Archives from the Trash: The Multidimensional Annie Smith Peck—Mountaineer, Suffragette, Classicist

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook a story about Annie S. Peck, famous mountaineer and the first woman student at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Annie Smith Pack (1850-1935): scholar, teacher, university professor, lecturer, popular author, advocate for women’s rights and pan-Americanism, the leading woman mountain climber of her generation — and first woman member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Much of her story would have been lost forever, but for the grace of God.

Clive James supposedly defined a female “icon” as any woman whose face is still recognizable a decade after her death. Although in her lifetime Peck was so well-known that her image was used in commercial marketing, she was soon forgotten. Only recently are postings to the internet helping her to achieve iconic status. Clad in mountain-climbing gear, Peck seems now to be omnipresent, while the repetition of one particular image risks imposing an undeserved one-dimensionality on this marvelous multidimensional woman.

If Peck needed to be rediscovered, it was in part because her life eluded an aspiring biographer, her Brooklyn neighbor Alexander Kadison. She had entrusted her archives to him. After his death, Brooklyn College Professor Shaista Rahman discovered 17.5 feet of Peck’s correspondence, photographs, and manuscripts on the sidewalk awaiting trash collection, set there by new owners of the Kadison house.


This photo appears frequently in essays about Annie Peck but it is not certain that it depicts Annie.

Peck, born in Providence, R.I., and trained at Rhode Island Normal School, moved to Michigan to teach in Saginaw. When doors in Ann Arbor opened to women, she enrolled in Classics — completing an M.A. in 1881 at the University of Michigan. She taught Latin at Smith College in 1886, then earned a living by giving public lectures. At age 45 she climbed the Matterhorn. Mt. Huascaran in Peru was her next major triumph, and in 1911 she planted a banner with the logo of “The Joan of Arc Equal Suffrage League” on Mt. Coropuna.


Banner of the Joan of Arc Equal Suffrage League, like the one Annie Peck planted on Mt. Coropuna

Peck’s academic year (1885-86) at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens was for her a formative experience, one that must have fed her wanderlust, appetite for adventure, and feminist philosophy. Louis Lord’s official history of the ASCSA claims that:

“The question of admitting women to the School never caused serious difficulty. … admittance was based on academic standing, not on sex. The first woman to enroll as a regular student was Miss Annie S. Peck … Later she urged the Managing Committee to appoint a “lady director.” As of 2015 that has still not happened!

Peck was keen to break glass ceilings, but she was also enthusiastic about the educational benefits she enjoyed in Athens, and published several short reports about the ASCSA in the Journal of Education.

She remarks on the diversity of dress in Greece, and was enchanted by the chaos characteristic of daily life in Athens:

“…[a] variety of costume gives a certain interest and charm to the streets of Athens. The city itself is not beautiful, except in its location, though it has reason to be proud of its appearance, if its age be considered. … in 1835, it consisted merely of a few Turkish huts. There are now some broad, handsome streets … Some are barely wide enough for one carriage, and what happens when two meet I am unable to say … On these are funny little shops of all sorts, and the people sit out on the sidewalks, so that one generally walks in the middle of the street.”


Annie S. Peck in her mountaineering outfit

The archive at Brooklyn College provides more personal detail about Peck’s experiences in Greece, although there is no diary for 1885-86, no copies of outgoing correspondence, no photographs. Most valuable are unpolished stream-of-consciousness notes for an autobiography that she composed in the final years of her life (the latest reference is to 1933). A narrative of her time at the ASCSA can be pieced together from these and several incoming letters.

Page from her autobiography at Brooklyn College Libraries

Page from her autobiography in Brooklyn College Library Archives and Special Collections

Peck had applied to the ASCSA because she heard that Albert Harkness of Brown University would be director in 1885-86. She had long wanted to study with Harkness but was unable to do so because she was a woman. When Peck learned that Frederick de Forest Allen of Harvard College would take his place, it was a disappointment but she was already committed to the idea of going to Athens.

