Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit in Greece, 1928: The Letters of Robert Stroock

In the Main Reading Room of the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library in Athens, on the narrow side of one of the old bookcases, hangs a heavy bronze plaque inscribed: “In Memory of Robert L. Stroock: A Lover of Ancient Greece. MCMXXX”.

Unlike other commemorative plaques at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) which have often changed locations or even have been withdrawn from public view over the years, this one has remained in the same spot since it was dedicated shortly after Stroock’s death in 1930.

On display in the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Two Meaningful Gifts

In Louis E. Lord’s A History of the American School of Classical Studies (1947), the Stroock name is mentioned twice, not in connection with Robert but with his father Sol, a prominent New York lawyer and an active member of the Jewish community in New York at the time. (His firm, which was founded in 1876, still exists as Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.) The first time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is in connection with the death in 1933  of James Loeb, an important philanthropist and a major benefactor of the School. “At his death it was found that he [Loeb] had been one of the School’s greatest benefactors. He left to the Trustees of the School five hundred thousand dollars to be used in conducting excavations in Greece. ‘Greece’ was to be interpreted as meaning ancient Hellas. A liberal interpretation of this by the executor, Mr. Sol M. Stroock, also a friend of the School, gave the School the benefit of the income on this legacy from the time of Mr. Loeb’s death,” wrote Lord (p. 245) in a somewhat cryptic paragraph, perhaps alluding to some complications with Loeb’s will, which  Stroock was able to deal with.

The next time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is on the eve of WW II, when Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, announced a special gift “of three thousand dollars through Mr. Sol M. Stroock, to be used as a fellowship fund to assist properly qualified Jewish students who had been driven from Germany by Hitler’s persecution. To this German Refugee Fellowship, Heinrich Immerwahr, a graduate of Breslau, was appointed. He had just received his doctorate from the University of Florence and went immediately to Greece, rescued thus from a German concentration camp” (Lord 1947, p. 267).

This was the second gift by the Stroock family to the American School within a decade. Upon the death of their son Robert in December 1930, Sol Stroock established a Library fund of about $1,500, to be used for the purchase of books. (He established a similar fund of $20,000 at Harvard College, his son’s alma mater.)  From 1932 until 1955, the Robert L. Stroock Fund appeared as a line in the School’s annual budget. (It appeared once again as the Robert L. Stroock Fellowship in 1969 with Frederick A. Cooper as its recipient.) Yet, there is no special mention of this fund either in Lord’s History or in the ASCSA Annual Reports. One would think that the premature death of a School member, one that was also followed by a commemorative gift, would have been noted in either publication.

“Be lowly wise…”

A graduate of Harvard College, Robert Louis Stroock attended the ASCSA program in 1928-1929. According to his application , which is preserved in the School’s Archives, Robert was a late arrival, having reached Athens in late October 1928, almost a month after the regular program had started. A search on the internet produced nothing about Robert Stroock in contrast to the many entries about his father.

What prompted me to write about Robert Stroock, the mysterious “lover of Ancient Greece,” was the recent re-discovery of a book that I had forgotten we had in the small reference library attached to the School’s Archives. Titled Letters of Robert Stroock: Written at Various Times, to Members of his Family and to some of his Friends, it was compiled, and privately printed in 200 copies, by Sol Stroock in 1932. I must have leafed through the book before, but it was only lately that I noticed that among the many letters written from England and Norway, it also contained about fifteen letters from Greece composed in 1928-1929, when Robert participated in the School ’s program. Since this period is poorly documented in terms of personal papers and photographic collections in the School’s Archives, I delved into the book with a renewed interest. While reading it, I was also struck by Robert’s writing style. These were the usual, descriptive (and sometimes gossipy) family letters that I have been accustomed to read in the School’s Archives. There is, however, a certain mysticism in Robert’s composition, as well as a profound need to go deeper. “He took the whole field of knowledge for his own,” wrote his father in the preface of the book.

