Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here writes about women travelling alone through the western Balkans in the late 1930s, on the eve of WW II.


The second half of the 19th century saw the advent of mass tourism in the Mediterranean and Balkans. Despite a few blips (e.g., the Dilessi Murders in 1870 that resulted in the death of three Englishmen and an Italian at the hands of brigands; J. Gennadius, Notes on the Recent Murders by Brigands in Greece), travellers could be reasonably certain of their personal safety. Their passage was also facilitated by travel brokers and books of advice for tourists.  Thomas Cook tours began in Greece in 1868. The Baedeker guide for Greece was published in 1889 while and Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece was already in its 7th edition by 1880.

Group and individual tourism became ever more common and secure.  American students in Greece experienced violence only on three occasions. In 1872 John Williams White, first chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, was the target of an attempted kidnapping. In 1886 University of Michigan student Walter Miller was commissioned a captain in the Greek army, so that he could hunt down his assailants. Only once did lawlessness end in death, in 1925 when John Logan was shot in Aitolia by attackers who fired on members of the American and British schools, in an apparent case of misidentification (http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/pdf/uploads/ASCSA-1882-1942.pdf, p. 179).

Since the late 19th century trips for the students of the ASCSA had been institutionalized, with a Peloponnese and an island trip led by Wilhelm Dörpfeld.  The Peloponnese trip was considered too rough for women, although the first woman member of the School (1885-86), Annie Smith Peck, travelled extensively there with friends. Several of the School’s female students would also hire Angelis Kosmopoulos (foreman for many excavations, including Olympia and Corinth) and his son George (later the husband of Alice Leslie Walker), as guides for their travels throughout Greece.

The more northern reaches of the Balkans began to attract tourists, including women travellers, a bit later than Greece, and there was an explosion of women travel writers there and elsewhere in the late Victorian period (http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-07-07.html).

“The mid to late 19th century and early 20th witnessed an extraordinary number of European and American female travelers who wrote of their adventures. Industrialization had increased women’s mobility and women more easily could travel by train and streamer. As important, by end 19th century, European imperialism had made many areas of the world “safe” for women travelers. Annie Taylor, first European woman to enter Tibet, stated after she was captured, “I am English and do not fear for my life!”

In A Woman in the Balkans, “Mrs. Will Gordon” introduced her adventures in Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, and Dalmatia in 1919.

“Before the war much of the current literature of the day was written for the ‘man in the street’ and the ‘women at home.’”

Winifred Gordon, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, was attracted to the Balkans by: “much that is interesting in their peoples and problems, much that is unfamiliar in their lives and customs, survivals of a medieval age.” These were people only recently wrested: “…out of a state of virtual subjugation and misrule to the rank of modern powers…”.

But relatively few American Classical archaeologists were drawn to the reaches north of Greece.  Most members of the ASCSA arrived and departed by ship at Piraeus or travelled overland from Northern Europe via Italy. Nonetheless, the creation of Yugoslavia, carved from former Ottoman and territories of the Hapsburg Monarchy after WW I, and the founding of a monarchy in Albania, made travel safer and more comfortable, as touristic infrastructure was established, some of it, especially in coastal Dalmatia, not only comfortable but luxurious.

The new Balkan environment did attract the curiosity of two prominent members of the School, Ida Thallon Hill and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, who, in both 1937 and 1938, planned an elaborate Balkan itinerary that would lead them from Athens to Italy through Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia to Rome, and, the following year, through Albania to Dalmatia.  It is our good fortune to be able to experience these areas through the eyes not only of two distinguished scholars, but of two prominent woman archaeologists — since their diaries and letters are preserved in the Archives of the School.

Ida’s diaries provide a complete, continuous account of the two trips.  In them she records hers and Libbie’s daily activities in near excruciating detail, with sentences flowing like streams, often without punctuation and always heavily sprinkled with abbreviations and references to others by one initial only.  She clearly intended her diary to serve as an aide-de-memoire and not to be shared with others.