In 1885-86 the program of the ASCSA had not yet settled into a comfortable routine. The School did not have a permanent base, occupying instead the second storey of a rented house near the Arch of Hadrian, “the largest and most pleasant room devoted to students use and the library.” Allen, as the directors before him, held his post only for a year, and the activities of the ASCSA reflected his proclivities.

De Forest Allen

Frederic de Forest Allen, Director of ASCSA (1885-1886)

Allen, during his time in Greece, concentrated on the study of inscriptions. Lord described his service to the School’s five students:

“He met the students for regular exercises more frequently than any previous director-three or four times each week. His interests were largely philological, and his lectures were on the Greek dialects and on inscriptions. One of the students prepared a paper on the phonology of Attic vowels and diphthongs as ascertained from inscriptions. No School trips were made to classical sites under Allen’s direction.”

Martin D’Ooge, Peck’s professor at Ann Arbor, had prepared her for her time with Allen. He wrote on June 30, 1885:

“First of all let me congratulate you on the prospect of spending a few months in Athens, and also on your good fortune in having so competent and pleasant a man as Professor Allen to guide and direct your studies. You will find both him and his wife very agreeable, and they are anticipating the pleasure of seeing you there.”

D’Ooge also told her what books to bring, and spoke of the need to know Modern Greek.

Her brother, George, collected information on her behalf. Harkness and others recommended to him that she go to Berlin to seek out Ernst Curtius, director of the German excavations at Olympia. She traveled there from Hanover, Germany, where she was studying Classics and music and was in contact with Samuel Walter Miller, a fellow graduate of the University of Michigan, likewise, a prospective student at the ASCSA in 1885-86.

Peck’s family had reasons to be concerned about her accommodations in Athens, because Allen had written to George:

“There are no boarding houses; a place in a Greek family is difficult or impossible to obtain and almost insupportable when obtained; she has not the alternative of taking lodgings and going out to a restaurant for meals, as the young men can do, and the only thing possible is said to be to live in a hotel at an expense of $2 a day at the very least.”

Fortunately, on-the-ground assistance was available through the good offices of Protestant missionaries known to her family. Demetrios Z. Sakellarios and his American wife would see to Peck’s needs on arrival in Athens.

“Mr. Sakellarios was a man of much intellectual ability as well as of fine personal presence. For many years he attracted to his chapel, which was situated near the University of Athens, many of the students and teachers in that institution … By his preaching and writings he reached many of the more intelligent of the Greeks; but as in the time of Paul, while they were interested in learning of the new truths, they did not yield their hearts or change their lives.”

When the time came to go to Greece, Peck, in Switzerland for the summer, traveled from Trieste by ship together with Walter Miller.

“It took four days to go to the Piraeus. Went to one of the best hotels in Athens. Mr. Sakellarios, a Greek, was a Baptist minister who had studied in the U.S.; had a house with a long room in which he used to conduct services which I attended.”


Demetrios Kalopothakes

She soon found herself a boarder in the home of the well-known Presbyterian minister, Michael Demetrios Kalopothakes, who had received his initial education in a missionary Lancastrian school in Areopolis, Mani. After studying at the Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, he returned to his native land, where he edited The Star of the East, Greece’s first evangelical magazine.

The Kalopothakes house was conveniently located near the facilities being rented by the ASCSA. In her autobiography Peck described her time there:

“I found a place to stay at near the remains of the temple of Olympian Zeus–lived with Mr. and Mrs. Kalopothakes — he was a Gk. and … had married, in the U.S., a Canadian lady, who was his second wife — 2 daughters, Mary and another — Mary dark — other, fair. Mary was pretty but wouldn’t have been considered remarkable here, but was called the ‘prettiest girl in the East’ … It was a very pleasant home — Mr. K. spoke good English — spoke Eng. at home — the 2 girls were his daughters by his 1st marriage. (1st wife had been an American.) … A ‘Miss Hall, an Amer. lady and retired teacher, also boarded at the Kalopothakes’.”

Peck’s first encounter with Director Allen was awkward.

