Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall

Loring Hall on 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Loring Hall at 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Reading Louis Lord’s History of the early years of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or School), one gets a sanitized and condensed account of the building’s history (Lord 1947, 203-204). From his description, which largely concentrates on the final  phase of the project, one could hardly imagine that 16 years of complicated negotiations preceded its official opening in February of 1930; in fact, a women’s hostel had been the dream of several important women, including the exceptional but controversial M. Carey Thomas, President of Bryn Mawr College (1894-1922), before various forces finally named it after a man, Judge William Caleb Loring, and made it co-ed.

The story of a women’s hostel at the ASCSA begins in 1913.

“We the under-signed Presidents of the five colleges of women, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College and Bryn Mawr College, which have contributed in the past and are now contributing $1,250 annually to the support of the American School of Classical Study [sic] at Athens earnestly request the Director of the school and the Managing Committee to make suitable provision for women students in the school building which is …now being rebuilt and enlarged. …

We are informed that men students at the American School are able to obtain a room in the school for the very moderate sum of $20 a year, including heat and service, and that this room is kept for them during their travels…, but that women not only find it difficult to obtain lodging at all being practically confined to one boarding house, …but that their rooms are not reserved for them during their trips through Greece… We are further told that the difficulty of using the library in the evening is also very great it being unsafe for women students to go through the lonely streets that lead to the school…”

Ruth Emerson Fletcher. This portrait of hers must have adorned one of the walls of the parlor she had funded in 1915.

Ruth Emerson Fletcher. This portrait of hers must have adorned the parlor she funded in 1915. Source: ASCSA Archives.

This petition was addressed to the Chair of the Managing Committee of the American School, James R. Wheeler, in July 18, 1913 (ASCSA AdmRec 329/1, folder 3). In April of 1913, the School launched its first (of many to follow) major architectural re-modelings in order to enlarge the main building. When finished in 1915, the extension featured an enlarged reading room, several more bedrooms for male students, a room variously used as a bursar’s office or an architect’s drafting room, and a ladies’ parlor. Miss Ruth Emerson (later Mrs. Henry Martineau Fletcher), a Bryn Mawr College graduate (Class of 1893) and a member of the School in 1895, had left a generous bequest of five hundred dollars for furnishing the parlor. The high cost of this re-modeling combined with the low numbers of women at the School were probably two reasons that a women’s quarter was not included in the 1915 extension.

An Anglo-American Hostel For Women

A year later, in the midst of WW I, the ASCSA and the British School at Athens (BSA hereafter) found themselves negotiating with the Greek Government for the acquisition of a large piece of land (328 x 90 ft) to the north of Souidias street –then still Speusippou— which belonged to the Monastery of Asomaton (Moni Petraki), in order jointly to build a Women’s Hostel. This land had already been divided in 14 plots and was offered for sale by the Monastery.  

“In the other three directions we are permanently protected from the cutting off of air or view and from the crowding too near of population. Only to the north is there danger. This is for the British somewhat more serious than for us since their upper building is rather close to the street; consequently they are sacrificing capital to secure protection, and Mr. Wace (their director) has been authorized to spend as much as 1,000 pounds for their half of the block… The British and we work together for the obvious reason that each School’s half of the block will be less valuable to it if the other half comes into private hands…”  further explained ASCSA director Bert Hodge Hill to the Treasurer of the Trustees, Alan Curtis, in a letter (Sept. 25, 1916; Adm Rec 319/1, folder 3).

The Monastery wished to put the land opposite the two Schools on the market, but the American School, through Hill, had appealed to the Ministry of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs to allow them to negotiate directly with the Monastery before any sale took place. Unlike 1896, when the ecclesiastical land had been given for free to the two schools, this time they were asked to pay a reasonable price, about 50,000 drachmas (or $12,000), for its acquisition, with the Greek government contributing an additional 30,000 drachmas (a little more than $8,000) to the purchase of the land.  

The British School of Athens and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 2007.

Aerial photo of the British School of Athens and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 2007. In 1916, the land where Loring Hall and the Gennadius Library stand was empty and for sale. Source: ASCSA Archives

Having no spare funds for the land purchase, the School appealed to the presidents of the Women Colleges, who had made the petition in 1913, asking them “to bring this problem to the attention of persons interested in your college who may be also interested in work in the classical field and in the opportunities afforded American women of carrying their studies in Greece” (Sept. 16, 1916; AdmRec 319/1, folder 3).

