To Live Alone and Like It: Women and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens Between the Wars.

“But it is not education only that is needed. It is that women should have liberty of experience… to idle and loiter, the mental space to let your mind wonder,” wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own in 1929. The work was based on lectures she delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College in Cambridge (both for women). She further advised her female audience “to drink wine and have a room of their own.” I will not dwell on the issue of wine because women of all classes had access to alcohol, at least privately, but for a woman to have a room of her own was highly unusual before WW II, especially for women who had not inherited wealth. Woolf would be eternally grateful to her aunt for leaving her a lifelong annual stipend of 500 pounds.

That a woman could live alone by her own choice was almost unheard of. Young women who moved to the big cities in search of work were usually sharing apartments with others of the same sex, for a few years at most, until they got married. However, WW I upset traditional demographics by creating a population imbalance in the western world: more women than men. To put it bluntly, for these extra women it meant that the prospect of marriage was less attainable (Scutts 2017). If Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was fighting her own battles in ultra conservative England, Marjorie Hillis (1889-1971), an American writer and contemporary of Woolf, was sufficiently daring to publish in 1936 a book that encouraged single women to take control of their lives and Live Alone and Like it. “A Lady and Her Liquor,” “Pleasures of a Single Bed,” and “Solitary Refinement?” were some of the chapter titles. Her book became an immediate best-seller and remained popular for many years.

I must admit that I had not read Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own until very recently although I had seen references to it many times before. I was not aware of Hillis’ book until I began to study the impact of Woolf’s essays. It is also not clear whether Hillis knew of Woolf’s work, but that’s not really the point. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that many women in the 1920’s and 1930’s on both continents were thinking in a similar manner: Woolf conveying her thoughts within a theoretical framework and Hillis offering useful, practical advice. I began researching this subject after a spring trip to Princeton where I went for business, but, while there, I decided to combine business with pleasure. And what is pleasure for an archivist? Instead of facilitating other people’s research, during lunch breaks I conducted my own study of the Special Collections of the Firestone Library. (Their new Reading Room is fantastic!) For lack of time I decided to focus on Alison Frantz’s early letters from abroad to her mother Mary Kate.

Mary Alison Frantz (1903-1995) was a graduate of Smith College with a PhD from Columbia University. She is remembered today for her scholarly contributions to the study of Byzantine Art and for her archaeological photography. Following WW II she served as the Cultural Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Athens and was the first Executive Director of the newly established Fulbright Foundation in Greece (1946-1949). (For her work at the Fulbright Foundation, as “a woman of power,” see Lalaki 2018.) I was fortunate to meet Frantz in person in the early 1990s, when she came to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) for a lecture in her honor and stayed at the Annex of Loring Hall, where I was living as a graduate student. I will never forget how elegant and distinguished she looked in her long black dress and her pearl necklace (she was 90 at the time).

Alison Frantz, Lucy Talcott, Rodney Young, and Constance Curry, ca. 1935. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers.

In a few days at Princeton I managed to read the letters she sent during her first visit to Greece in 1925, in a second brief visit in 1927, and in the course of an extended stay in 1929-1930 when she spent a year working as a librarian at the American School. Her first visit was rather short and part of an educational trip that the Director of the American Academy of Rome, Gorham P. Stevens, and his Greek wife, Annette Notaras, had organized. She experienced Greece as an informed tourist who was herded around with the other members of her group. Although I will refer to her earliest impressions of Greece, I am more interested in the accounts of her third and defining time in Greece. All the letters I will be quoting from are part of her personal papers in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University.