“We (Miller) and I called on Prof. Allen soon after our arrival. Allen was courteous and said he hadn’t wished to come [to Greece] because he knew nothing of Greek archaeology but had been obliged to come on account of Harkness’s withdrawal. Whereupon the young man (Miller) said: ‘Prof. Curtius said that you were a very good epigraphist, but that you didn’t know anything about archaeology.’ Prof. Allen had probably not expected to hear his statement confirmed on such an authority. … I asked (Miller): ‘Why did you say that?’ Miller thought it might have been better he hadn’t.”

In addition to a blunt nature, Miller’s questionable personal hygiene impressed Peck and others.

“… [he hadn’t] changed his shirt in 6 wks. when we first met, didn’t intend to take an extra shirt before setting out on a 6 wks tour of the Peloponnesos. We met a Mr. Kastromenos, a Gk. gentleman whose sister had married Dr. Schliemann. I met Mrs. Schliemann — called at their beautiful home of white marble in Athens. Mr. Kastromenos had met (Miller) and [Henry T.] Hildreth [of Harvard] and reported that (Miller) didn’t carry an extra shirt ….”

Peck pursued studies with Allen and traveled independently.

“I spent every day some time in the Am. School; we studied epigraphy and deciphered inscriptions. I was especially interested in archaeology matters [more] than epigraphy. I spent my daylight hours in reading, in going about, and in making excursions in the vicinity ….”

She describes a moonlight visit to the Acropolis and lectures by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, whom she says she met “a great many times.” She picnicked on the summit of Hymettus and climbed Penteli to enjoy views of Marathon and the Athens basin. She traveled to Thebes, Orchomenos, and Delphi. She enjoyed a holiday dinner at the U.S. Minister’s house.


Annie S. Peck was famous for her quotes.

But the highlight of her year was the trip she took to the Peloponnese, not with Walter Miller or the other men from the ASCSA, but with Lily Dawes, who had come to Greece from the University of London, and with Edward J. Hawes, a Harvard graduate. She and Dawes remained lifelong friends.

That expedition took place in the spring (“… unlucky Prof. Allen didn’t wish to go.”). Peck, Hawes, and Dawes took the train to Corinth.

“We arrived in Corinth — went to Old Corinth to stay overnight and to examine the temple — arrived toward night — Corinth wasn’t much of a place. [Excavations by the ASCSA did not, of course, begin until 1896. Almost nothing but the Temple of Apollo was visible before then, and even it remained nameless.] We agreed, for the appearance sake the 1st night out in Corinth that I was married (Mrs. Peck, that Mr. Hawes was my brother and that Miss Dawes was my English cousin. After examining the temple we went on to Mykenai.”

Mycenae offered a special treat.

“ … we visited the Acropolis at Mykenai. As we were leaving the Acropolis at Mykenai we saw in the distance the King of Greece coming up. This was King George (a Dane, later assassinated). He had come to open the railway from Corinth to Argos. So we immediately went back into the enclosure and pretended to be very busy looking at the ruins that we had already seen. Without being introduced, we had a few words with the King, who was very Democratic. (The Greeks, as a class, are very Democratic, and would not have consented to be ruled over by a Greek king.) … King George was very popular and I was greatly shocked by the news of his assassination.”


The party enthusiastically visited the German excavations at Olympia and admired its discoveries.


The statue of Hermes at Olympia. Photo by Rhomaides Brothers, 1878.

“I spent the time looking over the recent excavations of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which excavations had just been completed. Temporary wooden structure housed a museum, containing some fragments of the frieze, etc., and the Hermes of Praxiteles, which had been excavated only a year or two before … while the body of the Hermes looked like real flesh. … the Hermes of P. was so striking that I believe—as others do—that it is indubitably the finest stature in the world ….”

Peck left the ASCSA in May for Istanbul by steamer; then she visited Troy, returned to Athens by way of Smyrna, and from there sailed to Sicily. She would not return to Greece for 50 years.