Portrait of M. Carey Thomas, President of Bryn Mawr College, by John Singer Sargent

By November of 1916, in addition to the five colleges, Barnard, Radcliffe and the Women’s College at Brown had responded to the School’s appeal by subscribing $450 each, and President M. Carey Thomas (1857-1935) of Bryn Mawr College, who by now had assumed a leading role in the fund-raising campaign for the Women’s Hostel in Athens, announced that money had been raised. At the same time President Thomas asked the Trustees “to promise in writing that the land we purchased will be reserved for a woman’s building for at least fifteen or twenty years and that if at the expiration of this time it should prove impossible to get the money for a woman’s building the Classical School be at liberty to refund to the donors the money contributed and to use the land for other purposes connected with the School”(Thomas to Curtis, Nov. 1916; Adm Rec 319/1, folder 3). In addition to the college subscriptions, two individuals, the archaeologists Hetty Goldman and Leslie A. Walker Cosmopoulos, contributed $ 1,000 each to the purchase of the land.

The contributions to the Women's Hostel in 1916

The contributions for the Women’s Hostel by December 1916. Source: ASCSA Archives.  Click to enlarge.

Thomas H. Mawson, once a famous landscape architect, has been the object of several articles and monographs recently.

Thomas H. Mawson, once a famous landscape architect, has been the object of several recent articles and monographs.

The original idea was to build two hostels, the British and the American, designed in a harmonious whole. In 1916, President Thomas had made contact with architect Thomas H. Mawson (1861-1933), a famous British architect who had also been selected as Royal Architect of Athens by the King and the Queen of Greece. “Our idea is that we must have preliminary plans before we can find out how much the minimum necessary building will cost and that as soon as have found out this we can make formal application to the Rockefeller Foundation” wrote President Thomas to James R. Wheeler on behalf of the contributing women’s colleges (Thomas to Wheeler, Dec. 11, 1916; Adm Rec 319/1, folder 3). President Thomas had already been a major beneficiary of the generosity of the Rockefeller family, which had contributed more than $500,000 dollars to buildings at Bryn Mawr College.

M. Carey Thomas: “A Sacred Monster”

The expropriation of the land was published in the Greek Government Gazette in 1918 and the two schools received their land titles a year later, in 1919. Clouds were gathering on the horizon, however. For one thing, Thomas was already treating the Women’s Hostel as a personal affair, without acknowledging that this was an issue to be dealt by the ASCSA trustees (Thomas to Hill, AdmRec 319/1, folder 4). For another, Hill and Edward Capps, the newly appointed Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, had second thoughts about a collaboration with the BSA. “In spite of obvious economy of single Anglo-American hostel, I believe indispensable to allow for completely independent administrations. Separate buildings preferable if architecturally harmonious” (Hill to Thomas, July 8, 1920; AdmRec 319/1, folder 4; Capps to Hill, July 15, 1920; B.H. Hill Papers, Box 1, folder 4).

Of the two problems the one was solved almost immediately when the notion of a combined Anglo-American hostel was also abandoned by the British School. Fighting for its economic survival in 1920, the BSA decided to postpone indefinitely the construction of a hostel for its female members (Report of the Chairman of the Committee on Club Houses of the International Federation of University Women, May 13, 1921; Adm Rec 329/1, folder 4). On the other front, however, Hill and Capps soon came to realize that President Thomas’s involvement in the Women’s hostel had not ended with the purchase of the land. That was just the beginning of a deeper entanglement.

While the School was in favor of a small facility and had instructed architect W. Stuart Thompson (who would also be hired to design the Gennadius Library)  to draw “a simple building set high in the lot, with accommodations for about six students,” Thomas was dead set against a modest hostel and had in mind a much more expansive scheme. She further argued that since she and the representatives of the various women’s colleges had raised the money for the purchase of the land, “[they] were entitled to arrange for the disposition of it,” ignoring the fact that the land was vested in the Trustees of the School (Allinson to Hill, Feb. 12, 1921; Adm Rec 319/1, folder 4).

“Her idea is to erect a much larger building; to provide, in addition to the accommodations for the women of the School, also for women visitors to Athens, especially teachers and others primarily interested in Greek… to run a café (open also to men)… and, in short, to make the Hostel financially self-supporting” (Francis G. Allinson to Hill, Feb. 12, 1921; Adm Rec 319/1, folder 4).

After a year-long trip around the world in 1919-1920, Thomas had formed her own opinion about female travelling. Her world tour ended in London, where she participated in the first annual meeting of the International Federation of University Women. There she was appointed chairman of the Women’s Committee for Club Houses, which subsequently opened a club house in Paris for student women in 1922 and assisted in operating a club house in Washington.

The digital makeover of M. Carey Thomas's portrait by designer Suzanne Gaadt. Source: Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, May 2011.