“Rome is far superior to Athens, except for the Acropolis” (1925)

In 1925 Alison stayed in Greece slightly more than a month, visiting Central Greece and the Peloponnese with the rest of the AAR group. Traveling outside Athens remained difficult, almost primitive, with dirt roads, mules, and a noticeable lack of clean hotels and restaurants. To get to Delphi they sailed from Piraeus to Itea, and from there they climbed up for three hours to reach the ancient site. “Everything is done by mules and we have seen only two automobiles since we have been here,” she wrote to her mother from the Pythian Apollo Hotel.  At St. Luke’s Monastery “there were seventeen of us and there seemed to be only about four beds…”. One of the monks “went out into the field and got a kid, and killed and cooked it,” while another one “sat in the garden and ground the coffee in a fascinating brass grinder” (April 4, 1925). At Tripolis, the proprietor of a greasy restaurant “came out with a leg of a mutton in his hand and slapped and stroked it and said we could have it” (April 20, 1925). The entire time she was in Greece she was longing for the Roman fountains “and the feeling of an indefinite water supply, because here there is practically none. It runs twice a week and we have to drink boiled or bottled water” (May 4, 1925). Athens would solve its water problem a few years later with the completion of the construction of the Marathon Dam in 1929.

It only takes a quick glance at her letters to gather that the 22 year-old Alison did not enjoy her first time in Greece. “Rome is far superior to Athens, except for the Acropolis,” she declared to her mother after returning to Rome (May 15, 1925). Her comment is in marked contrast with the one made a few years earlier by A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), one of the deputy commissioners of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece in 1918, who claimed that Athens was “in every way a much more attractive city than Rome.” (See an earlier post from 2015, titled “Athens 1918: “In Every Way A Much More Attractive City than Rome.”) Aside from personal tastes, there was a defining event in the history of the city –between Weld’s experience in 1918 and that of Frantz in 1925– one that affected Athens’ character for ever: the influx of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees after the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922, followed by the population exchange of 1923. It would take the city years to recover from the shock and to absorb the new population by expanding her radius. No wonder that there was a shortage of water in 1925.

Athens to Trikala: Fifteen Hours by Train (1927)

Alison would be back in Athens briefly in the fall of 1927. This time she found another, slightly older, graduate of Smith College, Priscilla Capps (1900-1985), the daughter of Edward Capps, the Chairman of the School’s Managing Committee. Alison went to visit Priscilla “at her headquarters,” that is, the Near East Industries that Priscilla was managing near Constitution Square. “You know she is in charge of the workrooms of the American Friends of Greece. They have the most fascinating things there—embroidery of all kinds. They get characteristic designs from various parts of Greece and the islands, and the women work and sell them here—they handle two thousand dollars’ worth a month,” Alison reported to her mother, a native of Princeton, who must have known the members of the Capps family who lived there.

Near East Industries pouch with Rhodian design. ASCSA Archives, Jack L. Davis Collection.

This time Alison travelled to Meteora. “We were on the train fifteen hours and got to Trikkala about nine where we spent the night in a rather unfortunate hotel.” But Meteora was worth the trouble because “this is the most amazing place I have even seen. Perfectly smooth sheer rocks rise two and three hundred feet away from the ground and on the top are perched these monasteries… The view over the Thessalian mountains was superb with the Pindos range in the distance, and, literally, dozens of eagles soared over our heads all the time” (September 23 [1927]).

From 1927 to 1929 Alison would join the staff of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University, a program founded in 1917 by Charles Rufus Morey (1877-1955), chair of the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, who aimed to make Princeton the center for the study of Early Christian, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Art. He also wanted to train a new generation of American scholars in these fields. One of them was Alison Frantz, who would earn her doctorate on Byzantine ornament from Columbia University, under his supervision, since Princeton remained an all-male school.

