Phantom Threads of Mothers and Sons

“Dear Mother: How far are we responsible for already inherited faults? That old Sam Hill, by whom folks used to swear when they dared not take greater names in vain, brought over to Vermont at the end of the eighteenth century among his numerous children one son, Lionel, destined to surpass in dilatoriness all the other slow-going Hills of his generation. He married very tardily and begat two sons, both in due time notable procrastinators, the greater of them being the younger, named Alson, who added to more than a full measure of the family instinct for unreasoning delay an excellent skill in finding good reasons for postponing whatever was to be done. Alson Hill was my father…”.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) addressed these thoughts to his mother from Old Corinth on February 28, 1933 when he was almost 60 years old. Hill, however, never mailed the letter because she had died when he was barely four years old.

Bert Hodge Hill as a young boy and as a middle-aged man. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

We will never know what prompted Hill to compose this imaginary missive to a person he never knew. It is the only document, however, that has survived among Hill’s papers that gives us a hint of latent childhood trauma. Just google “mothers and sons” and you will get titles such as “Men and the Mother Wound”, “The Effects of an Absent Mother Figure,” and so forth, with references to a host of scientific articles about the decisive role played by mothers. Hill’s dilatoriness cost him the directorship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1926, after having served as the School’s Director for twenty years. Hill never even finished his imaginary letter to his mother. Had she been around when he was growing up, would have she corrected this family defect and taught him how to prioritize and achieve timely and consistent results? Hill must have wondered.

Hill’s letter to a “phantom mother” (read also my note at the end of the essay) and the fact that Mother’s Day is around the corner, inspired me to look for other cases of mother-and-son relationships among the people whose personal papers reside in the School’s Archives.

Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971), the excavator of Troy and Pylos, on the other hand, had a happy childhood in Minnesota with attentive parents and caring siblings. Many of his mother’s letters are preserved in the ASCSA Archives, but the contents are difficult to access because they are hand-written in Norwegian. As a result they are largely unread with only a few exceptions.  But, although Anna Blegen wrote to her son exclusively in Norwegian, he corresponded with his parents in English.

The majority of any archive (and here I am referring to our analog collections) usually consists of incoming correspondence. Letters sent out are rare and are either drafts, or, rarely, originals that relatives of the deceased (usually the “family’s historian”) have saved. In Blegen’s case, it was his nephew Robert (Bob) Blegen who preserved Carl’s correspondence to his family and then donated it to the School’s Archives in Athens. Yet, despite Bob’s care, only a handful of Carl’s letters to his parents remain.

Carl Blegen (standing, left) with his parents and siblings, 1908. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Blegen chose to write separately to his mother and father. His letters to his father, John Blegen, a professor of Greek and Religion at Augsburg Seminary, were usually long because he would often try to explain aspects of the current political situation in Greece. On August 1, 1915, Carl wrote a lengthy letter to his father about the nature of Greek politics and the “events which led up to the resignation of Mr. Venizelos as Prime Minister of Greece.” His letters to his mother Anna are shorter; hers, however, are quite long. In one of his to her, written on Nov. 16, 1916, he described the impressive discovery of two Roman statues at Corinth, while a month later (Dec. 25, 1916) he would share with her his successes as a gardener in Athens. “Gardening is almost as much fun as archaeology” Blegen confided. He often climbed Mount Hymettus in order to collect bulbs of wild cyclamen and orchid.

It would be wrong to think, however, that Blegen’s letters to his mother were trivial or mundane. A letter from his sister Martha reveals that Carl shared with his mother a lot more than just gardening adventures. “Mother was good enough to let me read that letter about Miss Schurman as you said I might. I was rather surprised to think that such a thing should happen to you for you were always making fun of others! But I might have suspected that you were very much interested elsewhere, for you have written, so seldom this last year… and I hope that when she does make up her mind it will be as you wish…” (Martha Blegen, July 31, 1913).

