant himself, Broneer must have had a special appeal for his interlocutors, who were in search of a new group identity.
“They agreed to raise money for us for any project that we deemed desirable in terms of a better understanding of Greek culture. It is our job now to find out what we really want in the Greek Department, and they will organize a committee and raise money for that purpose. It is a very enthusiastic and interesting group, and I am confident that, over the years, they will give us a substantial sum of money” Broneer reported after their first meeting on January 31, 1951.
A month later, after a second meeting with Manta, Janus, Bourlos, Michalaros, and Jim Parry, he added that “they were delighted at our proposals that they raise money to bring a distinguished lecturer from Greece each year to the University of Chicago. They indicated that this would be a source of great satisfaction to the Chicago Greek Americans and that the program could be endowed over a period of time,” (February 14, 1951). By April 1951 a new entity, titled The University of Chicago Greek Cultural Foundation (the Foundation hereafter), had been incorporated. The Foundation aimed at “providing lectureships, fellowships, scholarships, and archaeological expeditions which [would] further our understanding of the great sequence which is Greek history.” As a start, a generous donation of $9,000 by Manta would fund a lectureship program for three years. More than this, however, Broneer wanted the Foundation to support his new excavations at Isthmia, which he planned to start in the spring of 1952. At a dinner given by Chancellor Kimpton in honor of John Manta, “the Department proposed to open up excavations in the Isthmian Sanctuary at the east end of the Corinth Canal… [the] project appealed to the guests… some of whom spoke enthusiastically about the benefits from such an undertaking to the Department of Greek, to the Foundation, and to the cause of Hellenism in general” wrote Broneer in a confidential report on July 16th 1951.
“NOTHING OF THIS HAS EVER BEEN DONE BEFORE”: THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO GREEK CULTURAL FOUNDATION
What was the novelty in all of this? “Nothing of this nature has ever been done before by the Greeks of Chicago, who pride themselves of forming the real center of Hellenism in America,” Broneer wrote to the editor of “Sun-Times.” And he was not exaggerating. It was probably the first time that a U.S. educational institution had appealed to the Greek American community for fund-raising. Furthermore, by creating a cultural foundation with a specific philhellenic mission and agenda, the Chicago Greek Community and the University of Chicago had entered into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Already in 1952, the Foundation launched a gamut of activities. In the early months, architect Constantine Doxiades, a former coordinator of the Greek Recovery Problem, gave three lectures at the University of Chicago titled : “The Greek Problem,” “Greece and the World,” and “The Road for Greece.” But, although by April Broneer had started digging at Isthmia, funding was limited. “Unless we collect more money this spring this will have to be all for this season and the University will refuse to be responsible for any commitments beyond the $1,000. We must keep a couple of hundred dollars here for operating expenses on the Foundation. Hence there just isn’t any more,” wrote an exasperated and disappointed Gertrude Smith on April 24, 1952. Donations were not coming forward. “Exactly fifty dollars have come in since the dinner for Doxiades,” further complained Smith.
“Now we have a program lined up for May 23 –the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Delphic Festival of 1927-which will take place at the Oriental Institute with George Bourlos giving readings from the Prometheus with a background chorus of maidens. Whether this will do us any good or not I have no notion, but it will be an invited audience and be given under our auspices. I hope that it will be a success.” Smith cautioned that the Foundation lacked organization and true commitment to its aims, despite Broneer’s initial enthusiasm. Even at the start one could discern the first cracks in the relationship between the University and the Greek community.
THE IMMIGRANT’S GIFTS
Although it was intended to be a collective effort, the Foundation was based on the initiative of a small minority of the Chicago Greek community and served their ambitions, never embracing the majority. In fact, for years there was no significant contribution to the Foundation other than from John L. Manta, and nearly all of that benefited Broneer’s excavations at Isthmia. On the other hand, there is also no evidence that the Greek American component of the Foundation was getting anything in return, or that there were any further efforts directed toward bonding the two parties interests — especially after Broneer managed to secure large grants for Isthmia from the Bollingen Foundation (from 1954 until 1959).
Goals diverged, and funding both for archaeology and modern Greek studies suffered. In the fall of 1959, just as he was planning to wind up the Isthmia excavations, Broneer asked Smith about a couple of pledges that the Greek Americans of the Foundation had previously made. “By the way, has anything more been heard of John Manta’s pledge of $2,000? I hope he will not go back on his promise. If I am not mistaken, there was one pledge for $500… that has not yet been paid” (Oct. 30, 1959). By January 1960 the Foundation existed only as a depleted account. John Manta was willing to support the Foundation, but when he proposed to use part of the funds to bring over another lecturer from Greece, Smith was discouraging.