To Greece for a Third Time (1929)

In early September 1929 Alison returned to Athens not for a visit but to work in the library of the American School. Her good friend Priscilla had reserved a room for her at the Miramare Palace in Old Phaleron. “It is right on the bay with a marvelous view of the islands on one side and Hymettus on the other… There is a big sea-airport here, and as I arrived a British plane from England bound for Constantinople and India took off from the harbor.’ Alison is referring to an air harbor which had operated at Old Phaleron since 1926. On the web I found that an Italian company, Aero Espresso, was running a line: Brindisi – Old Phaleron – Syros – Constantinople, and that the trip lasted nine hours. The author of the essay, Cliton Samatiadis, also discovered in an old Eleftheroudakis guide that, because of the air harbor, Phaleron, Kalamaki, and Nea Smyrni were popular neighborhoods among refugees from Constantinople (“H εγκατάσταση Κωνσταντινουπολιτών και η γραμμή υδροπλάνων Παλαιό Φάληρο-Κωνσταντινούπολη,” 24/12/2017). Interestingly enough, lately there have been efforts to reintroduce hydroplanes to Greece; in fact, Minister Adonis Georgiadis just announced that “Του χρόνου τέτοια εποχή θα πετάμε με υδροπλάνα.”  As they say, believe it when you see it!

The arrival of a hydroplane at Old Phaleron, ca. 1930.

Back to Alison and her Phaleron days, which can only be described as joyful. Often joined by Priscilla, she went swimming at the Golf Club (yes, there was a golf club in Athens since the 1900s; I have written about it in “Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort for Scholars“): “the golf course, which is on sand was very wet from a recent rain.” (Sept. 10, 1929).  The two women also went riding: “Priscilla and I have been riding about twice a week and it’s perfectly lovely… We usually ride along the slopes of Hymettus, and every now and then look up and see the Acropolis…” (Sept. 17, 1929). On another occasion, she and Priscilla “had a marvelous ride. The horses were frisky and the air [was] delightful” (Oct. 9, 1929).

Alison Frantz writing to her mother from the Miramarare Hotel in Old Phaleron, Sept. 10, [1929]. Princeton University Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Alison Frantz Papers.

Alison went to Athens almost every day. It took her only fifteen minutes by bus to get to the center of the city: “it is a very pleasant ride, although the buses never start until they are quite full, so that you are always packed together like sardines or else don’t go at all” (Sept. 10, 1929). The construction of Loring Hall was nearing completion, with a due date of November 1st. Its completion was expected to solve the School’s accommodation problem, which had become more pressing after 1922 with the influx of the Asia Minor refugees. It is amusing to find that there was resistance among the members who were living in the main building (in the basement rooms of what is today the Director’s house) against moving to Loring Hall, despite it being state of the art, with hot running water and central heating. Alison and others preferred the old building because “all the rooms have fireplaces while none of the new ones do, and I would sacrifice a good deal for one…” she wrote to her mother (Sept. 22, 1929).

Living in Old Phaleron likely stretched her means because she was asking for a small loan from her mother until she received her first salary on Oct. 1st. “Yesterday morning Mr. Carpenter and I went over the library work and I think it’s going to be very interesting, chiefly ordering books and keeping track of them as they come in.” In another letter she gives a few more details about her daily tasks in the Library: “I also open the many book catalogues and advertisements to see if there is anything we ought to have. I also see to the binding of books…”.  Alison was essentially the School’s librarian for that year; yet, if one checks the Annual Report for 1929-1930, her name does not appear anywhere.

Of Rhys Carpenter, ASCSA Director (1927-1932) and Professor of Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, she wrote admiringly: “Mr. Carpenter is a most extra-ordinary person. Besides being one of the foremost archaeologists they say he is a very good poet, painter, and musician, and speaks eight languages fluently” (Sept. 22, 1929). Two months later she would modify slightly her first impression. “The Carpenters I like very much although both are temperamental. His lectures at Olympia were marvelous, he really is extraordinarily brilliant” (Nov. 18, 1929).

Eleanor and Rhys Carpenter at the ASCSA garden, ca. 1930. British School at Athens, Archives, Winifred Lamb Personal Papers, LAM 3/1/13/25.