Anna Blegen writing in Norwegian to her son Carl. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

I have written elsewhere about Blegen’s love affair with Catherine Munro Schurman (1886-1936), the daughter of the U.S. Minister to Greece in 1912-13, Jacob Gould Schurman. Knowing how much this affair had tormented Blegen, I was curious to find out how much more he had confided to his mother. With the help of people of Norwegian descent, I was able to read parts of two letters from his mother. In the earlier one, from July 22, 1913, she inquired whether Miss Schurman’s parents were aware of his marriage proposal: ‘What do her parents say to this? Have you spoken with her father?” She ended her letter with a little warning, no doubt, revealing a mother’s instinct: “I only wish and hope that she says ‘Yes.’ Should it go against you, it would probably become quite difficult to stay as ‘cheerful’,” his mother noted. By September 12, the not-so-good news had reached Blegen’s mother. Helen had declined Carl’s proposal. “It is all for the best” Anna Blegen wrote, further adding with a touch of motherly indignation: “it seems that her family had other expectations for their eldest daughter. She encouraged Carl “to keep up his courage” and “although nothing is good, you are that much stronger.”

Carl Blegen with Catherine Schurman and her father Jacob Schurman, 1913. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Ten years later he would share very little with his mother about his relationship with Elizabeth (Libbie) Pierce. It was too complicated and perhaps too progressive to explain to his mother. After an initial “yes” and engagement in February 1923, Libbie broke up with Carl, and resumed her relationship with Ida Thallon, only to agree, a year later, to a conditional marriage, involving a liaison of four. I wonder how much of this, if any, Carl ever confided in his mother. The family was almost shocked to read on July 24, 1924 that he had married Elizabeth in Lake Placid without inviting them.

“Mother doesn’t feel equal to writing you and Elizabeth today, so wants me to do so for her. The news of your marriage was certainly a very great surprise, since you had given not the slightest intimation of any such plans. You ask if she had had any suspicions – we only wish you had given occasion for them” wrote his sister Martha on July 15.

To add further that “you know she loves you so much that whatever will bring you the greatest happiness is what she wishes for you.” Martha concluded her letter by saying that their mother was looking forward to seeing him soon. He must have hurt her even more when he and Elizabeth decided to leave for England a few days after their wedding without going to Minneapolis to meet Carl’s family. In fact, his mother would die two years later without having ever met Elizabeth in person.

If Blegen, metaphorically speaking, broke his mother’s heart in 1924, a year later, he would convey the bad news of Richard Seager’s sudden and untimely death to his mother, Gertrude McCabe. Seager (1882-1925), the excavator of Mochlos and Pseira, an islet off the coast of Crete, had taken ill on ship returning from Egypt to Crete and died at sea. In the ASCSA Archives we have his mother’s response to the announcement of Richard’s death. “It’s as you know, a crushing blow to me. He was my most cherished possession and I am alone without him… The shock was too much and for 24 hours I was dumb and blind” McCabe wrote to Blegen on May 26, 1925, thanking him for taking care of Richard’s funeral on Crete. Seager was her only child. “I shall never take Richard’s body away from Crete. I’m sure he would prefer to lie there, where his best efforts were made and his heart was.”

To end this post on a lighter note I recall a conversation I had more than two decades ago with Nancy Winter, Head of the Blegen Library at the time. She had asked me whether I had read Theodore W. Heermance’s letters to his mother; she wanted to know if I had noticed the unorthodox way with which he signed them. Heermance, Director of the School for two years (1903-1905), wrote to his mother weekly. However, instead of simply signing as Theodore (or Ted), he used his full name: “Theodore Woolsey Heermance.” Why? I don’t know. One suspects a formal relationship between mother and son, which was probably not unexpected in the upper echelons of America’s East Coast, where boys were sent away to boarding schools at an early age.