These sources present a picture of two women comfortable in their relationship, devoted to each other and to their husbands, to whom they sent letters along the way. They had, after all, been a couple for three decades, since first meeting as professor and student at Vassar in 1906, and had been living together for a decade as components in the so-called Quartet at No. 9 Plutarchou St. in Athens. The depth of their shared interests is also clear. Both women were endlessly fascinated by landscapes and ethnography as well as antiquities, by Renaissance architecture and medieval, and both were thrilled at the opportunity to see with their own eyes what was already familiar to them from books.  Ida’s most commonly used adjective in her trip diaries is “splendid.”  She and Libbie downed a lot of vermouth on the trip and Ida, at least, read a dozen popular novels, appropriately among them Princess Pro Tem: A Story of High Adventure in the Balkans (1932), in which a dying king attempts to convince his American granddaughter to assume his throne.

Ida Thallon Hill and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen in their travelling gear. ASCSA Archives.

The right for Ida and Libbie to travel by themselves was a fundamental concession that had been established in 1924, only a month before the so-called Quartet was formed through their marriages to Bert Hodge Hill and Carl Blegen (see R. L. Pounder, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Carl W. Blegen: Archaeological and Personal Narratives, Atlanta 2015). And they continued to exercise their right to travel together until Ida’s death in Libbie’s arms, during a trans-Atlantic crossing in 1954.

Guide books of the period, such as Baedeker’s for Dalmatia and the Adriatic published in 1929, cautioned travellers to prepare for bedbugs and malaria, but Ida and Libbie found no such impediments to their enjoyment. American Express offices in Athens and in Dalmatia were of assistance in helping them, and generally they were able to find someone along the way who spoke Greek, English, Italian, or German.  Failing that, there were always “’hello’ boys.”  Libbie took photographs and painted when there were opportunities. (Unfortunately, her photos and watercolors from this trip have not been preserved.)

In truth, the roads were not always the best, nor clearly signposted.  The two became lost on several occasions.  There were frequent stops for repairs to their car, typically to patch punctured tires but once to have a new part manufactured on the spot.   Their Greek driver Athanassi was up to such challenges.

Neither woman drove, and success depended on Athanassi, who, back home in Athens, tended their car at Ploutarchou 9.  It was Athanassi who drove the women as far as Italy in both years.  Both Ida and Libbie were too old to have been impacted by movements in the U.S. that encouraged women to drive.  (In 1916 the Girl Scouts had instituted an Automobiling Merit Badge.) In 1937 Ida was 61, while Libbie turned 48 in Dubrovnik.

Highlights from Ida’s 1937 diary can convey the essence of their experiences:

In Ochrid: “Hotel Bellevue, [room] 22, 2nd floor over lake, grand breeze, unpacked, washed a little before dinner, incl[uding] the famous trout.  Have to use shaky German… Hotel manager took us to bank but they didn’t know exchange rate so he lent us 500 d[inars] and said to send it from Skopelzi [Skopje].”

In addition to the citadel of Ochrid they travelled to the famous monastery of St. Naum, then only recently presented as a gift to the King of Yugoslavia by King Zog of Albania. They: “drove along side of lake, splendid, partly by shore, past a fishing village with strange boats, up and around in hills.  S[t.] N[aum] is close by Albanian frontier, fascinating site and fine old church.  By great luck got G[ree]k speaking monk. Very fine Pantok[rator] in dome … Tomb [of St. Naum] for cures with many offerings.  Went to new church with a lot of awful modern things.  To rooms of K[ing] Alex[ander I of Yugoslavia] and Q[een] Mary [of Romania], kept just the same, black ribbons and wreath.”

Alexander had been assassinated in 1934.

St. Naum Monastery in Ochrid

On the way to Skopje they experienced a: “… magnificent drive, after Struga, went past it on wrong road and were started for Albania, then back to right one.  Through splendid gorges, high banks, cliffs, well wooded, rushing rivers.  Bad washouts in places, quick repairs.  Rocks in river.  Two very fine gorges with big open valley between, grand broad basin of river.”

