“The Four in Crete”: A Travel Book Leads to an Archival AdventurePosted: December 11, 2019
Posted by Christopher Richter
Christopher Richter, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Hollins University, with research interests in visual and textual narratives, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about a woman traveler, Gertrude Harper Beggs (1874-1951), who, after attending the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1911-1912, published a travel book about Crete in 1915. Richter, who co-teaches travel abroad courses in the Mediterranean with his wife and fellow faculty member, Christina Salowey (ASCSA student 1990-1992), has developed a special interest in past travelogues about Greece and Turkey.
A few years ago while I was researching 19th and early 20th Century North American women’s travel narratives about Greece, I found 24 relevant accounts in books and magazines (a few of which included references to The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, hereafter ASCSA or the School). The chapter that I eventually published dealt with only six of the narratives (“Exceptional perspectives: National Identity in US Women’s Travel Accounts of Greece, 1840-1913,” in Politics, Identity and Mobility in Travel Writing, ed. M. A. Cabanas, J. Dubino, V. Salles-Reese, G. Totten, New York 2015, pp. 69-82). But among those that I did not include, one particularly intrigued me, leading to more research on the book and its author. Among other discoveries noted below, I found that it is particularly appropriate to remember the author now, as Loring Hall, in its 90th year, is undergoing an extensive renovation.
The Four in Crete
Gertrude Harper Beggs’s The Four in Crete, published in 1915 (New York: Abingdon Press), tells the story of four traveling companions identified only by nicknames: the Western Woman, the Coffee Angel, the Scholar and the Sage. The narrative begins and ends in Athens, but otherwise focuses on their journey to archeological sites on Crete, which at the time of their visit was not yet technically part of Greece. Beggs employs some standard devices of travelogues of the era. She illustrates the rigors and exoticism of travel through amusing reports of sea sickness, flea infested bedding, and the anxieties of the customs house.
“The [Piraeus] harbor, ever a busy place, was unusually animated that afternoon, with several men-of-war and many merchant vessels lying near the quays and numerous small craft plying busily among them. It was rather an exciting little race to the steamer, for it was already sailing time, and a warning whistle indicated that for once the Four had counted too confidently on the habitual tardiness of Greek vessels” (p. 16-17).
But she also tells in detail of visiting Knossos and the Candia museum, of being guided across rough Cretan terrain on horseback, of what the four saw and discussed at Gortyn, Phaestos and Hagia Triada, and how a seemingly chance encounter in the village of Vori led to a sumptuous dinner as guests of Federico Halbherr (1857-1930), the Italian archaeologist who discovered the famous Gortyn Code in 1884 (pp. 162-165). Halbherr’s diaries have recently become available on the Italian Archaeological School’s webpage.
“Dr. Halbherr himself, as well dressed and immaculate as if he had just stepped in from some Rue de Rivoli, soon put the Four at ease with his perfect courtesy… . The conversation began in Greek, but only the Scholar could make any adequate response in that language. Then their host tried them in Italian; blank silence. Next in French; the Coffee Angel feebly ventured on ‘Oui, monsieur,” and then relapsed into exhausted embarrassment. It seemed doomed to be a silent meal. But at last Dr. Halbherr surprised them all by saying, “Perhaps you can speak English? And from then on they chatted easily, as the host related many witty stories about his thirty years’ experiences in Crete…” (pp. 163-164).
The book received several positive reviews in the popular press, including The New York Times (Oct. 31, 1915, p. 72). It also garnered two scholarly reviews, one by D[avid] M. Robinson (Art and Archaeology 3, 1916, p. 123), the other by Monroe N. Wetmore (The Classical Journal 11, 1916, pp. 375-378). Both reviewers comment on the value of the discussions of the sites. Wetmore also states that “the style is so easy and graceful, the story is so charmingly told… that one can lay the volume down only when he has finished it” (p. 375).
This charm derives in part from Beggs’s sense of humor and her portrayal of camaraderie among the characters. The action and information in the book is driven by their dialogue. Though disparate in age (more on this below) they banter easily on various topics, including their relative mastery, or lack thereof, of Modern Greek, their meals and accommodations, Modern Greek politics, and, especially, their shared interest in the ancient sites.