“The thing we do not want is a lecturer brought over from Greece at this point. That never really did a thing for the department,” wrote Smith forgetting the reciprocal nature of the Foundation at the time of its genesis in 1952.
In “The Immigrant’s Gifts,” an essay reviewing a number of Greek films produced in the 1950s and 1960s (A Pebble in the Lake, Fanouris and his Family, The Immigrant, and Dollars and Dreams), the author concluded that the Greek immigrant was always expected to bring his wealth “to his birthplace to the benefit –personal, or at least collective—of the local inhabitants” without any expectations from the other side (Delveroudi 2006). In the case of Chicago, even when Greek American immigrants entered into reciprocal relationships, they demonstrated an inability to use them for their own benefit. The Chicago Greek community thus missed a chance to further develop an exchange program of lectureships and scholarships through the University of Chicago Greek Cultural Foundation — a precocious experiment that, had it been well-managed, could have resulted in the emergence of a prestigious program in Modern Greek Studies in the United States already by the 1960s.
Deleveroudi, E. “The Immigrant’s Gifts,” in Σε Ξένο Τόπο. Η μετανάστευση στον ελληνικό κινηματογράφο (Immigration in Greek Cinema) 1956-2006, Athens 2006, pp. 19-21.
Laliotou, I. Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004
Saloutos, T. The Greeks in the United States, Cambridge Mass. 1964
Vogeikoff-Brogan, N. “Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the 1940s,” in The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture, ed. K. Kourelis, The New Griffon 10, Athens 2008, pp. 41-48.
“The island of Skyros is fairly remote and inaccessible, on account of the winds. One consequence of its geographical location is that there is very little information about the island in the ancient authors, and the picture also given by the travelers is also fragmentary,” archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki could write in her archaeological guide to Skyros, as recently as 1998. Before her, American archaeologist Hazel Hansen, in writing about prehistoric Skyros in 1951, similarly described the island as “one of the most solitary islands in the Aegean for nearly all the other islands are nearer to one another or to the mainland.” Its isolation and the capricious sea between it and the mainland and Euboea are the reasons why Skyros is far less frequently visited…”.
This image of a remote and isolated island is not consistent, however, with the popularity the island enjoyed among students of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School, hereafter) for nearly the entire decade of the 1930s — though after WW II the island appears to have been dropped from the School’s list of popular islands to visit.
Despite its remoteness and inaccessibility, the story of Achilles hiding, disguised as a girl, in the court of the Skyrian king Lycomedes, inspired a handful of paintings of the 17th century and a large number of 18th century operas, most of them based on Pietro Metastasio’s libretto. Yet one doubts that any of these earlier works of art and music would have influenced or even been known to young American classicists studying in Greece in the first decades of the 20th century.
As part of their philhellenic upbringing, in addition to Byron’s adventures at Messolonghi, they may have heard of Rupert Brooke’s untimely death in 1915 in the sea near Skyros. Brooke (1887-1915), a young English poet on his way with other troops to Gallipoli, died of a fever on a hospital boat. His death was highly publicized in England, and Brooke achieved a postmortem Byronic reputation (see Roessel 2002, pp. 187-189, where there is an excellent analysis of Brooke’s unorthodox case of philhellenism). Without having fought for Greece, but on his way to participate in the liberation of Constantinople, Greeks had no difficulty in including Brooke in their pantheon of philhellenes.
Christmas on Skyros and the Peschke Connection
The first American archaeologists to have visited Skyros for recreational purposes were a group of close friends from the School: Dorothy Burr, Agnes Newhall, Richard (Dick) Stillwell, and the Austrian painter Georg von Peschke with his Greek wife Faltaina (née Kalimeri), of Skyrian origin. Peschke, who had come to Greece in the late 1920s, had met his future wife at the house of Paul Kahn, Faltaina’s uncle. Kahn, brother of the famous New York banker Otto Kahn, had married Euphrosyne Margeti and lived in a grand house in Paleo Phaleron. Although the exact date of Peschke’s arrival in Greece is not known, we find him drawing for the Corinth and Olynthus excavations in 1931 (for more on Peschke as a painter, see Kourelis 2007, pp. 423-426).
The Americans who landed on Skyros on December 20, 1931 were guests of Faltaina’s family, and, as such, were treated with special care by the locals. Burr (later Thompson) in her diary described in detail their activities during their sojourn on the island. When I first read Burr’s descriptions of the houses they stayed in and visited, I shared her surprise at the diverse origins of the pottery that so amply adorned the walls of Skyrian houses. “We were put to bed in a near-by house with many bronzes on the wall and china, bottles, plates of Delft, Staffordshire, Willow-pattern, Majolica, Skyros, Venetian glass, and many unrecognizable sorts on the walls and brackets.” In another case, when they were visiting the house of one of Peschke’s uncles, she describes its small room as “like a Dutch interior” and the old man as a “true collector” (entry for December 22, 1931).