In Skopje: “Had tea and under escort of small G[ree]k boy Ath[anassi] picked up went, eventually, to Hrsumli House [Kursumli An] now converted into a most int[eresting mus[eum], things chiefly Rom[an], a few G[ree]k, Byz[antine], Turk[ish] etc.” This former Ottoman han still attracts visitors today and is near the new archaeological museum.

Exterior of Kursumli An in Skopje

In Kosovo there was the monastery of Decani: “all in most beautiful country – esp]ecially] chestnut groves.  Fascinating place, built by King Stephan [Oros III in the 14th c.].  Archit[ecture] astonishingly like Ital[ian], esp[ecially] Lomb[ard] … Has G[ree]k monk and did the place thoroughly …  Went later to the spring w[ith] monk for drink.  He had been before in Ath[ens].” Since 1999 the monastery has been the target of escalating attacks by Islamic radicals and is today guarded 24/7 by UN forces.

After stopping at Pec, the couple crossed the forbidding landscape of the Dinaric Alps, passed Cetinje in Montenegro, descended to Kotor (which they toured), and arrived in Dubrovnik. The stay there was special: “glad to unpack and clean up after tea in garden.  Dinner out too, dancing etc. Lovely breeze.  L[ibble] had good birthday.” Their hotel, the Grand Imperial (today a Hilton) had provided top of the line accommodations for visitors to the old city of Ragusa since 1897.

Hotel Imperial in Dubrovnik

Shopping for embroideries and for a belt and handbag for Libbie’s birthday was followed by a side trip to Cavtat (“dear little town”) to see the mausoleum for the Racic family, designed by Ivan Mestrovic, the renowned Croatian sculpture of the early 20th century (“splendid place”).

The following morning they departed for Mostar in Herzegovina, where they admired the famous (destroyed in 1993) bridge, then spent the night in Sarajevo, which turned out to be an impressively civilized place. There the couple stayed in a: “Big hotel, rather ruined splendour but all well run.  Huge room.  Tea in café, also ILN [Illustrated London News], had seen Times [of London] at Mostar.”

The next day (July 1) Ida and Libbie arrived early at the city’s museum, and she found the: “coll[ection] far richer than I imagined and beautifully arranged, a splendid place.”

The highlight of the remainder of the 1937 Dalmatia trip was a visit to Salona, the Roman capital of Dalmatia, and Diocletian’s palace at nearby Split.  After that, we leave them as they cross the border at Babindub into the Italian territory of Zadar.

The following year, when the two women repeated their journey, and we have a long letter sent by Libbie to Carl Blegen Dubrovnik.

Libbie’s letter to Carl, June 26, 1938. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

After Skopje, this time, they headed west over the high pass at Qafa e Thanës, where Libbie wrote: “it felt as if we were on top of the word.  The roads are magnificently engineered but lacked hard surface and we got one puncture.”

They then descended to lunch in: “in a beautiful locust grove outside Elbasan where they had chairs and tables and coffee for picnickers and washed our cherries for us, ”not realizing that the well-known Scottish ethnographer and archaeologist Margaret Hardie Hasluck, whom they had formerly known from the British School at Athens, lived there — until it was too late.

In Tirana they did find an old acquaintance, the U.S. Ambassador Hugh Grant.  The cavass (the guard) of the legation helped them with further travel plans, including booking a good hotel room in Shkodra, which was flooded with German tourists.  Libbie and Ida dined with Ambassador Grant where they met the famous English major-general Sir Jocelyn Percy, commander of the Albanian gendarmerie under King Zog.

Tirana, ca. 1938

The highlight of the following day was a visit to the new Agricultural School at Kavaje.  Founded by American Protestant missionaries, the school’s central building was designed by W. Stuart Thompson, architect of the Gennadius Library and long a friend of the Hills and the Blegens.

The Agricultural School at Kavaje built by W. Stuart Thompson, architect of the Gennadius Library.

Did Ida and Libbie have any sense of what was to come in 1939 – a breakaway semi-autonomous Croatia, formed under pressure from fascist Italy and Germany? – the Italian invasion of Albania? These events would change the world and the invasion of Greece in 1940 would further shake and reshape the Balkans. It would be more than a decade before a trip through Yugoslavia like theirs would again be possible, and for Albania not until the early 1990s when I first visited.