A Place of Their Own

The slightly older and well-to-do Priscilla Capps must have been a trend setter among a host of young American women who were living in the orbit of the American School. First, she was running her own business, managing the Near East Industries–embroidery workshops for refugee women; second, she was renting a place of her own. She conformed to both of Virginia Woolf’s tips for women who wanted to experience life on their own terms. “Priscilla has taken a little four room house near the School for the winter. She has a maid called Aphrodite… it is quite darling. She has a lot of nice things and has fixed it up in a very attractive way…” (Oct. 9, 1929). Inspired by Priscilla, Alison went out to buy “two adorable little Skyros chairs, very low with string seats, carved backs, and no arms…” Yet, to her mother Alison had to defend Priscilla’s decision to have a place of her own: “she prefers a place where she can keep house and have her possessions and dog about her…” (Oct. 22, 1929). Mary K. was asking why Priscilla had not opted for a room at Loring Hall.

I have been curious about the houses, especially the interiors, of the American archaeologists who decided to make Athens as their permanent home. A few years ago Vivian Florou studied various primary sources in order to ‘restore’ the interior of the Blegen/Hill household (Florou 2015).  Only one photograph of the interior of 9 Ploutarchou has survived, and, by good fortune, it’s the one that depicts the “Greek Room” with its Skyrian furniture.

The “Greek Room” at 9 Ploutarchou, 1930. ASCSA, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

I was not so lucky as to find photos from Priscilla’s apartment, but in the Special Collections of Bryn Mawr College, the archivist located in the Lucy Shoe Merritt Papers interior photos from another Athenian apartment. Lucy Shoe (1906-2003) was a graduate of Bryn Mawr and a student at the School in 1929-1930, who had saved photos of the apartment she and Dorothy Burr had shared in the early 1930s. Naturally, they had chosen one with a fireplace, in front of which they took their afternoon tea; and like the “Greek Room” of the Blegen house, they had placed two low, armless Skyrian chairs on either side of it. (About the American fascination with the island of Skyros, see an earlier essay, titled “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros.”)

Lucy Shoe and Dorothy Burr in their apartment on Kephissias 64, ca. 1934. Source: Bryn Mawr College, Special Collections, Lucy Shoe Merritt Papers; ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

From Archaeology, Jan/Feb. 1995. One year before her death. Click to enlarge.

By 1929 Alison had completely changed her mind about Athens which she now considered “a much nicer city to live in than Paris because you can always get away from the city atmosphere and don’t feel so stuffy” (Oct. 31, 1929). Remember her earlier comment (from 1925) about “Rome being far more superior than Athens?” Athens was, and remains an acquired taste. It is often not love at first sight but once you become comfortable, you don’t abandon her easily. Although Carpenter asked Alison to come back to the School the following year, she declined because she wanted to go back to the U.S. to pursue her doctorate at Columbia University. “I think I’ll write my dissertation on Byzantine ornament in Greece instead of landscape painting… It would be very interesting to go to all the little Byzantine churches round about, and very little has been done on the subject” (Jan. 24, 1930). But she would return to Athens a few years later, after the completion of her doctorate degree, to join the staff, as a photographer of the newly opened excavations in the Athenian Agora, a position she kept until her retirement. Although her house in Princeton remained Alison’s main residence, she also maintained a place in Athens, which classicist and ASCSA trustee Rob Loomis sublet in the 1960s. [1] (John Camp, Director of the Agora Excavations, told me that Alison shared the place with Lucy Talcott and that it was located at the corner of Anapiron Polemou and the Lykabettus ring-road.)

“The M. Alison Frantz Fellowship, formerly known as the Gennadeion Fellowship in Post-Classical Studies, was named in honor of archaeologist, Byzantinist, and photographer M. Alison Frantz (1903-1995), a scholar of the post-classical Athenian Agora whose photographs of antiquities are widely used in books on Greek culture. Frantz donated a large part of her photographic collection to the American School, where is available for research.”