Digital makeover of M. Carey Thomas’s portrait by designer Suzanne Gaadt. Source: Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, May 2011.

One has to read Thomas’s biography to understand her actions. Described as “a sacred monster”, Thomas was an unusual achiever, who defied convention in all ways possible and measured herself in terms of male accomplishments. We also should not forget that Thomas lived in the heyday of women’s separate associations, their way to fight male sovereignty. Moreover, Thomas had never in her life considered compromise. When she was building Rockefeller Hall at Bryn Mawr College and debts from construction overruns mounted, she refused to accept J. D. Rockefeller Jr.s advice to build a more modest dormitory. Instead she took a gamble, hoping “that when time of reckoning came, she could return to the source for more” (Horowitz 1994, 330-331). Her letters to John Rockefeller Jr. are masterpieces of negotiation and manipulation (Horowitz 1994, p. 331).

In 1922, after being the President of Bryn Mawr College for 27 years, Thomas retired. In addition to having achieved wide reputation as an educator and feminist, Thomas had also become a very rich woman after inheriting the considerable estate of her long-time companion Mary Garrett. She also needed a project for her post-retirement years. According to her biographer, Thomas’s active involvement with the Women’s Hostel in Athens “was a return to the way of life of her presidency” (Horrowitz 1994, 445-446).

Edward Capps: Miss Thomas Finds her Match

Meanwhile at the American School, Edward Capps had launched a large endowment campaign for the School. More importantly, however, in the early months of 1922 John Gennadius presented to the School his extraordinary library. The School applied for and received a generous gift from the Carnegie Corporation to build the Gennadius Library to house it.

“The Gennadeion building alters all that. We hope to be able to build both the Gennadius building and the Hostel at the same time, if as seems possible we are to get gifts to cover each of them (Capps to Hill, May 14, 1922; Bert H.Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 1).

The pressure to buy the British School’s lot was high, since otherwise the Women’s Hostel would have blocked the magnificent façade of the Gennadius Library.

A blueprint from April 22, 1922 the Womens' Hostel "blocking" the Gennadius Library. The pressure to buy the lost of the Bristish School was high.

A blueprint from April 22, 1922 shows the Womens’ Hostel “blocking” the western part of the Gennadius Library. Click to enlarge.

By November of 1922, the School through Capps’s efforts had secured pledges of several hundred thousand dollars from the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the stipulation that the School raise $150,000 by June of 1924 (memo to the Trustees, Nov. 15, 1922; AdmRec 311/3, folder 5). The Hostel had re-entered Edward Capps’s agenda for another reason. With the Asia Minor destruction, which led to the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Greece, the female students and the married couples of the School could hardly find accommodations in Athens. For the first time, the problem of lodging, female or not, was real for the School. To solve the problem temporarily, the School rented Prince George’s Palace on Academias Street, from 1923 to 1929. (On Prince George’s Palace used by ASCSA, see my essay Living Like Kings: When the Palace of Prince George Was the Annex of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens )

The acuteness of the lodging problem must have mobilized negotiations between the School and the Women’s Hostel Committee (WHC hereafter), because there is an extensive reference to it in the Minutes of the May Meeting of the Managing Committee in 1924, including a five page supplement describing the terms of an agreement between the ASCSA and the WHC on a Hostel for Women Students at Athens (Adm Rec 312/1, folder 3). The agreement gave full power to the WHC concerning the administration and management of the Hostel, and it is surprising that it was accepted by the School’s Managing Committee and by Edward Capps, in particular.

In the same month, the WHC applied to the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund for the funding of a large building that could accommodate about 20 women, as Thomas had envisioned it. In October of 1924, Thomas took another trip to Greece to meet with Hill and discuss the plans for the Hostel. Unfortunately for Thomas, while in Greece, during a field trip, she was kicked by a mule and injured her leg so badly that she required surgery in 1925 and again in 1927 (Horrowitz 1994, 441). Her frequent traveling, which made her not easily accessible, and her health problems could possibly explain some of the misunderstandings that arose between her and Capps in the following years.


Edward Capps, Chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee (1918-1939). An achiever and charismatic man, but as controversial as M. Carey Thomas.