In 1937, Rebecca West, acclaimed British authoress, was also exploring Yugoslavia with her husband. Who knows? They may have passed Ida and Libbie on the road.  Her acclaimed account of what she saw, heard, and read presaged the ultimate fate of Yugoslavia as a failed state. The writing was on the wall. But if Ida and Libbie imagined the calamities to come, we find no thread of it in the writings they have left behind.


In the Archives of the Classics Department of the University of Cincinnati, there is a film from a trip to the western coasts of the Balkan peninsula shot in 1935 by George Warrington of Cincinnati. You can view an excerpt (1′) of this valuable film showing Sarajevo here:


Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit in Greece, 1928: The Letters of Robert Stroock

In the Main Reading Room of the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library in Athens, on the narrow side of one of the old bookcases, hangs a heavy bronze plaque inscribed: “In Memory of Robert L. Stroock: A Lover of Ancient Greece. MCMXXX”.

Unlike other commemorative plaques at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) which have often changed locations or even have been withdrawn from public view over the years, this one has remained in the same spot since it was dedicated shortly after Stroock’s death in 1930.

On display in the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Two Meaningful Gifts

In Louis E. Lord’s A History of the American School of Classical Studies (1947), the Stroock name is mentioned twice, not in connection with Robert but with his father Sol, a prominent New York lawyer and an active member of the Jewish community in New York at the time. (His firm, which was founded in 1876, still exists as Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.) The first time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is in connection with the death in 1933  of James Loeb, an important philanthropist and a major benefactor of the School. “At his death it was found that he [Loeb] had been one of the School’s greatest benefactors. He left to the Trustees of the School five hundred thousand dollars to be used in conducting excavations in Greece. ‘Greece’ was to be interpreted as meaning ancient Hellas. A liberal interpretation of this by the executor, Mr. Sol M. Stroock, also a friend of the School, gave the School the benefit of the income on this legacy from the time of Mr. Loeb’s death,” wrote Lord (p. 245) in a somewhat cryptic paragraph, perhaps alluding to some complications with Loeb’s will, which  Stroock was able to deal with.

The next time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is on the eve of WW II, when Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, announced a special gift “of three thousand dollars through Mr. Sol M. Stroock, to be used as a fellowship fund to assist properly qualified Jewish students who had been driven from Germany by Hitler’s persecution. To this German Refugee Fellowship, Heinrich Immerwahr, a graduate of Breslau, was appointed. He had just received his doctorate from the University of Florence and went immediately to Greece, rescued thus from a German concentration camp” (Lord 1947, p. 267).

This was the second gift by the Stroock family to the American School within a decade. Upon the death of their son Robert in December 1930, Sol Stroock established a Library fund of about $1,500, to be used for the purchase of books. (He established a similar fund of $20,000 at Harvard College, his son’s alma mater.)  From 1932 until 1955, the Robert L. Stroock Fund appeared as a line in the School’s annual budget. (It appeared once again as the Robert L. Stroock Fellowship in 1969 with Frederick A. Cooper as its recipient.) Yet, there is no special mention of this fund either in Lord’s History or in the ASCSA Annual Reports. One would think that the premature death of a School member, one that was also followed by a commemorative gift, would have been noted in either publication.

“Be lowly wise…”

A graduate of Harvard College, Robert Louis Stroock attended the ASCSA program in 1928-1929. According to his application , which is preserved in the School’s Archives, Robert was a late arrival, having reached Athens in late October 1928, almost a month after the regular program had started. A search on the internet produced nothing about Robert Stroock in contrast to the many entries about his father.