Burr’s descriptions and photos were at odds with what I had grown up to think about the island’s modern material culture. For me, Skyros meant small wooden chairs and large decorated chests («κασέλες»), once very fashionable furniture in Greek households. But why were there so many imported goods on this remote Aegean island, rarely a stopover on maritime routes? Why was there a need for every Skyrian house to display its pottery and bronzes on house walls, row after row?
The Skyrian Obsession with Art Collecting
It is impossible to understand modern Skyros without reading the work of writer and folklorist Manos Faltaits, a native of the island (1938-2012). According to Faltaits, the majority of the imported items displayed in Skyrian houses before WW II was amassed between 1500 and 1830 by means of an idiosyncratic style of piracy. Each time a ship harbored in Skyros, members of the island’s upper class would inform pirates, and claim part of the loot. After the Greek war of independence, as piracy declined in the Aegean, exotic items increasingly reached the island through the hands of local merchants. It would not be an exaggeration to describe as a fetish the passion with which the Skyrian upper class (the so-called “μεγάλη στράτα”) collected, exhibited, and attached themselves to their imported goods. The “old stuff” (“τα παλαιά”) was treated as capital, rarely sold but occasionally exchanged between families, in the same way collectors trade with other collectors. Deeply linked to social status, these objects were craved by the lower classes (the so-called «μεσαριά»), which managed to acquire them in the early decades of the 20th century. By taking advantage of the various food blockages during both World Wars, the herdsmen and farmers of Skyros traded produce for the heirlooms of the starving upper class (Faltaits 1974).
Faltaits’s analysis chimes well with one of Dorothy Burr’s descriptions. When she and Agnes Newhall were pressed by the owner of a grocery store to enter his shop, they expected to see “some modern oddity for sale.” Instead, they came across “a tiny room at a hearth, bronzes and two old Skyros chairs, an enormous walnut (?) chest filling one whole side, carved in long relief in front, invisible in the dark and inlay inside the lid in the most baroque style… Adam and Eve being driven in a car by Eros… very Venonese in style… a magnificent piece of carving, undoubtedly 17c.” (entry for December 24, 1931).
The Greek Bourgeoisie’s Obsession with Skyros
Members and students of the School would visit Skyros several times in the 1930s. In the ASCSA Archives, in the photographic collections of Richard Howland, Gladys Davidson (Weinberg), and Doreen Canaday (Spitzer), there is evidence for at least two more journeys. Unlike the photos of Dorothy Burr, whose lens captured scenes from the private lives of the island’s people, most images in the other collections are less informative, since their creators were more interested in photographing the landscape or themselves.
In 1935 Dick Howland, Carol Bullard, and the Peschkes must have visited Skyros around carnival time because in Howland’s collection there are snapshots of the famous goat dance, as well as photos of him and his friends clad in local costumes. Three years later (in 1938), members of the School would charter a boat for a grand island cruise that would take them to various Aegean islands including Skyros. Doreen Canaday’s images give the impression that the visit was short: a walk to the top of the island for some panoramic photos, then a visit to Rupert Brooke’s grave; the trip ended with some swimming on the beach.
Would the students and members of the School have travelled to remote Skyros if it weren’t for Georg von Peschke’s family connection with the island? It is difficult to answer this question definitively since Skyros had already become a fashionable destination by the late 1920s, especially among the Athenian interwar bourgeoisie whose “search for ‘Greekness’ would be linked with the burgeoning academic study of folklore” (Florou 2015, p. 129).
In 1925, folklorist Angeliki Hatzimichali (1895-1965) would publish her seminal work Skyros (Σκύρος), spearheading a mania for anything Skyrian. In the same year an international committee of distinguished Greeks, British, Egyptians, and Belgians began to take shape, with Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos as one of its honorary presidents. The mission of the committee was to raise funds to erect a bronze statue of Rupert Brooke on Skyros. Six years later, the Community of Skyros did its own fund-raising in order to upgrade its infrastructure (e.g., to build docks, roads, and public restrooms, and to repair buildings) in preparation for hosting the 300 people invited by the Committee to attend the unveiling of the monument (Anna Faltaits 2015). The statue by famed sculptor Michael Tombros was consecrated on April 5, 1931, in the presence of the Vice-President of Greece, Andreas Michalakopoulos. (The proceedings of the event were published in a small volume titled Hommage à Rupert Brooke et la poesie immortelle, Athens 1931). Not unexpectedly, one of the poets who spoke at the dedication was Angelos Sikelianos, the founder, together with his wife Eva Palmer, of the Delphic Festivals of 1927 and 1930. Dorothy Burr, who travelled to Skyros a few months after the unveiling, wrote in her diary: “a walk by Brooke’s memorial – hideous statue in a plateia” (December 21, 1931).