The application of the WHC to the Laura Spellman Rockefeller fund was turned down because the Rockefeller Foundation (RF hereafter) was opposed to the idea of a building restricted solely to women (Capps to Thomas, June 15, 1925; Adm Rec 311/3, folder 4). The RF was willing to fund a building as part of a general educational program that would benefit students of either sex, according to one of the earliest principles of the Foundation to support education “without distinction of sex, race or creed” (Capps to Perry, June 15, 1925; Adm Rec 311/3, folder 4; Fosdick 1989, 9). After the rejection of the application, both Capps and Thomas began to re-consider the idea of an exclusively female hostel and to formulate a plan for a building that would accommodate both sexes. The change in the plans for the Women’s Hostel in Athens did not have everybody’s consent. Goldman and Walker Cosmopoulos, who had contributed generously to the purchase of the land in 1916, refused to agree to a hostel that allowed both sexes to stay in it (Capps to Perry, March 13, 1925; AdmRec 311/3, folder 4).

Two years later, on Dec. 17, 1926, the MC submitted a revised application to the International Education Board of the RF, seeking funds to increase the School’s endowment, to build a residential hall, and to support its publication program.  Oddly enough, a couple months later, on March 4, 1927, Presidents Thomas and Pendleton (of Bryn Mawr College and Wellesley College, respectively) and Dean Gildersleeve (of Barnard College) also filed with the RF a second application asking for support for a women’s hostel, which would, however, admit men, “whenever there are not enough women students to fill the bedrooms” (Calendar of the Principal Stages in the Hostel Question Since May 1924; Adm Rec 311/4, folder 3). In May 1927, the International Education Board of the RF voted to contribute $500,000 to the School’s programs, with the expectation that the School would raise another $250,000. Of the $500,000, $133,000 was allotted for the construction of a hostel, for which the School was obliged to raise another $66,000 (Capps to Perry and Van Hook, July 29, 1927; AdmRec 311/4, folder 3).

Havoc broke out between Capps and the WHC represented by Thomas, the latter claiming that the RF grant had funded a Women’s Hostel, based on the March application of the WHC. The School was too embarrassed to ask the RF what kind of a Hostel they had funded (the wording of the grant referred to a residential hall for “students and workers”).

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the RF grant was made in response to the School’s application submitted in December of 1927, which also asked for support for endowment and publication. The conflict between Capps and Thomas, which lasted more than a year, was referred to Judge William Caleb Loring (1851-1930), the President of the School’s Trustees. Capps was able to collect enough documentation to prove that Thomas was most likely aware of the School’s application to the RF in December of 1926, although Thomas claimed she had never received a copy. Now keep in mind that, according to her biographer, Thomas had a selective memory and was capable of telling outright lies (Horowitz 1994, xi, xv).

Judge Loring Enters the Scene

From this point, although we do not have Judge Loring’s letters, it seems that he was the key figure in resolving the Hostel problem. Judge Loring, an associate justice of the Supreme Court (1899-1919), served as President of the Board of Trustees of the ASCSA for seventeen years (1912-1929), contributing with his judicial and counseling experience to matters more complicated than that of the Women’s Hostel, such as the legal status of the Agora excavations. Let’s not forget that the 1920’s were an active period for the School. In addition to undertaking the construction and maintenance of two new buildings, the School was negotiating with the Greek Government the concession for the Agora excavations. That involved the destruction of a historical neighborhood, the closing of public thoroughfares, the removal of churches, and the relocation of public utilities.

“Judge Loring has taken up the matter by writing to Miss Thomas a non-committal letter. The Trustees voted Loring authority to name a Committee on Conference, which would consist of himself, Fish and me, to confer at the proper time with a committee of the Women’s Hostel Committee,” wrote Capps to Edward Perry in January 1928 (14/1/1928; Adm Rec 311/4, folder 3).

Judge Loring (far right) at the dedication of the Gennadius Library, 1926. Source: ASCSA Archives.

Judge Loring (far right) at the dedication of the Gennadius Library, 1926. Source: ASCSA Archives.

At a special meeting held in February 1928, the Special Trustees’ Committee examined a new set of terms sent by the WHC and decided that (a) the complete responsibility for the use of the building “for students and workers” rested exclusively with the Trustees, and not with the WHC, that (b) one single endowment committee was formed “so that there will be no working at cross-purposes,” and that (c) the new hostel always provided room for 6 male residents (Capps to Perry, Feb. 24, 1928, Adm Rec 311/4, folder 3; also Capps to Carpenter, March 26, 1928; Adm Rec 318/1, folder 6).