[1]. Soon after my story went online, Loomis emailed me a note which I reproduce with his permission: “In 1967/8, when I was a Regular Member at the School, I sublet Lucy’s and Alison’s apartment for the academic year.  As you say, it was located at the corner of Anapiron Polemou (#24 if I remember correctly) and the Peripheriako.  It was the top half of a two-family house, since torn down and replaced by an apartment block.  The owner lived with her maid on the ground floor.  I had the second floor, entered by an outside staircase bordered by a flower garden and some orange and lemon trees (maintained as a side-job by Giorgos, one of the School gardeners, who also provided firewood); the apartment also came with a maid from Ikaria (whose name I cannot now recall) and an aged laundress, Penelope, who always seemed to know when I was in residence, appearing at all hours without any advance notice to collect and deliver my laundry.  There was a small entrance hall with a fireplace, flanked by two of those little Skyros chairs.  On one side of the hall was a long living room, fully furnished with sofa, chairs, table, desk, radio, phonograph and an enormous collection of vinyl records (lots of Mozart).  On the other side a bathroom and two bedrooms, each with a balcony.  A back hall led to a small kitchen and a back porch from which circular metal stairs ascended to a flat roof of the same size as the entire apartment.  It had splendid views of Lykabettos, Hymettos, and even Aigina, although as I recall the Akropolis view was blocked by some buildings in between; in any event, it was the scene of some wonderful parties.  For all of this, I paid $100 per month!  As I recall, I heard about the apartment from John Camp and Emily Vermeule (who with her husband Cornelius had sublet it in a prior year), and I made all of the arrangements by mail with Lucy Talcott, whom I never met.  I may have met Alison Frantz in the summer of 1966, but I only got to know her after my year in her apartment.  In my time, there was no “Poussy” cat but Alison and Lucy may have brought their cat(s) back and forth from Princeton to Athens.  Alison gave much of the apartment furniture to John Camp, who now has it in Merrill House.”


Florou, V. 2015. “The House at 9 Ploutarchou Street: A Grape Arbor and a Dense Shadow of Beautiful Meanings,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L.Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta, pp. 121-146.

Lalaki, D. 2018. “The Cultural Cold War and the New Women of Power: Making a Case based on the Fulbright and Ford Foundations in Greece,” Histoire@Politique 35, pp. 1-20 [].

Scutts, J. 2017. The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It, New York.

Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the United States in the 1940s.

In 1947, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) produced a color movie titled Triumph over Time; it was directed by the archaeologist Oscar Broneer and produced by the numismatist Margaret E. Thompson with the aid of Spyros Skouras (1893-1971), the Greek American movie mogul and owner of Twentieth Century Fox (see Spyros Skouras Papers at Stanford University). Triumph over Time portrays Greece rebounding from World War II and the staff of the ASCSA preparing archaeological sites for presentation to postwar tourists. The film was made to promote the first postwar financial campaign of the ASCSA, the direct goal of which was to increase its capital and finance the continuation of the Athenian Agora Excavations. Indirectly, the ASCSA was hoping to contribute to the rehabilitation of Greece by providing employment for the Greek people and by promoting the economic self-sufficiency of Greece by developing the country’s tourist assets (Vogeikoff-Brogan 2007).

Oscar Broneer, ca. 1938. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Triumph over Time begins with a brief overview of impressive Greek antiquities, such as the citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, before continuing with rare ethnographic material capturing parts of rural Greece that no longer exist. It then moves from the Greek countryside to the buildings of the ASCSA, especially the Gennadius Library with its rare treasures. The story then covers the ASCSA’s two most important projects, the excavations at the Athenian Agora and at Ancient Corinth, explaining all stages of archaeological work. The documentary ends with a hopeful note that financial support of the ASCSA’s archaeological work will contribute to an increase in tourism so that this major source of revenue for Greece’s economy can “restore stability and well-being to this simple pastoral land.”

