Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.

“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950.

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950. Photo: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997).

Gertrude Smith with her good friend H. Lloyd Stow in 1932.

Gertrude Smith with her good friend H. Lloyd Stow at a Eta Sigma Phi meeting in 1932


While Smith was a prominent scholar and professor of ancient Greek, it was not until 1948 that she first made it to Greece. That summer, she was an ASCSA Summer Session (SS) participant, which provided her six weeks with nine other students to travel throughout Greece. Despite the post-War conditions of the country, particularly the fact that many of the museums were still closed, it was clear that Smith was hooked (AR 67 (1947-1948), 50).

The following academic year, in 1949-1950, Smith served as the Annual Professor of Greek Literature at the School. The annual professor offered a course to students of the Academic Program—the main goal of which was to expose American students to the history and archaeology of Greece on site. Smith decided to offer a seminar on Thucydides, which focused on examining the topography in person mentioned by the author (e.g., the siege of Potidaea). In addition, Smith became an integral part of the life of the School, as the then School Director, John L. Caskey, mentioned: “Giving up her right to one of the private houses, she has lived in Loring Hall [the School dormitory] with the students and taken part in their activities with great good humor. This fact in itself has contributed notably to the success of the year’s undertakings” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 30). That year’s students included Kevin Andrews, Anna Benjamin, Evelyn Harrison, Michael Jameson, Evelyn Lord Smithson, and Frederick Winter.

ASCSA students at Sparta, Sept. 1949. One can discern Evelyn Harrison (5th from right) and Anne Benjamin (in pants standing against the back side of the bus). ASCSA Archives, Evelyn Lord Smithson Photographic Collection.

ASCSA students at Sparta, Sept. 1949. One can discern Evelyn Harrison (5th from right) and Anne Benjamin (in pants standing behind the bus). ASCSA Archives, Evelyn L. Smithson Photographic Collection.

At the end of the year, Smith was worried that her students at the School were not as well qualified in the Greek language as she might expect. She also observed, however, the hard work of the students and the benefits of a year at the School afforded them:

“They have learned to study and to travel with independence. I am happy to report their keen interest in modern Greek life and affairs, an attitude which is a healthy one for the best interests of the School” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 57).

Thus, with Smith’s first extended amount of time in Greece in the late ‘40s, she learned a number of things, particularly as a scholar of ancient Greek. Students of the ASCSA should be well-rounded, especially in their language skills—but perhaps more importantly, they should be given the opportunity early in their career to experience the splendor of Greece and all that it had to offer. Smith herself even stated that she relished the: “several months in the midst of the beauty of Greece in the delightful and stimulating surroundings afforded by the School. This year will be of inestimable value both in my teaching and in my scholarly investigation” (AR 69 (1949-1950), 55).

Evelyn Harrison and Anna Benjamin at Monemvasia, Sept. 1949. ASCSA Archives, Evelyn L. Smithson Photographic Collection.

Evelyn Harrison and Anna Benjamin at Monemvasia, Sept. 1949. ASCSA Archives, Evelyn L. Smithson Photographic Collection.



By 1950, Smith was in a prime position to be able to get students to Greece in the Academic Program and the Summer Session of the ASCSA. Smith was the Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (CAF) from 1945-1963—nearly 18 years! The CAF processed and evaluated the students who wanted to attend the School, whether during the year or in the summer. For the Academic Program, of paramount importance was a strong background in the ancient Greek language, demonstrated after 1952 through examinations taken by prospective students. Smith in her correspondence with various School Directors and Chairmen of the Managing Committee (MC) constantly refers to the necessity of language training, especially for archaeologists (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 28 May 1959). Indeed, the debate rages on today—with new structural changes to the Greek exam recently announced. (On the issue also see an older post by Jack L. Davis, “Barbarians at the Gate”.)

Smith describing to John Caskey, ASCSA director (1949-1959) the atmosphere at the May MC Meeting in 1958.

Smith describing to John Caskey, ASCSA director (1949-1959), the atmosphere at the May MC Meeting in 1958. ASCSA Archives Administrative Records.