What prompted me to write about Robert Stroock, the mysterious “lover of Ancient Greece,” was the recent re-discovery of a book that I had forgotten we had in the small reference library attached to the School’s Archives. Titled Letters of Robert Stroock: Written at Various Times, to Members of his Family and to some of his Friends, it was compiled, and privately printed in 200 copies, by Sol Stroock in 1932. I must have leafed through the book before, but it was only lately that I noticed that among the many letters written from England and Norway, it also contained about fifteen letters from Greece composed in 1928-1929, when Robert participated in the School ’s program. Since this period is poorly documented in terms of personal papers and photographic collections in the School’s Archives, I delved into the book with a renewed interest. While reading it, I was also struck by Robert’s writing style. These were the usual, descriptive (and sometimes gossipy) family letters that I have been accustomed to read in the School’s Archives. There is, however, a certain mysticism in Robert’s composition, as well as a profound need to go deeper. “He took the whole field of knowledge for his own,” wrote his father in the preface of the book.

Robert Louis Stroock, 1905-1930

Robert arrived in Athens during the second year of Rhys Carpenter’s directorship. Louis E. Lord of Oberlin College was the Annual Professor (Lord would later write the first volume of the School’s History), young Oscar Broneer had been appointed Instructor of Archaeology, Ferdinand de Waele was the Special Assistant in Archaeology, with Richard Stillwell serving as Special Professor of Architecture. Two of the three fellows were women, both from Bryn Mawr College, Agnes E. Newhall (later Mrs. Stillwell) and Mary Zelia Pease (later Mrs. Philippides); the third fellow was architect Lyman C. Douglas. Although most of them would have later illustrious careers in classics and archaeology, in 1928 they represented the School’s “new guard,” a relatively inexperienced group of scholars, most of them handpicked by the mighty Edward Capps. The “old guard”, Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen, had become by then personae non gratae, and were not welcome on the School’s premises. In terms of facilities, the School’s campus in Kolonaki had expanded significantly after the erection of the Gennadius Library in 1926, while a dormitory, not yet named, to the west of the Gennadeion, was under construction: Loring Hall was completed in late 1929, a few months after Robert’s departure from Greece. And the School’s most powerful man, Edward Capps, was in the midst of crucial negotiations with the Greek government and its prime-minister Eleutherios Venizelos for the much sought after concession for the Athenian Agora excavations.

The Gennadius Library, ca. 1930. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Photographic Collection.

Robert Strook was a handsome young man but of weak health. “While he was still an infant it was discovered that his heart was not strong, so that he was unable to participate in the vigorous sports of other boys,” wrote Sol Stroock in his preface.  His weak heart was probably the reason for his untimely death in 1930, at the age of 25.

“Bob wrote his own autobiography in his letters. His profound religious experiences, the depths as well as the shallows of his thought, the fullness of his love of art and of learning, and the humble simplicity of his life are best expressed as he revealed them in those letters” further added Sol Stroock. After landing in France, unlike other foreigners of his time, Robert reached Greece in October 1928 not by boat, via Italy, but by land, “a day and a half of ugly Jugoslavia, and some twelve hours through the mountains and valleys of northern Greece—rugged, unclimbable, but low mountains, separated by broad, flat, stony fertile plains, unlike anything I’ve ever seen elsewhere” (Stroock, p. 104).

Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit

A month later he wrote to his friend Allan about his fellow students at the American School, praising the high tone of the group, especially the women who were able to put up with the most difficult living conditions.

“In Athens conditions are not over civilized, though in some points it is a finely European place and I love it for this. But Greece outside Athens and one or two other places is more primitive than anything… The coat of arms of the School en tour is ‘a Flit-gun on a field of argent, with a bed-bug dormant, a flea rampant, and a mosquito couchant.’ At some places the men sleep in the halls and dining room (from which the goats have been chased) and the women are crowded into the rooms. Running water is unknown… The point is that these American women… are able not merely to bear such conditions by night and to climb acropolises which horses die on by day, but to make the desert blossom like the rose” (Stroock, p. 106).

Mary Caperton. Photo: S. Bingham, The Blue Box: Three Lives in Letters, 2014.