Another example of the Greek bourgeoisie’s Skyromania is found in Yorgos Theotokas’s novel Argo, published in 1936. Theotokas, a pivotal figure of the 1930s literary generation, has his hero Nikephoros Notaras furnishing his Kolonaki apartment with Skyrian furniture and traditional embroideries (“το επίπλωσε με σκυριανά έπιπλα και χωριάτικα κεντήματα…”).
And at the end of the decade, in 1939, Niki Perdika, in writing about the folktales and customs of Skyros, would lament the “looting” of the island’s material culture by “writers, painters, artists of every kind, aesthetes and naturalists, ours and foreigners…,”who paid hurried visits to the island, seeking instant inspiration through a superficial gaze.
“Σκύρος! Πόσοι τα τελευταία χρόνια δεν ασχολήθηκαν μ’ αυτή!” wrote Perdika in the preface to her book (1940, p. 9).
Skyros by Osmosis
There is evidence, however, that, even before Peschke, some School members were already aware of Greece’s upper class infatuation with folk art and Skyros. Although the American School would continue to furnish its buildings with European-style furniture, the Blegens and the Hills would not hesitate to accoutre one of the rooms of their house at 9 Ploutarchou with furniture from Skyros. Purchased in 1929, the house would be remodeled extensively before its owners were prepared to receive their first guests. “Tea with Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Blegen in a quaint Greek room with low table, frescoed wall, and embroideries and a hooded fire-place with tiles let in,” wrote Dorothy Burr on December 13, 1931, a week before she departed for Skyros. Just a month before, Dorothy Burr had taken her tea at the “Scyros House by the Russian Church-arranged as an original house with wooden upper story, big corner fireplace – many modern embroideries, cushions, etc. quaint low chairs, crockery decorated in white…” (November 14, 1931). Another member of the American School, archaeologist and photographer Alison Frantz, would buy a Skyrian chair for her 26th birthday as early as in 1929 (Kourelis 2007, p. 425, n. 162).
Vivian Florou, writing about the Blegen house on Ploutarchou street, has argued that the decision to create a Greek room does not simply reflect a folkloric tendency of its owners but was a manifestation of their “direct contact with the Greek bourgeoisie,” which had “clothed itself deliberately in the value of Hellenism’s historical continuity” (Florou 2015, pp. 129-130). In addition, the Blegens and Hills were aware of Angeliki Hatzimichali’s (1895-1965)work, having purchased objects from the displays of folk art that she had organized at Delphi on the occasion of the second Delphic Festival in 1930.
The ASCSA’s Skyrian Legacy
Rarely today does any member of the American School travel to Skyros. Even for Greeks, including myself, Skyros is considered an off-the-path destination. Occasionally we hear in the news about the need to preserve the Skyrian pony, and one may find imitations of Skyrian furniture in the market, but they are no longer considered fashionable or comfortable. Skyrian furniture has trickled into the School through Elizabeth Blegen’s bequest, which left the house on Ploutarchou Street and all its contents to the ASCSA. Today, one can find it dispersed in various buildings, including the houses of ASCSA’s Corinth Excavations.
A few years ago I tried to identify some of the Blegen house furnishings. I was able to match a verbal description with a curious jug (κανάτα) with a painted inscription in Greek. With a bit of research I discovered that this kind of jug was produced in the 18th and 19th centuries at Pesaro, on the east coast of Italy. In decorating these vessels with Greek verses, the Pesaro potters were targeting the trans-Adriatic Greek market. What I had not realized at the time was that the Pesaro jugs were items highly sought by the Skyrians. In fact, Dorothy Burr’s interior photos of Skyrian houses show rows of them hanging on the walls. It is clear to me now that the Pesaro jug was once part of the Greek Room in the Blegen House. (Today it sits on the mantel of the Director’s “saloni.”)