Robert Louis Stroock, 1905-1930

Robert arrived in Athens during the second year of Rhys Carpenter’s directorship. Louis E. Lord of Oberlin College was the Annual Professor (Lord would later write the first volume of the School’s History), young Oscar Broneer had been appointed Instructor of Archaeology, Ferdinand de Waele was the Special Assistant in Archaeology, with Richard Stillwell serving as Special Professor of Architecture. Two of the three fellows were women, both from Bryn Mawr College, Agnes E. Newhall (later Mrs. Stillwell) and Mary Zelia Pease (later Mrs. Philippides); the third fellow was architect Lyman C. Douglas. Although most of them would have later illustrious careers in classics and archaeology, in 1928 they represented the School’s “new guard,” a relatively inexperienced group of scholars, most of them handpicked by the mighty Edward Capps. The “old guard”, Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen, had become by then personae non gratae, and were not welcome on the School’s premises. In terms of facilities, the School’s campus in Kolonaki had expanded significantly after the erection of the Gennadius Library in 1926, while a dormitory, not yet named, to the west of the Gennadeion, was under construction: Loring Hall was completed in late 1929, a few months after Robert’s departure from Greece. And the School’s most powerful man, Edward Capps, was in the midst of crucial negotiations with the Greek government and its prime-minister Eleutherios Venizelos for the much sought after concession for the Athenian Agora excavations.

The Gennadius Library, ca. 1930. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Photographic Collection.

Robert Strook was a handsome young man but of weak health. “While he was still an infant it was discovered that his heart was not strong, so that he was unable to participate in the vigorous sports of other boys,” wrote Sol Stroock in his preface.  His weak heart was probably the reason for his untimely death in 1930, at the age of 25.

“Bob wrote his own autobiography in his letters. His profound religious experiences, the depths as well as the shallows of his thought, the fullness of his love of art and of learning, and the humble simplicity of his life are best expressed as he revealed them in those letters” further added Sol Stroock. After landing in France, unlike other foreigners of his time, Robert reached Greece in October 1928 not by boat, via Italy, but by land, “a day and a half of ugly Jugoslavia, and some twelve hours through the mountains and valleys of northern Greece—rugged, unclimbable, but low mountains, separated by broad, flat, stony fertile plains, unlike anything I’ve ever seen elsewhere” (Stroock, p. 104).

Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit

A month later he wrote to his friend Allan about his fellow students at the American School, praising the high tone of the group, especially the women who were able to put up with the most difficult living conditions.

“In Athens conditions are not over civilized, though in some points it is a finely European place and I love it for this. But Greece outside Athens and one or two other places is more primitive than anything… The coat of arms of the School en tour is ‘a Flit-gun on a field of argent, with a bed-bug dormant, a flea rampant, and a mosquito couchant.’ At some places the men sleep in the halls and dining room (from which the goats have been chased) and the women are crowded into the rooms. Running water is unknown… The point is that these American women… are able not merely to bear such conditions by night and to climb acropolises which horses die on by day, but to make the desert blossom like the rose” (Stroock, p. 106).

Mary Caperton. Photo: S. Bingham, The Blue Box: Three Lives in Letters, 2014.

Robert’s women fellow-travelers in 1928-1929 were: Priscilla Lord, daughter of Annual Professor Louis Lord, Frances Capps, niece of Edward Capps, and Mary Caperton (who would later become the matriarch of the Bingham newspaper empire). Mary Zelia Pease and Agnes Newhall, second year fellows, might have joined the group from time to time. Robert attributed the stamina of the women in the program “to that strange conglomerate of freedom and old-fashioned Puritanism which seems to form the better aspect of the character of American woman”.  The son of a dynamic woman, Hilda Weil Stroock (1876-1945), a graduate of Hunter College with an active interest in the welfare of women and children throughout her life, Robert had grown up in an environment that encouraged the development of women, especially in the Jewish communities.