In March 1928 the WHC, represented by Dean Gildersleeve and President Pendleton, communicated to the Trustees a resolution which announced the dissolution of the WHC and “concluded with the assurance that the Trustees of the School ‘will now be able to proceed with freedom of action”(Capps to Carpenter, April 6, 1928; Adm Rec 318/1 Folder 6). The dissolution of the WHC took place without the presence of M. Carey Thomas, who was travelling abroad once again. Grace Macurdy, who participated in the dissolution meeting wrote:

I think there was nothing else for us to do. None of us except Miss Thomas had ever been so very keen for a large Women’s Hostel, no money had been subscribed for it and Miss Thomas never indicated that she would build it herself… We are all glad to make a clean sweep, though sorry for Miss Thomas’s disappointment. …Judge L[oring] is very optimistic when he thinks that in two months time or less the sum of 250,000 can be raised… Where it will all come from I do not know, but I can pretty surely say not from women’s colleges. I think that Miss Thomas has perhaps accomplished this much, that the dormitory will be built both for men and women” (Macurdy to Ida Thallon Hill, March 24, 1928, Ida Thallon Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 5).

Despite the lack of optimism expressed by the members of the WHC, the School managed to raise quickly the $66,000 needed for the residential hall, buy the BSA lot, and begin construction in the fall of 1928. The hall was named after Judge William Caleb Loring, honoring his patience, firmness, and diplomatic astuteness. W. Stuart Thompson and John Van Pelt were the architects. Not wanting to compete with the grandiose facade of the Gennadius Library, they opted for a plain one, placing the building’s Doric colonnade in such a way that it faced away from the Library.

Loring Hall advertised in 1929

The William Caleb Loring Hall as advertised in 1929. ASCSA Archives. Click to enlarge.

The “abaton” of Loring Hall

“The Grand Opening on February 11, 1930 [was] unforgettable for those of us there… Some 300 of the guest list of the School came between 5 and 7, Greek and foreign diplomats, archaeologists, and leading Greek families. We students were deputized to show them all over the building… The bathtubs also took a large share of attention and admiration… That hot water came on turning a tap at any hour was a great a boon to all of us as it was a marvel to many of our guests,” reminisced Lucy Shoe many years later (Shoe Meritt to Joan B. Connelly, Jan. 29, 1981).

According to Shoe Meritt and not mentioned in Lord’s History, when Judge Loring made legal arrangements to transfer to the new (co-ed) building the funds given by the women’s colleges, one of the conditions was that the bedrooms on the second floor of the main building should always be occupied by women only. No wonder why hell broke out when Homer [Thompson] came up to see Lucy when she was ill with malaria, “scandalizing the woman member of the Managing Committee living in the apartment for she had been one of those who had worked long and hard for the Women’s Hostel and felt that the Women’s Megaron as we called it should be sacred to the memory of that great effort… No other man darkened the floor again except [for the doctor] if someone was ill.” And so it is, even today, 86 years later.




ASCSA AdmRec = Administrative Records, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives.
ASCSA Bert H. Hill Papers, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives.
ASCSA Ida Thallon Hill Papers, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives.
Horowitz, H. L. 1994. The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas, Urbana.
Lord, L. E. 1947. A History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1882-1942: An Intercollegiate Project, Cambridge Mass.



10 Comments on “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall”

  1. Glenn R. Bugh says:

    As always, fascinating stuff, Natalia. Thanks so much for your continuing contributions. It does rather remind me of the historian Procopius writing a public history and a secret history, and, of course, the first season of excavations at Olynthus in 1928. If you only read Lord’s report, you would never know how tumultuous, if not scandalous, Robinson’s first season was.

  2. […] Maybe an April Fools thing from the American School of Classical Studies (maybe not… hard to say). […]

  3. Ludmila Schwarzenberg Bidwell says:

    Homer Thompson told me that he was in fact the first person to spend a night in Loring Hall before the official opening. He needed a room and it was available. He was very proud of being a man in the women’s Megaron!

  4. […] meticulous and exhaustive, the results always easy to follow (see also N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall“).  The premature death of this scholar is a blow to classical scholarship; her quiet role […]

  5. […] On the rivalry between Capps and Hill, see also: “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall” and David W. Rupp,” Mutually Antagonistic Philhellenes: Edward Capps and Bert Hodge […]

  6. Diana Wright says:

    Pierre MacKay used to talk gleefully about sneaking into the Women’s Megaron in ca. 1957 to see Theo Stillwell. Theo’s mother stayed at a hotel in Athens when she was a student, and rode back and forth to the school in a carriage.

  7. […] for Women Problem’” (p. 210). (About the Women’s Hostel and Loring Hall, see also: “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall.”) As for her endeavor in China, the Richmond Collegian, the University of Richmond’s […]

  8. […] The guest book for the 1910 Thanksgiving. ASCSA Archives. Administrative Records. Note M. Carey Thomas’s signature at the bottom of the list. You can read about her in “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall.” […]

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