Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in GreecePosted: July 3, 2018
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.
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).
Goldman herself is depicted “as a powerful, determined woman with square chin, sensible clothes, furrowed brow and large brown hornrimmed spectacles” looking sideways and smoking a cigarette, another indication of her willfulness. In 1924, Hetty was in her early 40s and in the middle of her long archaeological career. Another woman of her time might have contemplated retirement, at least from strenuous field work, as other pioneer women archaeologists had done before her, but not Hetty, who 10 years after Eutresis would start her most ambitious project, the excavation of Tarsus in Cilicia. She would also become the first woman, in 1936, to hold a professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Thirty years later, in 1966, when she received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, only the second recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s highest award, she would be lauded “as an excavator, author, mentor of archaeologists… [and] a pioneer in many fields and in many lands.” (Mellink and Quinn 2004, p. 337).
De Jong chose to title his portrait of Goldman The Popentate, Hetty’s nickname, not without significance, since it resonates with the Latin Potentate, meaning powerful. (Jack Davis tells me that Popentate also resonates with Pope –perhaps a joke since she was Jewish?). With pioneering people, especially women competing in fields dominated by men, it is always tempting to look into their early years for the first signs of assertiveness.
One of four children of Julius and Sarah Goldman, Hetty was born in a house that valued both wealth and education. Her paternal grandfather, Marcus Goldman, had founded the investment house of Goldman, Sachs, and Company together with two brothers, Julius and Samuel Sachs. Her maternal line included many university-educated men. The Sachs family, bound to the Goldmans through intermarriage (two of the Goldman sisters married two Sachs brothers), was also prominent in the promotion of education, having founded the Sachs School for Boys in 1871 and the companion School for Girls in 1891, which Hetty and her sisters Agnes and Bertha attended. Julius Sachs, who established these schools, had studied classics in Germany and practiced classical scholarship throughout his life. His son and Hetty’s cousin, Paul Sachs (1878-1965), would become Assistant Director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum and Professor of Art History at Harvard College. He is also credited with the development of the earliest museum studies program in America. Sachs, through the Fogg Museum, would support several of Hetty’s projects in Greece and Turkey.
“Some Share in the Field Work of the School”
After attending the Sachs School for Girls, Hetty received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in 1903 where she double majored in English and Greek. Not sure about her scholarly interests, she would spend the next six years trying to decide whether to pursue a career in writing or to enroll in graduate school for classics. She finally did the latter. In 1910, after having received her Master’s degree from Radcliffe, she went to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), as the recipient of the Charles Eliot Norton fellowship — the first woman to receive it (one of the many “firsts” in Goldman’s academic year). In Athens she found eleven students, five of whom were women. She would immediately strike a friendship with Alice Leslie Walker (later Cosmopoulos), with whom she would excavate the site of Halae. Other students included Carl W. Blegen and William Bell Dinsmoor. Bert Hodge Hill was the School’s Director with Cyrus Ashton Rollius Sanborn performing the duties of Secretary (much later Sanborn would marry Hetty’s younger sister Agnes).
“I first went to Greece in the golden age before the [Great] War, when visas were unknown, and travelers were not yet corrupted to an unholy joy in depreciated currencies. I had a Harvard fellowship which assured me two years of study at the American School in Athens, and in my heart a great desire for that experience which up ‘till then had been denied women: some share in the field work of the School” reminisced Goldman in 1923.
Even though Harriet Boyd and Edith Dohan had conducted excavations on the independent island of Crete (thus outside the jurisdiction of the American School) in the early 1900s, the American School continued to discourage women from engaging in field activities. Hill, however, was willing to meet half-way Goldman’s desire to excavate in Greece. Goldman and Walker wanted to excavate the mound of Eutresis but they were advised “to choose a site nearer to where the men of the School were working that year, so that we should not be left to meet unaided the many difficulties, both practical and archaeological, which our inexperience was certain to encounter,” Goldman recalled in “Archaeological Excavation: A Profession and an Adventure” (Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, June 1923, pp. 7-8).
The site which the School chose for Hetty and Alice Leslie was the coastal city of Halae in Locris, not far from Atalante where the School was digging to find Opous, the capital city of ancient Locris. Years later Goldman jokingly would tell friends “that she and Walker were permitted to excavate at Halae only because the director of the School wished to locate them as far from Athens as possible” (Mellink and Quinn 2004, p. 303).