Smith’s Chairmanship had wide-ranging effects on the School. While concerned with the Greek language, Smith’s main goal was to be able to afford an opportunity for students from a variety of backgrounds to travel to Athens. Smith herself states that one of the main functions of the School is “to afford the opportunity to the uninitiated to get some acquaintance with Greece and really to learn something of its history, art, literature, and monuments” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 16 September 1957). She was also concerned about the fellowships that the School offered, especially how the School promoted the study of many parts of Greece’s history, including the Byzantine period. In order to help students of Byzantine history, Smith explored: “… the possibilities of diverting one of the School fellowships to Byzantine studies. Louis [Lord] tells me that this is impossible. They were established as fellowships for classical studies and with classical studies they must remain. […] So I think what we have to do is to raise a fellowship which is primarily for Byzantine studies or else get some students over there on special fellowships from their own universities” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 27 May 1955). It would not be until 1963, however, that the first Gennadeion Fellowship in Post-Classical Greece was awarded (Meritt 1984, 323).

Smith's letter raising awareness to the need for a Gennadeion fellowship. ASCSA Archives, ADM REC.

Smith’s letter to Charles Morgan, Chair of the Managing Committee, raising awareness to the need for a Gennadeion fellowship. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

The School’s Summer Sessions was another conduit through which Smith could ensure that students were able to go to Greece. The SS only had an application, without exams (unlike the Academic Program), which allowed for a wide variety of students who applied, from undergraduate and graduate students, college professors, to secondary school teachers—which is still the case today. By 1960, for the 20 available spots, the CAF had 70 applications (AR 80 (1960-1961), 44). Application numbers perhaps went up starting in 1958 with the dissemination of a new SS brochure by Smith, aimed at promoting the program and decreasing the amount of correspondence she received from potential students (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/5, Folder 4). While the tuition, room, and board for the SS were not prohibitively expensive in the 1950s (roughly $500 for the summer), Smith wanted to ensure that it would be made available to the most qualified students through a series of fellowships. Eta Sigma Phi started a matching-grant program with the ASCSA in 1957 (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 2, 4 December 1956).   Smith herself also provided funds to start the Bert Hodge Hill Scholarship for students. In 1958, seeing the need for a very well-qualified student, Howard E. Oagley, to attend, Smith anonymously gave money to start the fund (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 2 February 1960). The Hill Scholarship continues to this day for SS students.

SS 1958 Brochure outside

SS 1958 Brochure inside

ASCSA Summer Session 1958 Brochure

By the end of her tenure, Smith was instrumental in paving the way for non-Americans to apply for School membership, including well-qualified Greek students at U.S. universities (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962). In 1962, the School began to question whether or not it could accept students who were not American or Canadian citizens to the School. One of the first times the issue came up was in 1961, when Elly Travlos, the daughter of the School’s architect, John Travlos, applied for membership to the School (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 13 February 1961). Despite beginning her own graduate work in the U.S., the CAF had to deny her admission, because she was a Greek citizen, as per the rules of the MC (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 March 1961). The issue came up again the following year, when a Greek student at Bryn Mawr College, Maria Coutroubaki (the future wife of Joseph Shaw), who was on their Riegel Fellowship, inquired about School membership, under the advice of her supervisors, Machteld Mellink and Mabel Lang (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962). The Bryn Mawr professors cited precedent, namely the cases of Brunhilde Sismondo Ridgway and Claireve Grandjouan, who, according to Smith, received membership before the rule was in the MC Handbook and the fact that they did not apply directly to the CAF. Smith liked Coutroubaki’s qualifications and had no problem admitting her, in a letter to Bellinger, but:

Joe Shaw and Maria Coutroubaki Shaw, 1960s

Joe Shaw and Maria Coutroubaki Shaw, 1960s.

“I don’t want trouble with other institutions if their darlings are rejected. The rule as stated in the Handbook has proved useful in a number of cases in rejecting undesirables, but one does not want to blight a really good potential archaeologist. I think the matter should be discussed at some length” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 15 March 1962).

In direct response to the issue, director Henry Robinson did not think that the CAF should bend the regulations, as Bryn Mawr professors should know them, especially Mabel Lang (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 April 1962). Robinson elaborates his concerns, which by the end, seem more like diplomatic issues than anything else, as he could potentially admit:

“… a Spaniard, a Belgian, a Hollander, a Pole, or the like. I wonder, however, whether it is wise to make an exception in the case of a student of Greek nationality. We may in that case be infringing upon the prerogatives of the Greek archaeologists and in particular on those of the Department of Archaeology of the Universities of Athens and Salonica. I am sure the professors at those schools feel that they are amply equipped to provide the archaeological training necessary for students of Greek nationality” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 6 April 1962).

At the May MC meeting of 1962, however, the issue came up for discussion and action. In the end, the MC would allow foreign nationals to apply for membership to the School. This was to be the last major School decision that Smith would have a hand in.