Her friend, Walter Miller, who saw no problem in traveling with only one shirt, was a founding member of the Stanford Classics Department, then a dean at the University of Missouri. But before leaving the ASCSA he supervised the first real American archaeological dig in Greece, the excavation of the ancient theater at Thorikos. Then in June, while trying to walk to Istanbul, he was robbed by brigands. Through the intercession of Kalopothakes and the American ambassador he was commissioned a captain in the Greek army by Prime Minister Trikoupis and with a posse captured his assailants in the hills of southern Boiotia.

Peck herself never forgot her year in Athens. At age 85 she returned in poor health to Greece, one stop on a projected around-the-world itinerary. She climbed the Acropolis, which she had visited by moonlight 50 years before. Her condition then deteriorated rapidly, the trip was cut short, and she died in New York City of bronchial pneumonia on July 18, 1935.


Another quote from Annie S. Peck.

8 Comments on “Archives from the Trash: The Multidimensional Annie Smith Peck—Mountaineer, Suffragette, Classicist”

  1. Susan Heuck Allen says:

    Annie Smith Peck is indeed a worthy subject of study. I have been lecturing about her nationally and internationally for the Archaeological Institute of America since 2003. I drew attention to her as the first woman to study at the American School in 2002 (“The Archaeology of the AIA: an Introduction” pp. 1-29 in Excavating Our Past: Perspectives on the History of the Archaeological Institute of America. Susan Heuck Allen, ed. Colloquia and Conference Papers 5. Boston: AIA, p 17.) In 2005 I wrote about her in more detail in “From ‘down street’ to Peck’s Peak: An Appreciation of Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935), RIC Class of 1872” Rhode Island College Alumni Magazine, Sesquicentennial Issue, 2-4 and again in 2006 in “Pioneering American Women in Classical Archaeology: Academia, the Archaeological Institute of America and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 1879-1919” in Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities. Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeologists. Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University, August 23–26, 2003. Carol C. Mattusch, A.A. Donohue, and Amy Brauer, eds. Oxford: Oxbow Books. pp. 8-10. Readers interested in Peck will find her featured in my forthcoming book, Excavating Women:Pioneering American Women in Archaeology.

  2. Glenn R. Bugh says:

    Fascinating stuff, Jack, as usual. Thanks for bringing this amazing woman back to life. She deserves a biography. It is too bad she didn’t keep a diary, letters home, or pix from her year, as Wilhelmina van Ingen did in 1927-28. It is unnerving to think how close we were to losing her archives. And I am awfully glad that the ASCSA, whose very mission was to introduce text-buried philology students to material culture, did not appoint many other professors like Allen (in spite of his epigraphical interests). Can we imagine the American School without its trips? Glenn

  3. jackldavis says:

    Thanks Susan and Glenn for your comments, and it is good to know that you, Susan, will have more to say about her in the near future. As for diaries and pictures, it seems that Peck’s photographic albums were removed from the archive at Brooklyn College and not returned by Professor Rahman, prior to her own death. They are currently AWOL. I had hoped to find a diary from her year at ASCSA. There are lots of diaries, but not one for that period. The best sources I found in Brooklyn for her time at ASCSA was Peck’s rough text for an autobiography that I mention, and a number of letters from the period immediately prior to her arrival in Athens. I have transcribed the relevant pages.

  4. […] Part of the planning had to do with entertaining those who came from America. In addition to visiting the museums and monuments of Athens, one of the Annual Professors of the American School, Dean Walter Miller of the University of Missouri, met a group of them in Patras on April 6 and took them on tours of Olympia and the Argolid and also of Boeotia and Delphi. (On Walter Miller, see also J. L. Davis, “Archives from the Trash: The Multidimensional Annie Smith Peck-Mountaineer, Suffragette, Classicist.) […]

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] the Kolonaki campus was established. (About the Kalopothakes family, see also Jack L. Davis, “Archives from the Trash: The Multidimensional Annie Smith Peck, Mountaineer, Suffragette, Classicist.”)  The King and Queen of Greece were enthusiastic about the ASCSA and attended its first […]

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