Too Small to Admit One’s Faults?
It is also ironic that the School had to give up Opous after the first season because of poor results, while Goldman and Walker would ask Hill to apply to the Greek State for land expropriation at their own expense. At a time when excavation permits were issued within the day, the expropriation of the land where the acropolis of Halae once stood took more than a year. I cannot help but wonder whether Hill’s “laissez-faire” way of managing the School’s affairs was responsible for the delay in the negotiations with the Greek State or a subconscious refusal on his part to prioritize women’s business. In the end it was through the intervention of an important family in Athens, the Coe von Berlans, and their connections with the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, that the expropriation of Halae was achieved.
“In their eagerness to help us they went to no less a person than Venizelos, and they represented the situation so ably –the fact that although the Greek government had promised the American School to act promptly, we were still waiting after three months of excavation –that he was immediately interested… and personally wrote a letter to the general secretary of the Ministries… telling him to see that the expropriation be attended to immediately. I need not go into details, but suffice it to say that it took three weeks of telegraphing in the name of the Prime Minister to locate the papers… gathering dust in the office of a small local official in Lamia…” only to find out that in the meantime the owner of the land had not only tripled its price but he was also threatening to dig wells and plant trees, not to mention that he kept sending his wife to throw stones at the workmen (Bert H. Hill Papers, box 3, folder 6).
The excerpt above comes from a fourteen page letter that Goldman addressed to Hill on August 31st 1912 from Switzerland. Of great interest, and also indicative of Goldman’s quest for fairness, is that in the same letter she did not hesitate to accuse Hill of negligence and moral smallness.
“The losses of time, energy and money of this season are irreparable and into the question of whether they were inevitable, it is perhaps futile to enter now. One thing alone my self-respect will not allow me to pass over is silence. When I saw you for the last time in Athens you said to me ‘I consider that there has been absolutely no neglect in connection with the Halae expropriation’ and I, by keeping silence, may have seemed to acquiesce in this. Mr. Hill, I would have to give up every conception of duty I have ever held, if I were to believe that the Director of an archaeological school was justified in personally attending to a thousand and one nerve racking and trivial household details, and not himself enquiring… into so important a matter as the expropriation of an ancient site.”
To strike her final blow a few lines later: “I have known many people too small to admit an error but none too big to do so. I have never counted you among the former. After all, to a person of ambition and an independent way of thought opportunity means more than anything else, and I still remember with gratitude that very opportunity to excavate came from you; everything else, unless you yourself should again bring it up, I should prefer to let lapse into silence.”
We don’t have Hill’s reply to know whether he admitted his negligence, thus acting “big,” or followed her suggestion not to raise the matter again. The next time she wrote to him was in early November 1912, a month after the outbreak of the First Balkan War. She shared with him the good news that Venizelos had signed the Halae expropriation papers the day before the troops were mobilized and “that [she] felt as if [she] were in possession of an historic document.”
When Hill in a subsequent letter to her tried to undermine her Athenian friends, the Coe von Berlans, she wrote back that [she] “had to smile at [his] suggestion that the Coe von Berlans might have angered the officials, as I received with the same mail a glorious account from Athens of the relief work they have undertaken and the way in which everybody including royalty and prime minister, attended a sale for the benefit of the soldiers that Miss Coe von Berlan arranged” (Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 3, folder 6, Goldman to Hill, December 20, 1912). In fact, she managed to annoy him further by reiterating that “…the only thing I have heard is that all the foreign schools except our own have aided the Greeks, and that we have been rather sharply criticized in consequence.” And to make up for the School’s lack of interest in participating in any relief work, she raised money among her friends in New York and sent it “to the Coe von Berlans to give to the Red Cross in the name of our excavations.”
In the Service of the American Red Cross
Machteld Mellink and Kathleen Quinn in their thorough biographical essay about Goldman refer to her serving as a nurse in a Greek hospital in the course of the Second Balkan War (June 29-August 10, 1913), based on personal communication with Hetty’s aged sister Agnes. From Goldman’s letters to Hill in 1913, however, it appears that she spent most of her summer at the museum in Thebes working on the finds from the previous year. Her sister might have conflated Hetty’s later work, in 1918-1919, with the American Red Cross (ARC) and the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers that took her to Northern Greece (Thessaloniki, Serres, and Kavala), Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Jack Davis has retrieved in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C. Goldman’s final report, titled “Investigation of the Needs of the Jewish Communities of Greece, Southern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria,” to Lieutenant Colonel Capps, the American Red Cross Commissioner to Greece. Regrettably, her work has gone rather unacknowledged, since Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, who took extra care to publish in book form reports of the other six (male) members of the ARC Greek Commission, did not include hers.