1959-1960 proved to be a big year for the CAF. In the early months of 1959, the front-runners for the White and Seymour Fellowships, given to archaeologists and philologists respectively, were T. Leslie Shear, Jr. and Ronald S. Stroud (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/6, Folder 4, 11 February 1959). Both students would win the respective fellowships for their fields. Shear, the son of the late Agora Excavations Director, was still finishing his last year of undergraduate studies. Only a year before had the ASCSA Managing Committee begun allowing well-qualified college seniors to apply and to take the examinations for School membership. Even if the MC had not changed its rules, Smith remarked to then School Director, Henry Robinson: “If Leslie had been refused as ineligible I think that there would have been an explosion that would have rocked the School to its foundations. It is unfortunate that he came along as the first test case. He has much more training in Latin and Greek than a great many graduate students have when they write the examinations and of course he has had unusual opportunities in the archaeological field” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 30 April 1959). Other well-qualified students admitted that year included David G. Mitten, James R. Wiseman, and Joseph W. Shaw. Shaw was the last student admitted that year, for whom Smith made special efforts that summer to admit (Shaw, private conversation, 4 February 2016). The year was a success, as Robinson informed Smith: “It is true that we have several prima donnas this year; but they are intelligent, even though trying. In fact, the intellectual caliber of this year’s group is much higher than that of last year’s—so is their self-esteem” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 23 January 1960).

William Bell Dinsmoor lecturing on the Acropolis. Yound T. Leslie Shear to the right of Dinsmoor, and William (Bill) Wyatt to the left of Dinsmoor. Ione Mylonas to the right of Shear. Photo: Patricia Lawrence, 1959-1960.

William Bell Dinsmoor lecturing on the Acropolis. Young T. Leslie Shear to the right of Dinsmoor, and William (Bill) Wyatt to the left of Dinsmoor. Ione Mylonas to the right of Shear. Photo: Patricia Lawrence, 1959-1960.



Serving nearly twenty years on the committee allowed Smith to shepherd generations of students through the School, many of whom have gone on to great careers in the field of Classics—in turn promoting Greece, just as Smith did.  She herself led three Summer Sessions in 1958, 1960, and 1961. Smith worked with the staff in Athens to coordinate her summer itineraries for her students, which included: orientations around Athens; a Northern Trip (as far north as Boeotia); a Crete Trip, which included flying there and staying three nights to see the Mesara, Herakleion, and Knossos; the Peloponnese; Piraeus/Salamis; and a final day in Aegina for swimming after an examination (ADM REC Series 1000, Box 1001/5, Folder 13). In 1960 and 1961, Smith even added Delos to show students the amazing archaeological site there.

Like the students that Smith admitted to the School in the Regular Program, the rosters of students in Smith’s own sessions went on to great things in and out of the field of Classics—although all with strong feelings for Greece. Many former students recount their summer with Smith with wonder, respect, and longing. Nancy de Grummond mentions:

“[Smith] struck me as very experienced and wryly skeptical about what she saw around [Greece].  As I recall she smoked heavily but managed to trip lightly across the hills and rocks, always wearing a pink hat.  I remember the group saying ‘just follow the pink hat’ over the hill” (personal correspondence, 6 April 2016).

Charles Frazee describes Smith as “a person of great wisdom and someone immersed in ancient Greek History. Her judgment was sound and her concern for her students great” (personal correspondence, 22 February 2016). Smith indeed touched the lives of her students, whether they knew it at the time or not. De Grummond, who was still an undergraduate at the time of her SS, mentions that: “Years later continued to gasp as [she] learned what an array of the famous and great or soon-to-be-great [she] had encountered on that summer in 1961: Dinsmoor, Vanderpool, Smithson, Harrison, Blegen, Mylonas, the Vermeules.  [She] did not know that Prof. Smith was great and famous either!” (personal correspondence, 6 April 2016). Frazee, intending to study U.S. history in graduate school, was inspired by Smith to switch to Greek history—although modern, not ancient (personal correspondence, 22 February 2016).


At Delphi with Gertrude Smith crowing a student, summer of 1960. Geraldine Gesell on the left.

At Delphi with Gertrude Smith, summer of 1960. The smiling young woman with the camera is Geraldine (Gerry) Gesell.