Stills from Triumph Over Time

All three contributors to the film had served in the Greek War Relief Association (GWRA) during and after World War II. The GWRA was incorporated in New York on November 8, 1940. Its founding members included Archbishop Athenagoras, Skouras, Van Nomikos, and other prominent Greek Americans, as well as Americans Harold Vanderbilt, Samuel Goldwyn, and Senator William King. In 1946, the GWRA together with the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) had raised the unbelievable amount of five million dollars for the implementation of a medical and hospitalization program in postwar Greece (Saloutos 1964, p. 364).

Greek War Relief Association, letterhead. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

My research in the ASCSA Archives indicates that Broneer and Margaret Thompson (1911-1992) would not have undertaken the production of the film, in conjunction with the ASCSA’s fund-raising campaign, without relying on their previous experience at the GWRA and their relationship with Skouras. It is clear that, from the beginning, Broneer and Thompson planned to target the prosperous Greek American community, although not strictly limiting their efforts to this group. On May 23, 1947, Broneer wrote to Louis Lord, the chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee, echoing the feelings of the Greek omogeneia (people of Greek origin who immigrated to, or were born in, a foreign land) in America at the end of the first half of the 20th century:

“I have never thought of the campaign as restricted to the Greek population in America. As such it would be a failure from the start. What I had in mind was a campaign to interest the general public, and in such a campaign I feel certain that we would interest the Greek Americans. They are an exceedingly generous lot, but the more progressive among them resent being treated as a minority group. They like to think of themselves as Americans, without modification, and they would rally to the cause better if they felt that they were part of a general program to raise funds for archaeology in Greece” (ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 310/8).

Margaret Thompson and her niece wearing Greek attire, ca. 1948. Source: American Numismatic Society.

While reviewing the history of Triumph over Time, I became interested in the relationship that developed during World War II between the American archaeologists working in Greece and the Greek American community in the United States during World War II. Until then, there is no evidence that the leadership of the ASCSA ever sought or cultivated any ties with the Greek omogeneia. The ASCSA’s financial prosperity before World War II and the humble profile of the Greek immigrants in America probably explain the absence of any contact between the two parties (on the early history of the Greek omogeneia, see Laliotou 2004). My subsequent investigation of the ASCSA archival collections indicates that, during World War II, American archaeologists developed close contacts with influential members and organizations of the Greek American community and passionately supported the Greek cause. At the same time, the Greek Americans came to realize that American archaeologists working in Greece were among the strongest supporters of Greece in America.

The papers of Oscar Broneer, a professor of archaeology at the ASCSA and the executive vice president of the GWRA, and the papers of Nikolaos (Nicholas) Mavris (1899-1978), a doctor and a prominent member of the Greek American community and the first governor commissioner of the freed Dodecanese in 1948, allow us to explore the two-way relationship of the American archaeologists with the Greek omogeneia during the war, something that has gone unnoticed in the official history of the ASCSA.


The American School Committee for Aid to Greece. Benefit concert, 1941. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Oscar Broneer (1894-1992) had already lived for several years in Greece, digging on the North Slope of the Athenian Acropolis and at Corinth, and teaching at the ASCSA, before he and his family returned to the United States in 1939, just before the beginning of World War II. The Broneer family moved to Princeton to join other ASCSA members who worked and studied at the Institute for Advanced Study. Theodore Leslie Shear, Paul Clement, Benjamin Meritt, George Elderkin, Shirley Weber, and Edward Capps formed the core of a group that immediately mobilized after Italy declared war against Greece in October of 1940. Less than a month after the Italian invasion, the American archaeologists residing at Princeton had formed a committee, known as the ASCSA Committee for Aid to Greece, which raised considerable funds to support the people of Greece. The committee raised a total of about $27,000 through written appeals to ASCSA members and associates, the organization of two benefits, and royalties from the book This is Greece. Some of the funds were used to purchase “IASO,” a Red Cross ambulance (On the ASCSA Committee for Aid to Greece, Meritt 1984, pp. 7-8). Archaeologist Rodney Young, a staff member of the Agora Excavations, drove “IASO” to the Albanian war front. The rest of the funds were used to buy supplies for hospitals, canteens, and civil relief agencies in Greece. After January 8, 1942, the Committee was unable to deliver any more aid to the Greek people because of the food and supply boycott that the Allies imposed on all the German-held territories of Europe; the ASCSA Committee decided to cease functioning at this that time. Many of its members continued working towards for the relief of Greece through other agencies like such as the American Friends of Greece (AFG) and the GWRA.