On the other hand, John Gennadius (1844-1932), the founder of the Gennadius Library (one of the School’s two libraries) maintained a close relationship with his mother Artemis throughout his life despite his frequent and long absences from Greece, as the few preserved letters between the two reveal. He addressed her as Αγαπητή και πολύτιμή μου Μαμά (My dear and precious Mother) or Μανούλα (My little Mother, a very affectionate term in Greek) even as a mature man in his late 30s. And he treasured the scrapbook of dried plants (φυτολόγιο) that she compiled for his 36th birthday in January 1880.

From the plant scrapbook that Artemis Gennadius compiled for her son’s birthday in 1880. ASCSA Archives, John Gennadius Papers.

Speaking of formal and informal mother-and-son relationships, Prince Charles of Wales most recently broke protocol by publicly calling Queen Elizabeth “mummy.” The Queen’s reaction? Rather amused, she rolled her eyes!


Note: Phantom Thread, the movie, inspired the title of my essay. In it, Reynolds Woodstock (played by Daniel Day Lewis), the renowned London dressmaker of the 1950s, cherished his mother’s memory by having sewn a lock of her hair into his jacket. More than an act of remembrance, her lock acted as a talisman and guaranteed her protective omnipresence in his life long after her death.


The Riding Goddess of Mycenae

“In the summer of 1954, while Dr. Papademetriou and I were investigating the new Grave Circle of Mycenae, we removed the fill to the south of that circle; it proved to have been the dump of a previous excavation. Its position seems to indicate that in all probability it was made up of earth removed either by Mme Schliemann or by Tsountas from the dromos of the Tomb of Clytemnestra. Among other objects found in this earth were two carved gems, one of which bears the figure of an animal, and the other a design not only interesting for its excellence of its workmanship but also important because of the subject represented,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas in the introduction of his book Ancient Mycenae: The Capital City of Agamemnon (Princeton 1957).

Tomb of Clytemnestra, 1953. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.


The Accidental Discovery of Grave Circle B

The Tomb of Clytemnestra had been robbed by Veli Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Morea, in the early 19th century; he had, however, missed the dromos. Years later, in 1876, it was cleared by Sophia Schliemann, while her husband Heinrich was digging the shaft graves of Grave Circle A. The Tomb was properly excavated by Christos Tsountas in 1897, who conducted excavations at Mycenae from 1886 until 1902. After WW II, the Greek Archaeological Service undertook the restoration of the Tomb of Clytemnestra, which, by then, was falling apart and needed urgent care. The restoration, which started in the spring of 1951, was completed by the fall of that year.

George Mylonas, ca. 1957. Photo: ASCSA Archives, George Mylonas Papers.

While recreating the mound that once covered the Tomb, the workmen discovered fragments of funerary plaques (stelai), some of which were still standing. A rescue excavation below one of the plaques revealed a shaft grave very similar to the ones that Schliemann had excavated in 1876. John Papademetriou (1904-1963), Ephor of Argolid, went back to the site in November of 1951, this time in the company of George Mylonas (1898-1988), who was on a sabbatical leave from Washington University at Saint Louis. (For Mylonas, also read “The Spirit of St. Louis Lives in Athens, Greece.” The two men knew each other well from the time when they were studying archaeology at the University of Athens, as students of Christos Tsountas (1857-1934). A careful examination of the area around the newly discovered shaft grave revealed the existence of a second grave circle dating to the 17th/16th centuries B.C.

The Athens Archaeological Society decided to conduct a systematic excavation in the following year (1952), assigning the direction of the project to Papademetriou and Mylonas. In terms of finds it yielded, the excavation of Grave Circle B proved as rewarding as that of Grave Circle A in 1876; more importantly, however, the shaft graves of the new Circle were dug and recorded in a careful and systematic manner, using the latest recording methods: Demetrios Theocharis (who would later direct important excavations himself) made detailed plans and drawings, Lawrence Angel, one of the most famous physical anthropologists of his generation, studied the skeletal remains, while Nikolaos Tombazis, an accomplished photographer, was assigned the photographic documentation of the dig.

John Papademetriou and Demetrios Theocharis, Mycenae 1953. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.