“With The Spade in Greece”
Goldman and Walker worked for four seasons at Halae (1911-1914), unearthing the remains of an ancient Greek city from the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic period with its houses, public square, fortification walls, and graves. From a well they also dug out archaic figurines and building fragments associated with an earlier sanctuary to Athena. WW I brought to an end their field work at Halae; both women, however, took advantage of their free time in America to write their dissertations in the excellent libraries of Harvard and Berkley: Hetty Goldman on “The Terracottas from the Necropolis of Halae,” in 1916, and Alice Walker on “The Pottery of the Necropolis of Locrian Halae,” in 1917. Moreover, in 1916, the two women contributed $1000 each toward the purchase of land in Athens so that the American School could build its first hostel for women.
By the end of the Great War, however, Hetty and Alice Leslie had parted ways, with Walker concentrating on fieldwork at Corinth and marrying the excavation’s foreman, George Cosmopoulos, in 1918, while Hetty, “a person of ambition and an independent way of thought” (as she had described herself to Hill), after some supplementary work at Halae, would go on to dig the site of Colophon in Asia Minor in the summer of 1922, together with Carl Blegen. War, however, would interrupt her plans once more.
On September 11, 1922, Smyrna was destroyed by fire. “We had closed down the excavation before [the fire], thinking to continue after a short interval, but when we returned all the antiquities we had gathered by careful work… had disappeared. All that remained was a single iron bedstead on which a local policeman was found taking his noon day siesta,” recalled Goldman thirty years later in 1955 in an essay titled “Golden Moments in Greece.” The disruption of her work at Colophon brought her back to Greece, where, at last, she was able to dig Eutresis in 1924, her very first site, the one that the School would not allow her to dig in 1911.
An Aunt’s Advice
De Jong’s Popentate knew that she owed part of her success to her personal wealth, which gave her the independence to pursue her desires. Yet, it must have seemed unfair to her to have to pay for what her male colleagues were getting paid to do. In 1933, writing to her niece, Elizabeth Gutman, who also wanted to become an archaeologist, Goldman advised her against spending from her own purse.
“May I play the old Aunt and give a little advice? First of all be sure, for the success of your own career, that they do not get the impression in Athens that you are in the same position as myself and can work without pay. When I took to the special kind of archaeology I pursue, that is field work—I had a clear understanding with your Grandad that I would not be earning my living, and I asked him whether he was sufficiently interested in the results of such a career to finance me. It was only with his consent that I embarked upon it, for otherwise I should have turned to teaching or museum work” (Doreen Canaday Spitzer Papers, box 3, folder 8, Goldman to Gutman, Jan. 31, 1933).
In 1936 Goldman was the first woman to be invited to join the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton, with the understanding that she would spend half her time in the field and half at the Institute. She accepted, knowing that she would lose some of her valued independence, but it was time to settle down. She did have an occasional regret. “The excavation is my first love and fundamentally I fear I am a wandering spirit,” she would write to Simon Flexner, brother of Abraham Flexner, the founding director of IAS, from her dig at Tarsus in 1938. A year later, war would interrupt her excavations a third time, as with Halae in 1914 and Colophon in 1922.
Goldman, H. “Archaeological Excavation: A Profession and an Adventure,” Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, June 1923, pp. 7-10.
Goldman, H. “With the Spade in Greece,” Radcliffe Quarterly 2, 1918, pp. 34-36.
Hood, R. Faces of Archaeology in Greece. Caricatures by Piet de Jong, Oxford 1998.
Mellink, M. J. and K. M. Quinn, “Hetty Goldman (1881-1972),” in Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists, ed. and G. M. Cohen and M. S. Joukowsky, Ann Arbor 2004.
I had hard time finding any information about the Coe von Berlan family, other than that Mary Anna von Berlan Seward Coe died in Athens in 1917. She and her daughters were also thanked by Walker and Goldman in the first published report about the Halae excavations in AJA 19 (1915), p. 418.