The “Western Woman” at the American School in 1911-1912
The narrative also hints at the four being members of a larger community. It describes the trip to Crete as an “aftermath of their long season in Athens,” (p.12) and states that they had almost been “‘scared off’ by the reports of friends who had made the trip” before them (p. 11). These dynamics felt strangely familiar, even across a century, so I should not have been surprised when investigation revealed that Beggs was an associate member of the School in 1911-1912 (Annual Report of the Managing Committee, p.22).
This discovery stoked my curiosity about Beggs and the trip. Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan located Beggs’s application in the ASCSA Archives. Apparently, she attended only the second half of the school year, as the repurposed Fellowship application identifies the place and date of applying as Athens, January 19, 1912. According to the Directory of Fellows and Students in the appendices of Louis Lord’s history of the ASCSA (A History of the American School of Classical Studes at Athens, 1882-1942, Cambridge Mass. 1947), she received her PhD from Yale in 1904. An internet search led me to the 1920 Yale publication Alumnae, Graduate School, Yale University, 1894-1920, which reveals that her dissertation was entitled The Adnominal Genitive in Lysias, and that at the time of her enrollment at the ASCSA, she was Professor of Greek at the University of Denver, which had been her undergraduate alma mater (Corwin, Margaret Trumball, 1920, pp. 14-15).
The 1911-1912 ASCSA Annual Report also notes that “three trips were made to Crete by different members of the School” that year (p. 218). Presumably, Beggs describes one of these. Her trip took place in the spring—she makes repeated references to wildflowers (e.g., pp. 34, 35, 91), and Emerson H. Swift’s description of a trip to Crete, which occurred in early April a year later, offers a useful comparison (Youthful Rambles: On the Trail of the Classics, Privately published, 1975, pp. 38-40).
Assuming the trip was one of those noted in the report, I wondered whether the pseudonymous characters represented other ASCSA members. Beggs overlapped with several luminary figures in 1911-1912, including Carl W. Blegen, William B. Dinsmoor, Hetty Goldman, Clyde Pharr, and Alice Leslie Walker. Research revealed that although the narrative is in the third person, the Western Woman is undoubtedly a portrayal of Beggs herself, as Wetmore implies in his review. Denver and Colorado are repeatedly referenced as the character’s home (pp. 29, 44, 61, 98), and she reveals that her “father is a Methodist clergyman” (p. 76). Although born in Missouri, Beggs moved to Denver as a teen, when her father, a Methodist clergymen, was assigned to a Denver church (“Denver Girl a Professor,” Rolla Missouri Herald, June 23, 1904, p.4)
The Scholar, the Sage, and the Coffee Angel
Identifying the inspiration for the Scholar was also comparatively straightforward. He was almost certainly based on Clyde Pharr. He sardonically alludes to his Texas background (p. 106), and when the Western Woman is amazed at his ease in riding a difficult horse over rough terrain, she remarks to herself “of course that boy can ride anything! I’d forgotten that he used to be a Texas cowboy! Busting Broncos was good training for this” (p. 100). According to the Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists (ed. Ward Briggs, Jr., Westport 1994), Pharr “was raised on a combination farm and ranch in Texas, where, in his words, “we had much hard manual labor the whole year long. At an early age my younger brother Frank and I developed the habit of running away from home,” (pp. 498-99). That quote even aligns with the Scholar’s portrayed wry sense of humor. (Pharr taught classics at Vanderbilt University from 1924 until 1950 and ended his academic career at the University of Texas at Austin.)
Possible identities of the Sage and the Coffee Angel have proven more elusive. A line in the book led me to believe the Sage was based on Carl Blegen: “The Sage, who had devoted one summer of enforced leisure to botanizing in the Minnesota woods, kept a loving eye on the countless blossoms, exclaiming now and then when he spied some special favorite” (p. 34). Vogeikoff-Brogan documents the formative summers of Blegen’s youth at Saga Hill, in the Minnesota woods, and his botanical interests (“The Life of Carl. W. Blegen from a Grassroots Perspective,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 17-38). But other details in the text quickly undermined this identification. On the next page Beggs states “The dear Sage! They sometimes wondered which he loved best, his flowers, or his wife, or his Greek!” (p. 35). And about 100 pages later the Sage asks that one of his companions photograph him on horseback for his wife, because “’the last time I took a horseback trip was thirty-seven years ago, when I rode eighteen miles to court my girl’” (p. 139). Not only was Blegen single in 1912, but the Sage is portrayed as courting his wife 12 years before Blegen was born (Blegen was born in 1887).
While the portrayed ages of the characters confounded my attempts to identify the Sage, I thought they might offer parameters for identifying the Coffee Angel. The Scholar’s youth as compared to the other characters is a consistent theme of humor in the book (Pharr was 27 in 1912). One of his conversations with the Coffee Angel emphasizes this, and also provides her specific age. She has made her eponymous beverage at Phaestos—she shields her alcohol lamp from the wind inside a pithos—and the scholar effuses:
“‘Coffee Angel . . . when I grow up will you elope with me? My heart tells me that any woman who can serve coffee from a Minoan jar is my affinity’. . . . ‘Well,’ acquiesced the Coffee Angel, ‘I was fifty last month, and when you catch up to me, we’ll elope’” (p. 151).
I first assumed that the Coffee Angel might be based on Louise Foucar Marshall (1864-1956), who contributed the frontispiece and other drawings in the book. Although she had no affiliation with the ASCSA, she and Beggs had been close friends as undergraduates at the University of Denver, and they stayed in touch, as attested in a letter Beggs wrote to her in July 1914, lamenting the latter’s inability to attend an informal UD reunion (courtesy of the archives, University of Arizona Special Collections). In 1912 she was 48, at least close to the described age. Foucar Marshall proved fascinating in her own right. She was the first woman professor at the University of Arizona, later a successful Tucson real estate developer and a philanthropist. And she briefly achieved national notoriety in 1931, when at the age of 67, she shot her sleeping husband multiple times at point blank range, yet was acquitted of his murder by a jury, after testifying that he had had an affair with their housekeeper, and had tried to poison her (See Louise Foucar Marshall and Tom Marshall Collection, University of Arizona Special Collections splash page; also, Eubank, Johanna. April 27, 2018. “Tales from the Morgue: Shots in the dark,” Arizona Daily Star. )
But further research revealed that she was not in Greece with Beggs in 1912. In a biography of Marshall, Trial and Triumph: the Life and Accomplishments of Louise Foucar Marshall, (2008, Privately published), Patricia Stephenson, who had been Marshall’s personal assistant, recounts that Beggs sent Marshall a manuscript of The Four in Crete, along “with photographs and asked her friend to illustrate it” (p. 66). She also mentions a 1912 letter from Beggs about her travels in Greece “with a group of professors who taught language and history at American universities” (p. 66). This letter might have shed light on the identity of Beggs’s companions in Crete, but unfortunately was not among the extensive Marshall papers that Stephenson eventually donated to the University of Arizona Library’s Special Collections (Personal correspondence with Roger Meyers, Archivist, University of Arizona, July 3, 2018).
Another candidate for the role of the Coffee Angel is Minnie Bunker (1867-1959). She is listed in the Directory of Fellows and Students in Lord’s book as an ASCSA member for 1911-1912 (also in 1900-1901 and 1906-1907). She and Beggs were probably acquainted before their time at the ASCSA, as both taught in Denver High Schools from 1894-1896. (For Beggs, see J. W. Leonard, ed. Woman’s Who’s Who of America : a Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915; and for Bunker, Colby College General Catalog, 1820-1920.) As with Marshall, her age is not a precise match. According to a memorial page for the Oakland, CA High School, where she taught for many years, she was born in September 1867, making her 44 in spring 1912. Furthermore, the Coffee Angel makes an ambiguous reference to New York as her possible home (p. 124), but Bunker, who was born in Maine and eventually moved to California, appears not to have ever resided there.
It is possible that Beggs exaggerated the age difference of her characters for comedic effect. She may also have created composite characters for the Sage or the Coffee Angel, e.g. for the former, combining the age and marital status of some other individual with the Minnesota background and botanical tendencies of Blegen. It is possible that one or both were entirely fabricated, though I am skeptical of this, or they may have been based on individuals with no traceable association with Beggs or the ASCSA. Swift’s account is again useful for comparison. It seems that participation by outsiders in school trips was not unusual. On Crete, he abandoned a larger group that included ASCSA members and set off with an independent “retired American classicist” (p. 38). And earlier he describes how members were accompanied by “five amateurs” for part of the official southern trip in November 1912 (pp. 16-17).
Beggs, Pi Beta Phi, and a Women’s Hostel in Athens
After her time as a member of the School, Beggs had a wide ranging and fast paced career in academia. According to the aforementioned Yale Alumnae publication, she earned an LL.D. degree from the University of Denver in 1914, and then went on to serve as Dean of the Chicago Kindergarten Institute, as Social Director of the Martha Cook Building at the University of Michigan, as Dean of Women at the University of Minnesota, and finally, starting in 1919, as Professor of Latin at Westhampton College, the all-female affiliate of the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Her association with the ASCSA did not end with her time as a student. In The Annual Report of the Managing Committee to the Trustees for 1919-1920 (pp. 17-18), Edward Capps notes that she resigned that year from the Board of Directors of the Auxiliary Fund Association “after rendering splendid service. . . because she was taking up a new work in China.” The Auxiliary Fund Association Directors are also thanked “for their vision of the possibilities of the undertaking and their unremitting zeal in working for their realization.” During her last year on the board the fund was increasingly important for the financial well-being of the School, and both subscribers and revenue more than tripled.
An announcement in the June 1920 issue of The Arrow, the official publication of Pi Beta Phi, offers a perspective on Beggs’s own vision and unremitting zeal on behalf of the ASCSA. Pi Beta Phi describes itself as the first fraternity for women, and Beggs had been inducted as an undergraduate at the University of Denver. Her professional advancements, and her service to that organization, were regularly reported in The Arrow. In the same issue as the announcement, her service on two different Pi Beta Phi committees is noted (pp. 444 and 448). A year and a half earlier, in the December 1, 1918 issue, her role as chair of the Committee on War Work is recorded (p.179), but more significantly, the entire text of an address she gave to the membership at the annual convention is reproduced (“The Daughters of Atlas,” pp. 190-196). In short, by the time that she was on the ASCSA’s Auxiliary Fund Board, Beggs was an influential member of Pi Beta Phi.
The 1920 announcement states, in part that “Prof. Edward Capps of Princeton University, Chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, has acknowledged in his last report on The Auxiliary Fund, ‘a handsome subscription of $300.00 a year from the Pi Beta Phi National Fraternity.’ Grand Council has thought it expedient to identify Pi Beta Phi with this project of advanced scholarship for women and has authorized the above subscription.” It goes on to name the members of the Auxiliary Fund Board, including Beggs, and to explain the women’s scholarship connection by stating that revenues raised by the Auxiliary Funds Committee “will make it possible to increase the facilities of the school, by the addition, particularly, of a dormitory for women students who may be pursuing research work in Athens” (pp. 517-518). Presumably it was Beggs herself who argued for and secured this subscription, worth almost $4,000.00 in 2019 dollars.
Louis Lord’s account in his history of the ASCSA suggests that fundraising for the women’s hostel was actually entirely separate from that of the Auxiliary Fund. Nevertheless, evocation of a dormitory for women to justify Pi Beta Phi’s contribution ultimately links Beggs, at least in spirit, to Loring Hall, which opened in 1929 and was, as Lord notes, “the final and most satisfactory solution of the ‘Hostel 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 student newspaper, reported on September 29, 1922, that Beggs had “resumed her teaching at Westhampton College after returning from China” where she taught in “the English schools of Kuling.”
In closing, the inspirations for two of Beggs’s characters, the Sage and Coffee Angel, remain a mystery, and I remain interested in any information or theories that might shed light on their identities. In addition, I hope that my efforts have helped bring Gertrude Harper Beggs out from the shadows. Like some of her more renowned ASCSA contemporaries, she seems to have been formidable, and is especially worthy of remembrance now, as Loring Hall is renovated. Finally, I recommend her book. It offers a window on the camaraderie of the School, and on Minoan archaeology in that era, and I found it is as entertaining as Wetmore’s review suggested. A copy is in the Gennadius Library’s rare book collection, hard copies can be obtained from vintage booksellers, and a free downloadable PDF is available from the Internet Archive.