Archaeology, however, is an ever evolving and expanding discipline that follows closely the latest technological advances. About sixty years later, in 2015, the excavation of another shaft grave (that of the Griffin Warrior), this time at Pylos, would have stunned Mylonas and Papademetriou —were they alive— not only by the richness of its content but also by the recording and analytical methods that excavators Jack L. Davis and Sharon Stocker had at their disposal and applied to their dig: from photogrammetry, reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), and X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), to palaeobotany, micromorphology, sediment analysis, and DNA analysis — just to to name a few.

A Modern Mycenaean Feast

Nikolaos Tombazis’s photos were included in the books and articles that followed the excavation of Grave Circle B. After retiring from India where he worked for 30 years as a commercial representative of the Rallis Brothers firm, Tombazis (1894-1986), the father of architect Alexandros Tombazis, launched a new career as a free-lance photographer on archaeological excavations, including Mycenae. His rich photographic archive has been deposited at the Benaki Museum, which recently organized an exhibit in his honor, including photographs from India and Greece. Of the many included in the publications of Mylonas’s excavations at Mycenae, one, however, stands out, because it captures the entire excavation team in the summer of 1953: nineteen men, two puppies, and a tall girl with a bright smile, Katherine (Kate) Biddle, a student and classmate of Nike Mylonas at Vassar College. Sixty years later, Kate would inquire, through the good offices of Professor Kenneth Scott of Dartmouth College, if the American School would be interested in acquiring an album of hers with photos from the excavations at Mycenae. (See also my essay in Akoue 62, Spring 2010, p. 15.)

Mycenae 1953. The excavation team that dug Grave Circle B. Front row, center: Kate Biddle, George Mylonas, Nikolaos Tombazis, John Papademetriou (behind Tombazis) and Demetrios Theocharis (with hat). Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.

When the album arrived in Athens, we were surprised to see that, in addition to   excavation photos, the album also contained a series of beautiful landscape photos of Mycenae by Tombazis, as well as several images recording casual moments at the dig, such as the big feast that celebrated the end of the excavation, an event vividly remembered by Biddle. More in her note that accompanied the album:

“At the end of August or early September, when the dig was finished for the year, we had a Homeric feast in one of the tholos tombs near the citadel. The roof of the tomb had long ago collapsed and the debris had been cleared away. Two long tables were set up and a lamb was roasted on a spit over an open fire for several hours. When it was done we had a feast, with wine and other suitable things (salad? grapes? bread, surely) …  One workman stood guard at the circle of graves, as they were still open, with many of the contents in situ. During the feast he came running to Drs. Mylonas and Papadimitriou and reported that some German tourists were walking in the circle of graves, refusing to understand his urgent signals that they were not allowed to be there. Of course he didn’t speak German, and they pretended not to understand his communications. Dr. Papadimitriou ran back up to the site and, in German, angrily ordered the intruders to get out, with heated remarks about having had enough of Germans during the occupation of Greece in World War II.” (Let me add here that Papademetriou was fluent in German, having received his PhD from the Humboldt University  in Berlin, in 1935.)

 

Mycenae 1953. A Modern Mycenaean Feast in the Lion’s Tomb. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.

Mycenae 1953. Dancing in the Lion’s Tomb. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.


The Riding Goddess

To return to one of the two carved gems that Mylonas and Papademetriou found in the summer of 1954, while removing the old excavation fill from near the Tomb of Clytemnestra. Of clear chalcedony, lentoid in shape (0.026 x 0.025 m), the 13th century B.C. gem (NAM 8718) depicts a female figure with raised arms, dressed in Minoan fashion (with a tight girdle and exposed breasts) riding side-saddle on a mythical animal, which has the muscular body of a lion and the head of a wild horse, over waves of the sea. To the modern viewer the scene is reminiscent of the classical myth of “Europa on the Bull.”

Drawing of the Riding Goddess seal from Mycenae. Found in 1954.