Do you want precision? Study your Classical Architecture

The ability of the Americans to adjust to the hard living conditions was a recurrent theme in Robert’s letters. He felt that most of his fellow countrymen had lost their pioneer spirit, because:

“they have had nothing important to do… There are so few Americans who could possibly plaster onto any of their acts-figuratively speaking- the thrilling, simple words “Jones εποίησε” with all the weight of meaning” (Stroock, p. 114).

For Robert it must have been also liberating to be for a while away from Jewish environments, to judge from one of his comments to his friend Ruth: “Here one is not in the midst of that mauled race which we call fellow Jews—in fact here there are no Jews at all besides myself—but one does find an art with which to establish connections, and which was, perhaps, not so very remote from our more famous ancestors… Do you want precision? Study your classical architecture. Do you want clever associates[?]… Here there is a higher level of intelligence than in any other group of twenty diverse people I have ever found. Do you need your comforts? Ah then you had better stay away” (Stroock, pp. 110-111).

Stroock oozed happiness during his first months in Greece. Literally in love with the country, he felt that Greece with her brightness and clarity had cleared the “cloggings of his brain.” Raised with the notion that Greek Classical civilization was the foundation of America’s democracy and high culture, he wanted to “write the history of the Greeks but not in Greece nor for the Greeks. I shall return to America and write as an American with the Americans as a background and for my great American generation… In fact never did I feel more American than when I saw this prospect for myself here in Greece” (Stroock, p. 112).

Of Greek Folklore

Robert was much attracted to Greek folk songs, perhaps because they reminded him of Jewish folk music. “The music is extremely interesting, not being written in our scales, but apparently in modes, with an accompaniment in fifths. Some of the things, played by the peasants on a rude sort of pipe that looks like a large clarinet with accompaniment on a five stringed instrument about the size of a guitar or a little larger, with a smaller head… are extremely fine.” He wanted his friend Allan to find whether Victor records had a complete library of Greek music (Stroock, pp. 108-109).

He also thought of Modern Greeks as an extraordinary race. “Their constant good-nature, their sense of fitness, and their self-respect are three inestimable qualities exemplified in innumerable ways. They lie beautifully, thrillingly, on most occasions, yet the lies are not of great importance. Paradoxical as it may sound, one would rather trust a Greek than an American.

To put it epigrammatically, the American too often loses the spirit in the fact, the Greek embroiders the fact to fit the spirit” wrote Robert on November 30, 1928 (Stroock, p. 117).

Theodore Leslie Shear, Oliver MIles Washburn, and Gorham P. Stevens in fustanellas, 1906. ASCSA Archives.

In May 1929, he attended a national pageant of Greek costumes of all ages in the Stadium because he was interested in Modern Greek costumes and claimed to have known them “much better than do most native-born Athenians.” The next morning he went to Priscilla Capps’s shop “to buy what is known as the School uniform, a dozen or more being already in existence among both men and women: nine feet of washable, raw silk material which one takes to a tailor, at a total cost for the whole suit of about $20 and five days” Stroock reported to his family on May 21, 1929 (p. 158). The so-called School uniform that Stroock was making in the tailor’s must have been a Greek fustanella. There is a well-known photo among the School’s students which shows Theodore Leslie Shear, Oliver Washburn, and Gorham P. Stevens dancing, dressed in beautiful costumes in the early 1900s. I have discovered recently through the curator of the Greek Women Lyceum Club, Tania Veliskou, that Stevens’s Greek national costume is part of their collections, a gift of his Greek wife, Annette Notara Stevens.

Folkore pageants and performances at the Panathenaic Stadium, ca. 1930. ASCSA Archives, Charles H. Morgan Papers.

Visiting Palestine

During Easter break in April of 1929, Robert travelled to Palestine where he met other friends from New York, including Felix Warburg, a German-born Jewish banker and leader of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Hetty Goldman had worked for that Committee in 1918-1919, offering relief to the Jewish population of Northern Greece). During his trip, Stroock made it a point to visit a number of collective communities. “Their communistic experiments are unexpectedly successful thus far, and in their intellectual and artistic development they are fully abreast of the most important movements in the modern world… In their intense faith that they can create once more for themselves a live humanism they are unsurpassed.” Despite the fact that he had grown up in a secular and non-Zionist environment in America (anti-Zionism enjoyed considerable support in the Jewish communities before WW II), and also disliked the nationalistic aspect of these experiments, he found them appealing, especially to those who were looking to “retire from the dreadful prejudices which [one] must meet in America at every turn, and by which he is only too often beaten, frustrated”; Robert was obviously alluding to the antisemitism that he and other Jews encountered back home. (See also, Gulie Ne’eman Arad, America, its Jews and the Rise of Nazism, Bloomington 2000.)

A Hetty Goldman Connection?

Stroock returned to America in the summer of 1929 to continue graduate work at Harvard “in preparation for his doctorate and to fit himself to return to Greece to ‘carry on’ there.” And it is certain that he would have returned had he not taken severely ill in the spring of 1930.

Sol Stroock’s telegram to Rhys Carpenter announcing Robert’s death. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

As mentioned above, Sol Stroock honored his son’s love for Greece by establishing the Robert L. Stroock library fund at the ASCSA in 1931. Eight years later he would remember the School again by establishing a life-saving fund, the German Refugee Fellowship, to assist German Jewish students who had to flee Germany because of Hitler. Jack Davis who has published about Jewish academics in Athens in the 1930s, was not able to find more information about Sol Stroock’s initiative; he suspects, however, that Hetty Goldman might have been behind it, since her maternal uncle Cyrus Adler and Sol Stroock knew each other well and had worked together for the benefit of the American Jewish Committee [link]. In fact, Stroock succeeded Adler in the presidency of the Committee in 1940, a position, however, that he did not hold long; Sol died in 1941 at the age of 68.

Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece

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.

Hetty Goldman’s caricature by Piet de Jong, 1924. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

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).

Either Hetty or Alice Leslie, most likely Alice Leslie, at Halae, ca. 1911. If the latter, it is the only photo we have of her in the School’s Archives. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

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).

Workmen at Halae Excavations, 1911-1914. The bearded man on top is Angelis Kosmopoulos, foreman on many American excavations in Greece. Alice Walker would marry his son, George. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

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.

Pottery and terracottas from the Halae Excavations. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

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.

Colophon 1922. From left to right: Benjamin Meritt, Franklin P. Johnson, Lulu Eldridge, Kenneth Scott, Leicester Holland, Hetty Goldman, and Carl Blegen. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Colophon Excavations.

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.

Outside the Thebes Museum, 1924. Wooden box with archaeological supplies, and Goldman peeking from behind the box. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

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.


The Riding Goddess of Mycenae

“In the summer of 1954, while Dr. Papademetriou and I were investigating the new Grave Circle of Mycenae, we removed the fill to the south of that circle; it proved to have been the dump of a previous excavation. Its position seems to indicate that in all probability it was made up of earth removed either by Mme Schliemann or by Tsountas from the dromos of the Tomb of Clytemnestra. Among other objects found in this earth were two carved gems, one of which bears the figure of an animal, and the other a design not only interesting for its excellence of its workmanship but also important because of the subject represented,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas in the introduction of his book Ancient Mycenae: The Capital City of Agamemnon (Princeton 1957).

Tomb of Clytemnestra, 1953. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.

The Accidental Discovery of Grave Circle B

The Tomb of Clytemnestra had been robbed by Veli Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Morea, in the early 19th century; he had, however, missed the dromos. Years later, in 1876, it was cleared by Sophia Schliemann, while her husband Heinrich was digging the shaft graves of Grave Circle A. The Tomb was properly excavated by Christos Tsountas in 1897, who conducted excavations at Mycenae from 1886 until 1902. After WW II, the Greek Archaeological Service undertook the restoration of the Tomb of Clytemnestra, which, by then, was falling apart and needed urgent care. The restoration, which started in the spring of 1951, was completed by the fall of that year. Read the rest of this entry »

“Anything to restrain the reverend father”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. II

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. This essay, the second of two parts, was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.

In my last post, I began an exploration of members of the Catholic clergy at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School). My curiosity was piqued by the acerbic comments of Gertrude E. Smith who was not in favor of selecting Fr. Schoder to lead the School’s summer program in 1961. Was the School against admitting Catholic priests and nuns in its programs or was Smith’s dislike of Fr. Schoder personal and exceptional?

Part I examined the figure of Fr. Quinn, an accomplished scholar of Ancient and Modern Greek at the turn of the 20th century. Subsequent to Fr. Quinn ten more priests attended the School’s regular program. In addition, the SS has hosted at least 16 priests and nuns, from 1936 until 1973. The clergy came from a variety of orders, including parish priests, Benedictines (O.S.B.), a De La Salle brother (F.S.C.), a Sister of Mercy (R.S.M.), a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.), a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (S.N.D. de Namur), and two Sisters of St. Joseph (C.S.J.). But, by far, most of the priests (nearly 18) came from the Society of Jesus (S.J.), or the Jesuit order. And there were a number of interesting figures in this group, such as Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J. (1918-1998), a professor at Georgetown University, who had taught William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, Latin at Brooklyn Prep in the 1940s. Fr. Bermingham would later advise Blatty on the filming of The Exorcist, and eventually would play Tom, the president of Georgetown, in the film.

Fr. Thomas Bermingham, student at the ASCSA in 1961-62, as President of Georgetown University in The Exorcist.

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Archaeological Hikes and Accidental Discoveries

 In addition to administering the School’s institutional records and hundreds of collections of personal papers in the archival repositories of the Blegen and the Gennadius Libraries (which will soon be consolidated under one roof), the Archivist of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also oversees the School’s Antiquities Collection. Catalogued by the School’s former Archivist, Dr. Carol Zerner, and a host of volunteer archaeologists, the Collection features more than 10,000 sherds, hundreds of pots, figurines, fragments of sculpture, various metal objects, and roughly 3,000 coins, all registered with the Ministry of Culture. With one exception, all of the antiquities are kept in a separate, well-guarded room. The exception is a small collection of Geometric vases displayed in the Blegen Library.

“… While on a Sunday excursion we ran across a newly looted Geometric grave out at Thorikos. The sherds showed lots of joins and after talking about the problem to Gene Vanderpool, we took them down the Agora and they were [competent?] to restore a handsome amphora, an oenochoe, a very fine tripod stand and a bowl fitting it. The problem now is to inform the [M]inistry and try to get permission to keep them for the exhibit to be housed in the new wing of the School. I must talk to Mr. Papademetriou this week about it…” confided William (Bill) A. McDonald to Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, on November 23, 1958.

Shortly after his discovery, McDonald published the four vases in Hesperia (vol. 30, 1961, pp. 299-304). Dated in the Middle Geometric period, the looted grave at Thorikos belongs to an extensive Early Iron Age cemetery spread on the sides of Velatouri hill. (The Belgian School at Athens has been surveying and digging the site of Thorikos since the late 1960s.) The School also received permission to display McDonald’s finds in the newly built Arthur Vining Davis Wing of the Blegen Library, which was inaugurated in the fall of 1959. Thirty years later, in 1991, when the New Extension to the Blegen Library was completed, the vases were placed (where they still are) inside a vertical glass case, on the ground floor, next to the Rare Book Room. A short text explains the conditions of their discovery.

Three of the four Geometric vases (ASP 85-87) that McDonald found on Velatouri Hill, Thorikos. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

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The Surplus Property Act of 1944 was an act of the U.S. Congress which allowed the Secretary of State to enter into agreements with the governments of foreign countries for the disposal of surplus American property (mostly WW II scrap) abroad. The Fulbright Act, as it is better known today, became a pioneering platform for educational exchanges between the U.S. and a large number of countries, thanks to an amendment introduced by a young Democratic Senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, in 1945. The amendment allowed the sale of surplus property (e.g., airplanes and their spare parts, arms and ammunition) to foreign countries in exchange for “intangible benefits.” One of those benefits, at the insistence of Senator Fulbright, who had been a Rhodes Scholar as a young man, involved the international exchange of scholars. Since foreign governments did not have enough dollars to pay for the purchase of surplus material, the Act allowed them to use their local currencies to pay the expenses of American scholars studying in those countries.  Fulbright strongly believed in the transformative value of educational exchanges, that they could “play a major role in helping to break down mutual misunderstandings,” and contribute to world peace. On August 1, 1946, President Truman signed the Fulbright bill into law.

Graveyard of American jeeps after WW II

Senator Fulbright

The first European country to sign the Fulbright Agreement was Greece, on April 23, 1948.  The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School herefafter) with its superb reputation, was one of the immediate beneficiaries of the bi-national agreement. The School claimed that it was the only place of higher learning where American students could apply for research grants to carry out advanced work in classics and archaeology. “It is of course possible for Americans to enroll in the School of Liberal Arts in the University of Athens; but the lecture courses are largely theoretical, library and other facilities are sadly inadequate, and the language problem constitutes a difficult hurdle” argued archaeologist Carl W. Blegen to Gordon T. Bowles of the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils on September 15, 1948 (AdmRec 705/1, folder 1). Blegen, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati, had been appointed as Director of the American School for a year (1948-1949). Having served the interests of the School for a long time, Blegen naturally cared first and foremost for the institution’s well-being. Blegen and others, such as Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, saw in the Fulbright Act a new source of income to finance the School’s operations and, especially, the research that was carried out in the Athenian Agora. I have written elsewhere about the curious entanglement of the American School with the Fulbright Foundation in the early years of the program’s implementation, and I will be talking more about it on November 30th at Cotsen Hall in a joint event organized by the ASCSA and the Fulbright Foundation on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »

An African American Pioneer in Greece: John Wesley Gilbert and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1890-1891.

Posted by John W. I. Lee

John W. I. Lee, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, here contributes an essay about John W. Gilbert, the first African-American student to participate in the Regular Program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in 1890-1891. Lee is writing a book about John Wesley Gilbert, the early history of the ASCSA, and the development of archaeology in Greece.

In his official report to the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) for academic year 1890-1891, Director Charles Waldstein praised students Carleton Brownson, Andrew Fossum, John Gilbert, and John Pickard, who had “proved themselves serious and enthusiastic” throughout the year.  Waldstein went on to describe the School’s 1891 excavations at ancient Eretria on the island of Euboea.  While Fossum and Brownson excavated Eretria’s theater, Pickard and Gilbert “undertook the survey and careful study of all the ancient walls of the city and acropolis, and will produce a plan and an account which… will be of great topographical and historical value.”

Waldstein’s report gives no indication that one of the students, John Gilbert, was African American—the first African American scholar to attend the ASCSA.  With the passage of time, memory of Gilbert’s pioneering contribution was forgotten at the School, until Professor Michele Valerie Ronnick of Wayne State University searched for him in the ASCSA Archives in the early 2000s.  Ronnick’s work on Gilbert, featured in the School’s Ákoue Newsletter, forms the foundation of my research.

John Wesley Gilbert. Photo: Daniel W. Culp, Twentieth Century Negro Literature (1902)

John Wesley Gilbert was born about 1863 in rural Hephzibah, Georgia; his mother Sarah was enslaved.  After Emancipation, Sarah took her young son to the nearby city of Augusta.  From childhood Gilbert thirsted for learning.  An 1871 Freedman’s Bank register bearing his signature gives his occupation as “go to school to Miss Chesnut.” Read the rest of this entry »