Robert’s women fellow-travelers in 1928-1929 were: Priscilla Lord, daughter of Annual Professor Louis Lord, Frances Capps, niece of Edward Capps, and Mary Caperton (who would later become the matriarch of the Bingham newspaper empire). Mary Zelia Pease and Agnes Newhall, second year fellows, might have joined the group from time to time. Robert attributed the stamina of the women in the program “to that strange conglomerate of freedom and old-fashioned Puritanism which seems to form the better aspect of the character of American woman”.  The son of a dynamic woman, Hilda Weil Stroock (1876-1945), a graduate of Hunter College with an active interest in the welfare of women and children throughout her life, Robert had grown up in an environment that encouraged the development of women, especially in the Jewish communities.

Do you want precision? Study your Classical Architecture

The ability of the Americans to adjust to the hard living conditions was a recurrent theme in Robert’s letters. He felt that most of his fellow countrymen had lost their pioneer spirit, because:

“they have had nothing important to do… There are so few Americans who could possibly plaster onto any of their acts-figuratively speaking- the thrilling, simple words “Jones εποίησε” with all the weight of meaning” (Stroock, p. 114).

For Robert it must have been also liberating to be for a while away from Jewish environments, to judge from one of his comments to his friend Ruth: “Here one is not in the midst of that mauled race which we call fellow Jews—in fact here there are no Jews at all besides myself—but one does find an art with which to establish connections, and which was, perhaps, not so very remote from our more famous ancestors… Do you want precision? Study your classical architecture. Do you want clever associates[?]… Here there is a higher level of intelligence than in any other group of twenty diverse people I have ever found. Do you need your comforts? Ah then you had better stay away” (Stroock, pp. 110-111).

Stroock oozed happiness during his first months in Greece. Literally in love with the country, he felt that Greece with her brightness and clarity had cleared the “cloggings of his brain.” Raised with the notion that Greek Classical civilization was the foundation of America’s democracy and high culture, he wanted to “write the history of the Greeks but not in Greece nor for the Greeks. I shall return to America and write as an American with the Americans as a background and for my great American generation… In fact never did I feel more American than when I saw this prospect for myself here in Greece” (Stroock, p. 112).

Of Greek Folklore

Robert was much attracted to Greek folk songs, perhaps because they reminded him of Jewish folk music. “The music is extremely interesting, not being written in our scales, but apparently in modes, with an accompaniment in fifths. Some of the things, played by the peasants on a rude sort of pipe that looks like a large clarinet with accompaniment on a five stringed instrument about the size of a guitar or a little larger, with a smaller head… are extremely fine.” He wanted his friend Allan to find whether Victor records had a complete library of Greek music (Stroock, pp. 108-109).

He also thought of Modern Greeks as an extraordinary race. “Their constant good-nature, their sense of fitness, and their self-respect are three inestimable qualities exemplified in innumerable ways. They lie beautifully, thrillingly, on most occasions, yet the lies are not of great importance. Paradoxical as it may sound, one would rather trust a Greek than an American.

To put it epigrammatically, the American too often loses the spirit in the fact, the Greek embroiders the fact to fit the spirit” wrote Robert on November 30, 1928 (Stroock, p. 117).

Theodore Leslie Shear, Oliver MIles Washburn, and Gorham P. Stevens in fustanellas, 1906. ASCSA Archives.

In May 1929, he attended a national pageant of Greek costumes of all ages in the Stadium because he was interested in Modern Greek costumes and claimed to have known them “much better than do most native-born Athenians.” The next morning he went to Priscilla Capps’s shop “to buy what is known as the School uniform, a dozen or more being already in existence among both men and women: nine feet of washable, raw silk material which one takes to a tailor, at a total cost for the whole suit of about $20 and five days” Stroock reported to his family on May 21, 1929 (p. 158). The so-called School uniform that Stroock was making in the tailor’s must have been a Greek fustanella. There is a well-known photo among the School’s students which shows Theodore Leslie Shear, Oliver Washburn, and Gorham P. Stevens dancing, dressed in beautiful costumes in the early 1900s. I have discovered recently through the curator of the Greek Women Lyceum Club, Tania Veliskou, that Stevens’s Greek national costume is part of their collections, a gift of his Greek wife, Annette Notara Stevens.