A year after Mylonas published the gem, and in the aftermath of Michael Ventris’s decipherment of Linear B and Carl Blegen’s discovery of Nestor’s Palace at Pylos (what a decade for Mycenaean archaeology!), Emily Townsend Vermeule (1928-2001) included the gem in an article titled “Mythology in Mycenaean Art” (Classical Journal 54:3, 1958, pp. 97-108; for a list of Mycenaean images of riding goddesses with previous bibliography, also see Bernard C. Dietrich, The Origins of Greek Religion,  pp. 310-313). Vermeule argued that many classical myths, including that of “Europa on the Bull,” stemmed from sources with a Mycenaean foundation, having assumed their classical form “by corruption, distortion and ignorance” (p. 105). Vermeule, too, would have been happily stunned at the recent discovery of the so-called “Pylos Combat Agate” in the Griffin Warrior Tomb, a chalcedony gem that has “all the grandiosity of scenes like the Greek epics The Iliad and The Odyssey” according to its excavators.

While Mylonas discovered several engraved gems during his excavations at Mycenae, the riding goddess held a special place in his mind and heart. He used it for letterhead and had it also carved on a plaque that adorns the tympanum of the Mycenae Melathron (built in 1967-1972 by Mylonas to serve as the summer base of the Mycenae excavation team, and as an archaeology research center for Greek and foreign scholars).

Lela and George Mylonas in front of the Mycenae Melathron, ca. 1970. Photo: ASCSA Archives, George Mylonas Papers.

It was also recently employed on a commemorative marble plaque at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), set at the top of the passage that leads to the New Wiener Lab. To facilitate access, the narrow alley between the Davis Wing and the School’s stone compound wall was recently refurbished, thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Landscape architect Konstantinos Doxiadis transformed the old dirt path into a broad passage with flower beds of rosemary and Japanese pittosporum (“αγγελικούλες”) flanking one of its long sides. The donor also wanted to commemorate George Mylonas and his family with a plaque. What better way to honor him than with the imagery from his favorite gem. In Mycenae: Rich in Gold, Mylonas describes the riding goddess as θεά της ευλογίας (the blessing goddess). Whether she had really blessed his life is another story. Mylonas, nevertheless, believed that she had.

Commemorative plaque in honor of George Mylonas and his family at the ASCSA, 2018.


Note
I would like to thank Jack Davis, Jeff Banks, and Jeff Kramer for tracking down the gem’s CMS number (#167) and for directing me to Mylonas’s Ancient Mycenae.

Abbreviations
NAM: National Archaeological Museum
CMS: Corpus der Minoischen and Mykenischen Siegel


“Anything to restrain the reverend father”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. II

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. This essay, the second of two parts, was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.


In my last post, I began an exploration of members of the Catholic clergy at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School). My curiosity was piqued by the acerbic comments of Gertrude E. Smith who was not in favor of selecting Fr. Schoder to lead the School’s summer program in 1961. Was the School against admitting Catholic priests and nuns in its programs or was Smith’s dislike of Fr. Schoder personal and exceptional?

Part I examined the figure of Fr. Quinn, an accomplished scholar of Ancient and Modern Greek at the turn of the 20th century. Subsequent to Fr. Quinn ten more priests attended the School’s regular program. In addition, the SS has hosted at least 16 priests and nuns, from 1936 until 1973. The clergy came from a variety of orders, including parish priests, Benedictines (O.S.B.), a De La Salle brother (F.S.C.), a Sister of Mercy (R.S.M.), a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.), a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (S.N.D. de Namur), and two Sisters of St. Joseph (C.S.J.). But, by far, most of the priests (nearly 18) came from the Society of Jesus (S.J.), or the Jesuit order. And there were a number of interesting figures in this group, such as Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J. (1918-1998), a professor at Georgetown University, who had taught William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, Latin at Brooklyn Prep in the 1940s. Fr. Bermingham would later advise Blatty on the filming of The Exorcist, and eventually would play Tom, the president of Georgetown, in the film.

Fr. Thomas Bermingham, student at the ASCSA in 1961-62, as President of Georgetown University in The Exorcist.

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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. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

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“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. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »