Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel Dorothy Hansen (Part I)Posted: April 19, 2020
“Her main contribution was not destined to be in the field of excavation, but in discovering in dark cellars a good number of broken vases still covered with earth, discovered by others over the years in the island of Skyros. There she collected, cleaned, patched, and provided with a shelter transforming into a small Museum a room in the City Hall of Skyros. For this service to archaeology and the island she was made Honorary Citizen of Skyros,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas about Hazel Hansen in early 1963, a few months after her death, in the Annual Report of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter).
I asked several archaeologists of my generation and slightly older if her name or her association with the island of Skyros rang a bell. It did not, although she was known well enough in Greece, for her death to be noted at length in Kathimerini (December 22, 1962), one of the most respected Greek newspapers. «Ηγγέλθη χθες στην Αθήνα ο θάνατος της φιλέλληνος αρχαιολόγου καθηγητρίας του Πανεπιστημίου Στάνφορδ, Χέιζελ Χάνσεν, η οποία είναι ιδιαιτέρως γνωστή δια το σύγγραμμά της περί του αρχαιοτέρου πολιτισμού της Θεσσαλίας…”. In addition to her work in Thessaly and Skyros, the note referred to her participation in the excavations at Olynthus and on the North Slope of the Acropolis. The author of Hansen’s Greek obituary knew her well and wanted to capture the accomplishments of a friend and able colleague. It must have been (again) George Mylonas, whose friendship with Hazel started in the 1920s when they were both at the American School.
A Californian by birth, Hazel Dorothy Hansen (1899-1962) taught classics and archaeology at Stanford University for more than three decades. When she was not teaching at Stanford, she was somewhere in Greece; later in her life, she owned a house on Skyros. I first became interested in Hansen because of the many times I encountered her name in Natalie Gifford’s correspondence. (Gifford’s son and professor of Classics at Brown University, William [Bill] Wyatt, gave transcripts of his mother’s correspondence to the Blegen Library in the 1980s, now in the School’s Archives.) Natalie Murray Gifford (1897-1967) was a student of the School in 1922-1923, the same year as Hansen. “Miss Hansen was on the boat. She is very pleasant and I think I shall like her,” scribbled Natalie to her mother (ASCSA Archives, Natalie M. Gifford Papers, September 22, 1922). However, their meeting must not have been entirely accidental. Hazel had received her B.A. (1920) and MA (1921) from Stanford University, where she had taken most of her classes with Augustus T. Murray (1866-1940). The latter, together with his wife Nella, daughter Lydia, and their niece, Natalie, were also aboard the ship to Greece. Murray was to be the School’s Annual Professor that year. Natalie, a Bostonian, had received a B.A. from Radcliffe College (1918) and an Ed. M. from Harvard in 1921.
Upon their arrival in Athens, the two women moved into the American School on Spefsippou Street (now Souidias). It was unprecedented, since the School until then provided rooms only for men and couples. Before 1922, the women students boarded in pensions, the most famous being the Merlin House. (About the history and location of the Merlin House, see “The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon.”) Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, had made an executive decision to allow women to take rooms in the building for the first time.
First Time Coed
“The events of September 1922, culminating in the destruction of Smyrna and the flight of the Christians from Asia Minor, raised a serious problem just before the opening of the work of the School; for Athens was crowded with refugees and living conditions were exceptionally difficult. Director Hill promptly raised the question by cablegram whether the rooms in the School building should not be thrown open to the women students, and your Chairman [Capps, referring to himself] took the responsibility of giving him full power to act.” (ASCSA Annual Report 1922-23).
Hazel and Natalie were assigned rooms at the east end of the building, while the men were given the west end and rooms on the first floor.
“Our chamber maid’s name is Anna and we have lots of fun getting her to teach us Greek. Miss Hansen knows an awful lot. She is very young, too, just twenty-three today. She seems lots older to me, but now that I know her age I feel quite patriarchal” wrote Natalie, who was just two years older than Hazel” (September 29, 1922).
Within a week, a third woman joined them in the School’s premises. Elizabeth Pierce (later Blegen) in her mid-thirties was a lot older and more experienced than the two girls, but they all got along well. Elizabeth “turned out to be a peach” and the three would “bum around together all the time” (October 5, 1922). In fact, she was the binding element in this threesome, for when she left for Italy in February 1923, the group fell apart. “She [Elizabeth] is a mighty nice person and really more congenial than Hazel who is rather a grind. What’s more, Hazel has taken a great shine to the Brits and goes off with them when she isn’t studying so I haven’t as much company as usual” complained Natalie to her family (February 14, 1923). On another occasion, we hear about Hazel’s special friendship with the British consul in Athens, a Mr. Welsh, who was “old enough to be her father.” (March 20, 1923).
The late months of 1922 were devastating for the city of Athens, which was flooded with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Asia Minor. Bert Hodge Hill, as Chair of the Athens American Relief Committee, worked day and night to offer food and shelter to the destitute; at the same time, as Director of the American School, he made sure that the students felt safe and comfortable and led a normal life.
Natalie’s letters describe lots of field trips, afternoon teas, dinner parties, and romantic entanglements. In January of 1923, Carl Blegen, the Assistant Director of the School, became engaged to Elizabeth Pierce, who broke up with him a few months later upon the arrival of her friend and lover, Ida Thallon. At about the same time, Alan J. B. Wace, Director of the British School at Athens, would become involved with Helen Pence, an American archaeologist from another “sister” institution, the American Academy in Rome. Leicester B. Holland, the School’s architect, would fall in love in the spring of 1923 with Louise Adams, another classicist from the Academy in Rome. To these known romances, we can now add that of Hansen and Mr. Welch of the British Embassy. (For the identity of Welch, see “Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel D. Hansen [Part II]”.)
Of Archival Serendipity
It is common in archival research to find descriptions of an event for which there are no photos. Such is the case with Gifford’s letters, which are full of beautiful, lengthy descriptions of people and events, but her photos have not been preserved. In other collections of personal papers, we have lots of photos but little or no information about the events that led to their creation. Imagine the joy when I finally matched a description of Gifford with a photo taken by Hansen.
While searching the internet for Hansen, her name came up in a book review of 1943. The book in question was This Is Greece: As Photographed by Members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and their Friends (New York 1941); the book is a beautiful collection of black and white photos of Greece taken in the 1920s and 1930s. While leafing through it, I found that Hansen had contributed two photos from Megara. Her photos matched Gifford’s description of a trip to Megara that she, Hansen, Holland, Blegen, and other members of the School took on April 11, 1923.
“Yesterday was the day that the Megarian women dance in costume, and we all wanted to see it… The place was crowded. The women had on their most elaborate costumes. Some had bright colored velvet jackets heavily embroidered with gold, very full black skirts and white petticoats with lace on them. Many of these women had white silk scarfs on their heads trimmed with gold lace. They were really wonderful things… Most of the women had more or less coins draped all over them. Some had a row sewed around the edge of their kerchief and most of them had a regular breastplate of them.”
Several years later, Hansen would contribute her Megarian photos to This is Greece. She must have owned an extensive photographic collection, but it has not survived. Soon after Hansen’s death, in 1966, Lionel Pearson, Professor of Classics at Stanford, shipped to the American School a few folders containing material primarily from Hansen’s last project, the study of prehistoric and geometric burials from the island of Skyros. An accompanying note wrote: “Miss Hansen’s will had specified that the M.S. notes should be destroyed. Her sister (Mrs. J. D. Taylor, San Mateo, Calif.) preferred not to do this, but delivered the papers to Prof. Pearson, who in turn sent them to ASCS.”
An early version of the “English Patient”
In late May of 1923, Hazel, Natalie, Elizabeth Pierce, Carl Blegen, Ida Thallon, Dorothy Cox, Leicester Holland, Bert Hodge Hill, Alan Wace, and several others took a cruise in the Aegean on the “Zion,” a private yacht owned by American millionaire and philanthropist, Charles D. Pratt. (About the “famous” cruise of 1923, see “All Aboard: Cruising the Aegean in 1923.”). One can easily spot Hansen in the photos because of her plaid dress.
Mr. Welsh did not join the cruise, but he was with her on a long walk through the countryside on June 19, 1923, when she fell and broke her leg. We know this because of a detailed account her friend Natalie Gifford sent to her mother concerning the dramatic circumstances of Hazel’s fall:
“Mr. Welsh, the English consul, was with her, and, since the place where they were was absolutely deserted, carried her through a cactus hedge in a ploughed field and left her while he went off to get some vehicle to take her back to Athens. It was just dusk and she had to lie there helpless for two or three hours all alone.”
I must admit that Natalie’s lively description recalled scenes from the English Patient (1996) with Katharine Clifton (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) lying helpless in the cave while her lover, Almásy (Ralph Fiennes), was crossing the desert desperately looking for help. Unlike Katharine, who eventually died in the cave, “Mr. Welsh came back with a sousta, a two-wheeled cart without springs and it took them to a tiny inn about an hour’s walk from Athens…” and from there they managed to get the last bus to Athens.
We know from Natalie’s letters that Hazel was hospitalized at Evangelismos and bore a heavy plaster cast for many weeks. The injury must have been severe because, a year later, another student, Dorothy Burr (later Thompson), entered in her diary: “Hazel’s nearly losing her leg frightens me; what a change to her life that would have been!” implying that Hazel struggled with her broken leg for a long time (Bryn Mawr College, Special Collections, Dorothy Burr Thompson Papers, entry for June 15, 1924; hereafter DBT diary)
Diaries vs. Letters
Gifford left Greece a few days after Hazel’s accident. Hansen received an advanced fellowship that allowed her to stay in Greece until the end of 1924. Without recourse to Gifford’s letters, we have to rely on Burr’s diaries and the School’s official reports for information about Hansen’s second year. Although letters and diaries are both private texts, they differ considerably from each other as sources of information. Letters have a recipient; therefore, they tend to be more descriptive and informative about events and people. Diaries, on the other hand, are self-centered, reflective, and occasionally cryptic, therefore not easily understood. This the case with Burr’s diaries: they reveal more about Dorothy and less about others.
Although Hazel pops in-and-out of Dorothy’s diaries throughout the year, she never emerges as a full-fledged person. The two women socialized together on many occasions, going out to lunches and attending tea-parties. In mid-May 1924, they went to Nemea to see Blegen’s excavations, and some days later, they traveled to Thebes to see Hetty Goldman and the mound near Leuctra (Eutresis) she was going to excavate in the fall (DBT diary, entry for May 25 and 26, 1924). In June, all three women returned to Nemea to excavate with Blegen.
There is only one mention of Mr. Welsh at a tea party where Hazel was present too (DBT diary, February 9, 1924); other than that, there is very little information about Hazel’s personal life in Dorothy’s diaries. There is, however, one episode worth recording because it haunted Dorothy for a while; we do not know what Hazel thought of it, but it must have been an extremely awkward moment for both women, especially when considering the morals of the time.
“I forgot to mention the unfortunate episode in the garden, when Hazel came upon J. [Dorothy’s code name for Franklin Plotinus Johnson] and me sitting in silence in the dark. What she thought, I rather dislike to imagine, for I must admit the general aspect and the hair down for dancing was – shall I say suspicious? […] it looked badly and made me realize how important it is to be a little attentive to appearances. I dislike being caught in even such a slightly undesirable position. ‘Perhaps she thinks our sitting here is not proper’ said J. in his naive honesty. So I have myself to thank for any gossip” penciled a troubled Dorothy in her diary (on June 15, 1924 but the incident must have taken place earlier, at some undefined time).
After a European summer break -Italy for Dorothy and Switzerland for Hazel- during July and August of 1924, the two women returned to Greece for the fall. Earlier in the spring, they had committed to excavating with Miss Goldman a prehistoric mound at Parapoungia, an Albanian village near ancient Leuctra. Before leaving for Thebes, Hazel and Dorothy “went down to the De Jongs to giggle over his caricatures, particularly of Evans, Woodward, and the Tank,” entered Dorothy in her diary on September 14. Piet de Jong would join them as the architect of the excavation. He would also draw caricatures of them. (See Goldman’s caricature here: “Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece“.)
De Jong, who was going through a “Japanese phase,” portrayed Hazel as a Japanese woman wearing a blue-grey kimono. “Her very black hair and the caste of her features may also have suggested this notion to Piet” added Rachel Hood, who published De Jong’s caricatures (once in the Sinclair and Rachel Hood collection, now at the Ashmolean) in 1998. Hazel’s cartoon is set against a big pine tree decorated in Japanese style and a winding path leading to the summit of the mound. The white skeleton on the left refers to the human remains that Hazel found during the excavation.
Hazel’s discovery is also mentioned in Dorothy’s diary: “Hazel got a baby in a pithos” (entry for October 18, 1924). A month later Hazel would baptize their foreman’s (George Deleas) newborn daughter. “… an elaborate ceremony beginning with mutterings and answers while H. held the baby and chose Irene as its name; then its clothes were removed and it was plastered with oil, screeching as its eyes filled; then H. dipped it in hot water in a splendid caldron; it was dressed in clothes she brought it (all damp) and held as she waltzed round the caldron with a priest and George Deleas incense-swinging, chanting and bobbing, almost like witches. G[eorge] gave money to all present as witnesses” Dorothy described wryly in her diary (November 15, 1924).
Visiting Sixty-Five Thessalian Mounds
In the ASCSA Annual Report for 1923-24, Hill reported that “Miss Hansen, the Fellow of the Institute, remained in Athens the first part of the summer, and then, after a holiday in Switzerland, visited Constantinople. She has traveled extensively and has […] been indefatigable in making one-or-two-day excursions from Athens, no one of our School having in my time covered this region with equal thoroughness. Her principal work for the year has been studies in Thessalian topography and history in connection with which she made four journeys of four to twelve days each to Thessaly, and has prepared two papers: one entitled ‘The Aleuadae: A Thessalian Noble Family,’ the other ‘The Ancient Sites between Triccala and Larissa in Thessaly.’ In the course of these journeys, she reports visiting 65 of the mounds listed in Wace and Thompson, Prehistoric Thessaly, and noting seven not included in that list…” (p.21).
We do not know what triggered Hazel to turn into Thessalian prehistory; her background at Stanford was in Classics, and her advisor, Augustus T. Murray, was a distinguished philologist translating ancient authors for the Loeb Classical Library. In the preface of her book Early Civilizations in Thessaly published in 1933, based on her dissertation, Hansen stated that her interest in Thessaly “began with an extensive trip made in that region in the spring of 1924 […] followed by three others during the same year” (p. vii). Although she does not mention Goldman in the preface of her book, Hansen’s participation in the Eutresis excavation in the fall of 1924 would have helped her understand how prehistoric mounds were formed.
Hazel’s transformation from a classicist into a Thessalian prehistorian, however, must have taken place during her first year in Athens (1922-23), when she was socializing with members of the British School, something we would not have known absent Natalie Gifford’s letters. She intended her dissertation to be a reinterpretation of Wace and Maurice S. Thompson’s Prehistoric Thessaly (1912), by analyzing and presenting their results “by historic periods rather than by site.” We do not know if Wace encouraged her to take it up, but if she had hoped for his guidance, I doubt she received much. Wace left Athens in the spring of 1923 when his directorship at the BSA was terminated.
In an Athenian Lecture Room
Although she acknowledged Wace and Walter Heurtley in the preface of her book, Hansen credited the Greek archaeologist Christos Tsountas (1857-1934) for inspiration, “the mention of whose name recalled to mind many pleasant days in an Athenian lecture room where the first glimpses of the early civilizations of the north were given” (p. ix). Hazel must have attended one of Tsountas last classes at the University of Athens, where he taught from 1904-1924. (Ιn the fall of 1924 Tsountas moved to Thessaloniki to offer his services to the newly founded University of Thessaloniki.)
In Tsountas’s class, she must have met two of her life-long friends and supporters, archaeologists George Mylonas and John Papademetriou. Mylonas, who would go on to have a distinguished career in the U.S., began his association with the American School in 1924, not as a student but as its Bursar; his name first appears in the School’s Annual Report of 1924-1925, which means that he was not hired until the second half of 1924. Was it Hazel who introduced Mylonas to the American School? They would both become part of David Robinson’s inner circle. Hazel would dig at Olynthus, together with Mylonas, in 1928 during Robinson’s first campaign. Yet, it is unclear how long she stayed at Olynthus and what her responsibilities were there. By then, she had completed her Ph.D. at Stanford (1926) and was teaching as an instructor in the Classics Department.
On March 22, 1927, the San Francisco Examiner featured a photo of Hazel, announcing that she was the winner of the prestigious Alice Freeman Palmer Fellowship for 1927-28 and that she intended to return to Greece. The School’s Annual Report of that year, the first by Rhys Carpenter as new Director of the School after Hill’s forced resignation in 1926, is laconic about Hansen’s activities, her name appearing only once as part of the Olynthus staff. The first campaign of Olynthus began in February 1928 and lasted until June of the same year. She must have joined the Olynthus campaign as a prehistoric pottery expert, but it is highly unlikely that she stayed there the entire season. After all, she was in Greece to revise and enlarge her dissertation so that it could be published as a book.
Unlike other women in the Olynthus Excavations (Wilhelmina Van Ingen, and later Mary Ross Ellingson) who had a troubled relationship with Robinson, Hazel enjoyed his support. Her book was not only published by Johns Hopkins University, where Robinson taught, but he also paid for more than half of its publication cost (Hansen 1933, p. x). Besides (or probably in exchange), a considerable part of her large collection of prehistoric sherds went to Johns Hopkins. Hansen was also one of the few participants in the Olynthus excavations who later contributed an essay to the two-volume festschrift that Mylonas published in honor of Robinson (Studies Presented to David Moore Robinson on his Seventieth Birthday, Saint Louis 1951-1953). (For the controversial David Robinson, see also: “Tales of Olynthus: Spoken and Unspoken”; and ‘The Modern Greek Exam, “Professor Blank’s” Method, and Other Stories from the 1930s”.)
Her book received mixed reviews. On the one hand, James P. Harland (AJA 1933) and A.D. Fraser (Classical Philology 1934) praised it and thought that it should be given “a place besides those great works on Thessaly,” though suggesting a second, revised edition. On the other hand, her old fellow student from the American School, Franklin Plotinus Johnson (the classicist she “caught” with Dorothy Burr in the School’s garden), was not so generous with his comments. He characterized it as “frankly a compilation,” and criticized her for not including the results of recent works, such as Blegen’s Gonia, Goldman’s Eutresis, and Mylonas’s scholarship (Classical Journal 1935, pp. 233-234).
Wace’s delayed review of her book in 1938 can best be described as cold, if not politely negative. “Thus the usefulness of this book is restricted first by its limitation to Thessaly, second by premature publication, and third by the fact that as regards Thessaly itself there was then no new material from scientific excavation which might have given it the character of a new and original work…” Wace concluded in his review (Gnomon 14, 1938, pp. 534-538).
Whether Hansen planned to publish a revised edition of her book or not, it did not happen. She would devote the rest of her life to two projects. When in Stanford, she spent most of her time with her students in the basement of the Stanford Museum restoring pottery from the Cesnola collection that had been seriously damaged in the 1906 earthquake. When in Greece, she retreated to her beloved island of Skyros, where she had been entrusted by her old friend from the University of Athens, John Papademetriou, with the publication of a large group of burial pottery found on the island.
I will be writing about her mature years, including a major falling-out with archaeologist Oscar Broneer, in my next post. For somebody who left very few personal papers, there are a surprising number of chapters to write about Hazel Hansen.
To be continued.