Folkore pageants and performances at the Panathenaic Stadium, ca. 1930. ASCSA Archives, Charles H. Morgan Papers.

Visiting Palestine

During Easter break in April of 1929, Robert travelled to Palestine where he met other friends from New York, including Felix Warburg, a German-born Jewish banker and leader of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Hetty Goldman had worked for that Committee in 1918-1919, offering relief to the Jewish population of Northern Greece). During his trip, Stroock made it a point to visit a number of collective communities. “Their communistic experiments are unexpectedly successful thus far, and in their intellectual and artistic development they are fully abreast of the most important movements in the modern world… In their intense faith that they can create once more for themselves a live humanism they are unsurpassed.” Despite the fact that he had grown up in a secular and non-Zionist environment in America (anti-Zionism enjoyed considerable support in the Jewish communities before WW II), and also disliked the nationalistic aspect of these experiments, he found them appealing, especially to those who were looking to “retire from the dreadful prejudices which [one] must meet in America at every turn, and by which he is only too often beaten, frustrated”; Robert was obviously alluding to the antisemitism that he and other Jews encountered back home. (See also, Gulie Ne’eman Arad, America, its Jews and the Rise of Nazism, Bloomington 2000.)

A Hetty Goldman Connection?

Stroock returned to America in the summer of 1929 to continue graduate work at Harvard “in preparation for his doctorate and to fit himself to return to Greece to ‘carry on’ there.” And it is certain that he would have returned had he not taken severely ill in the spring of 1930.

Sol Stroock’s telegram to Rhys Carpenter announcing Robert’s death. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

As mentioned above, Sol Stroock honored his son’s love for Greece by establishing the Robert L. Stroock library fund at the ASCSA in 1931. Eight years later he would remember the School again by establishing a life-saving fund, the German Refugee Fellowship, to assist German Jewish students who had to flee Germany because of Hitler. Jack Davis who has published about Jewish academics in Athens in the 1930s, was not able to find more information about Sol Stroock’s initiative; he suspects, however, that Hetty Goldman might have been behind it, since her maternal uncle Cyrus Adler and Sol Stroock knew each other well and had worked together for the benefit of the American Jewish Committee [link]. In fact, Stroock succeeded Adler in the presidency of the Committee in 1940, a position, however, that he did not hold long; Sol died in 1941 at the age of 68.


Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece

In 1924, Hetty Goldman (1881-1972), who was directing an excavation at the site of Eutresis in Boeotia, hired architect Piet de Jong to draw some of the finds she had unearthed during the season.  To beat the dullness of the evenings, De Jong, who worked for American and British excavations in Greece, made pencil caricatures of his fellow archaeologists which he later turned into striking Art Deco watercolors. The majority of these caricatures once in the possession of Sinclair and Rachel Hood, are now in the care of the Ashmolean Museum. Published by Rachel in Faces of Archaeology in 1998, they constitute visual biographies of American and British archaeologists working in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hetty Goldman’s caricature by Piet de Jong, 1924. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

De Jong’s caricature of Goldman depicts her “holding a Neolithic pot of which she was particularly proud. The object behind Hetty’s head is a seated archaic statue found up in a Roman villa which was excavated at some distance from the mound [of Eutresis]… There is the mound itself surmounted by the shelter to protect the diggers from the heat of the sun… The horse, Kappa, on the road below the hill to the right draws the cart containing Hetty herself, Hazel [Hansen], Dorothy [Thompson] and Mitso the driver, on their way to work… a sailing boat or caique refers to the expedition organized by the foreman, George Deleas, to try and row across the Gulf of Corinth from Creusis, the harbor settlement of Eutresis.  On the left of the picture at the foot of the mound two village girls with long plaits carry on their heads baskets of washing… Below them is a temple which probably refers to classical architectural findings at Hetty’s previous dig at Halae…” (Hood 1998, p.51). Read the rest of this entry »


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Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926


Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.


The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός). Read the rest of this entry »


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. Read the rest of this entry »


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. Read the rest of this entry »