By 1963, Smith had been on the MC for nearly 28 years. And by this point, it is clear that in her correspondence she was tiring of her duties and obligations on the MC. In April 1963, just before she stepped down, she wrote to Henry Robinson: “I hope this letter does not sound too cranky. But I am getting awfully tired of this job. Nobody should undertake it who is trying to do a full time teaching load and at the same time do a little scholarly work. Of the latter I have not done a tap this year. The person who takes over must know what he is getting into. I think the Executive Committee should take some time to discuss what type of student we want instead of spending all the time on budget and sites to excavate. And the Managing Committee ought to get educated which they never have done” (ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 4, 24 April 1963).

Gertrude Smith's Cross of the Commander of the Royal Order of Beneficence. ASCSA Archives.

Gertrude Smith’s Cross of the Commander of the Royal Order of Beneficence. ASCSA Archives.

Smith wanted to leave before any criticisms of her work were raised, and she, like many academics, wanted simply to get back to research, although she never published a great deal. In addition to her published dissertation, she only wrote 11 articles, but co-wrote the influential two-volume work, The Administration of Justice from Homer to Aristotle, with Robert Bonner, her mentor at Chicago. Most of her published works came before 1946, when Bonner died, turning at that point to administration and teaching (Gagarin 1996-1997, p. 176). But was Smith, like many female scholars of her time, given these busy positions, so that their male colleagues could have more time to do research and be prolific scholars?

Smith passed away in 1985. Like her efforts to ensure that SS students received funding to attend, Smith left a gift of over $100,000 to the School (ASCSA Newsletter, Fall 1985, p. 9). To honor Smith’s dedication to the School and its students, let alone her devotion to Greece itself, in 1986, the MC decided to designate the SS Directors as the “Gertrude Smith Professor and Director of the ASCSA Summer Session”. The gift that Smith left to the School was allocated for SS scholarships, ensuring that future SS students may benefit from the program, as Smith intended.

Smith wanted to ensure that Greece, including its history, language, and archaeology, was studied with not only respect, but also passion. Indeed, it was her actions as Chairman of the CAF at the School, in addition to her thousands of students she taught over 48 years at various institutions, students in Eta Sigma Phi, and scholars active in any of the Classics-related organizations she touched, that have impacted countless numbers of people. Who knows how many people came to Greece for the first time because of Smith’s diligence.

And what we all share with her is a love of Greece. In her presidential address to CAMWS on 10 April 1941, she altered a fragment of Simonides to illustrate how much Greek culture has impacted modern life, saying that:

“Pericles said that Athens was the school of Hellas. Just as truly is now the school of the world” (Gagarin 1996-1997, 167).

After Smith’s death in 1985, her ashes were later scattered on the Athenian Acropolis, so that she would, in fact, always remain in Greece.

Works Cited:

ADM REC: Administrative Records, Archives, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
AR: American School of Classical Studies at Athens Annual Report
Gagarin, M. 1996-1997. “Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1895).” The Classical World 90.2/3: 167-177.
Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton


I would like first to thank the ASCSA Archivist, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, for the opportunity to tell Smith’s story, using the archival records of the School. The Archives of Eta Sigma Phi, housed at Hewes Library of Monmouth College, were helpful in providing scans of Nuntius, the ΗΣΦ newsletter, for which I thank Lynn Daw and Tom Sienkewicz.  I also had the pleasure of reaching out to a number of Smith’s former SS students and colleagues, who were generous with their memories and impressions of Smith and their own time in Greece: Nancy de Grummond, Charles Frazee, Geraldine Gesell, Ross Holloway, Suzanne Kilpatrick, Edgar Krentz, Joseph Shaw, Ron Stroud, and Susan Ford Wiltshire.

9 Comments on “Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene”

  1. Jonathan Hall says:

    Thanks for this interesting post, Dylan. Just one correction: Gertrude Smith was educated, and taught, at the University of Chicago, not the University of Illinois. Her portrait (like that of her collaborator, R.J. Bonner, and a few other luminaries) still hangs in the department.

  2. […] I wrote about a former professor who worked closely with the School from about 1945-1965: “Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene.” As a self-professed philhellene myself, this was a truly interesting experience to delve […]

  3. Thanks for this great picture of a most important person! This is an excellent use of the School’s Archives, and a fine contribution to its history. Gertrude Smith ‘s memory is a precious part of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Bravo!

  4. Glenn Bugh says:

    Very interesting, Dylan. A great story, well told. Anything in the archives about her impressions of Kevin Andrews?

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] Fr. Charles Buckley, S.J., was a student of the School in 1951-1952. In his correspondence with Gertrude Smith about School membership, Fr. Buckley apparently had not mentioned his attainments in Latin, but […]

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