For years another item of Skyrian origin hung on the walls of the Director’s house. (It is now in the School’s Archives). Only recently did I realize that this framed embroidery with floral decoration, stylized suns and peacocks, and vivid blue, red, and green colors was a προσκεφαλάδα (a pillow case for a long pillow set at the head of a bed). An almost exact parallel was included in Hatzimichali’s Skyros book of 1925 (p. 137, fig. 152) and credited to Helen Eukleides’s private collection. Eukleides is frequently mentioned in Ida Thallon Hill’s diaries and correspondence. In fact, in referring to a party given in 1950 by Lucretia del Valle, wife of U.S. Ambassador Henry F. Grady, at the American Embassy, Ida mentions a costume show, with some outfits from the Lyceum Club (Λύκειο Ελληνίδων), while “the other splendid costumes came from Benaki Mus and H. Eukleides” (Ida to Bert H. Hill, March 19, 1950). All of this resonates well with what Vivian Florou has written recently about the Blegens and the Hills: “…the residents of 9 Ploutarchou lived and breathed the grand bourgeois environment to a degree unexpected at the time in people of non-Greek descent… The households of Helen Stathatou and Helen Eukleidi, as well as members of the Petrokokkinou and Melas families, among others, were included in these social interactions” (2015, pp. 128, 141, n. 70).
Finally, a small oil painting of the island and a few engravings (based on his oil paintings from the 1930s) are all that remains of the School’s “Peschke connection” with Skyros; the engravings were probably used for a local book about the art of Skyros, published by the Syllogos Skyrion in 1955 (Kourelis 2007, p. 425, fig. 18). (Peschke’s oil paintings were recently displayed at Franklin and Marshall College and Bryn Mawr College in a show titled “Colors of Greece: The Art and Archaeology of Georg von Peschke” that was curated by Kostis Kourelis.)
Faltaits, M. 1974, “Τα διακοσμητικά αντικέιμενα του Σκυριανού σπιτιού από ιστορική και κοινωνιολογική άποψη,” Αρχείο Ευβοικών Μελετών 19, pp. 57-96.
Faltaits, A. . “Rupert Brooke: A Landmark in Skyros’ History” (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/424024/Brooke_english.pdf)
Florou, V. 2015. “The House at 9 Ploutarchou Street: A Grape Arbor and a Dense Shadow of Beautiful Meanings,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J.L.Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta, pp. 121-146.
Hansen, H. 1951-53. “Prehistoric Skyros,” in Studies Presented to David Moore Robinson on his Seventieth Birthday, ed. George E. Mylonas, Saint Louis, pp. 54-63.
Hatzimichali, A. 1925. Ελληνική λαϊκή τέχνη: Σκύρος, Athens
Kourelis, K. 2007. “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s,” Hesperia 76, pp. 391-442.
Perdika, N. L. 1940. Σκύρος. Εντυπώσεις και περιγραφαί. Ιστορικά και λαογραφικά σημειώματα. Ήθη και έθιμα. Μνημεία του λόγου του λαού. Athens.
Roessel, D. 2002. In Byron’s Shadow. Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination, Oxford.
Excerpts from Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diary, 1931 (Bryn Mawr College Special Collections). Her photographic collection at the ASCSA is available online at: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/digital-library/resources-listing-all-departments
“By myself in a Boeotian village, with the cry of the wind and drunken men in my ears! I love this place; it is so full of interest and a sense of real thing – seeing weddings whereat one reddens a finger… plodding one’s weary way homeward over purple fields to the din of bells like an organ cadence, knowing villagers… Oh, it is so full of life…” scribbled Dorothy Burr in her personal diary on November 9, 1924.
She was twenty-four years old and had come to Greece the year before, to study at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter). Before that, she had lived in Philadelphia and studied at Bryn Mawr College. After attending the year-long program of the ASCSA, she and Hazel Hansen, another student of the School, were invited by archaeologist Hetty Goldman to dig at the Neolithic site of Eutresis, not far from Thebes, in Boeotia. Read the rest of this entry »
Reading Louis Lord’s History of the early years of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or School), one gets a sanitized and condensed account of the building’s history (Lord 1947, 203-204). From his description, which largely concentrates on the final phase of the project, one could hardly imagine that 16 years of complicated negotiations preceded its official opening in February of 1930; in fact, a women’s hostel had been the dream of several important women, including the exceptional but controversial M. Carey Thomas, President of Bryn Mawr College (1894-1922), before various forces finally named it after a man, Judge William Caleb Loring, and made it co-ed. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Despina Lalaki
Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.
Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.
In the spring of 1934, the construction of two new archaeological museums was completed in Greece, both under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) and by the same architect, W. Stuart Thompson. Thompson had designed the Gennadius Library a few years earlier. The dedication of the Corinth Museum was grand and attended by most significant officers of the Greek Government. There was no dedication for the Lesvos Museum. Of the two museums, the one in Corinth is still standing and functioning, while the other on the island of Mytilene (Lesvos) collapsed shortly after its erection. Read the rest of this entry »