On August 12, 1942, Broneer was invited by the Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA) to deliver a talk about Greece in Pittsburgh, where he received very favorable comments from the event organizers. “All were impressed with your talk and were particularly pleased with your stressing the need for relief for the Greek people. . . . We consider both of you [Broneer and Meritt] as sincere Hellenists and interested in the welfare of Greek people,” wrote Theo Manos in his thank-you letter to Broneer. A little later, in November of 1942, the Trenton Chapter of AHEPA invited Broneer to join the organization:

“Knowing your feelings for Hellas and the knowledge that you always carry with you of Hellenic culture we the members of the Trenton Chapter #72 of the Order of AHEPA feel that our Chapter membership is not quite complete unless we can count you as one of our members” (ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers).

Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), Spyros P. Skouras: Memoirs (2013)

By December of 1942, Broneer was offering his services to the newly established organization of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations (OFFRO) run by the U.S. State Department, which hired him in May of 1943. Towards the end of the year, he received an invitation to attend a benefit dinner organized by the GWRA in New York on December 17th, 1943. This event proved to be very important for Broneer because it was here that he met Skouras, the owner of Fox Studios and the national president of the GWRA. Skouras immediately offered him work at the GWRA. Broneer was an attractive candidate, a Swedish-born American, fluent in Swedish and Greek, with impressive knowledge and firsthand experience of Greece. Skouras admired Broneer, who was already been actively involved in shipping food and supplies to Greece aboard Swedish ships (Sweden had remained neutral during World War II). By February of 1944, Broneer had accepted Skouras’s offer to work for the GWRA as executive vice president, a position that he held until 1946.

Not much is preserved in Broneer’s personal papers about his day-to-day activities at the GWRA. A lengthy entry in Broneer’s unpublished autobiography (“The Story of Per”), however, attests to the trusting relationship that he developed with Skouras:

“In April 1945, Spyros Skouras decided to make a trip to Greece to see for himself the condition of the country and the devastation wrought by four years of war and occupation. He wanted Per [Oscar Broneer] to accompany him. . . . Per and the three members of Spyros Skouras’ family wanted to make tours of inspection outside of Athens so as to see for themselves what the country had suffered and what was most needed, so that they could go back to the States and collect funds for the Greek War Relief Association. For the purpose Spyros Senior had brought with him a professional photographer from Twentieth Century Fox (ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers, “The Story of Per,” p. 208).

Other information comes from contemporary newspapers. In August 1945 Broneer traveled extensively in the U.S. delivering speeches and showing films concerning the dramatic conditions in Greece after the close of the war in 1944.  Press releases in American newspapers from August 1945 wrote about the Skouras/Broneer joint trip during which they visited “75 towns and villages during their four-week tour of Greece. In connection with his talks Mr. Broneer will show a 20-minute film entitled, ‘This Is Greece Today,’ which was taken during his tour” (The Rock Island Argus, August 3, 1945, p. 10). In Moline, Iowa, he was introduced to the audience by Charles Bookidis. I mention this because Charles was the father of archaeologist Nancy Bookidis, a long-time member of the ASCSA and assistant director emerita of the Corinth Excavations.

Greek War Relief’s Newsletter announcing the return of Spyros Skouras and Oscar Broneer from Greece, June 1945. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

In February 1946, Broneer delivered a two-part speech in Newport, Rhode Island, as a guest of the Art Association.  The first part concerned his prewar excavations on the North Slope of the Athenian Acropolis; in the second half he described what he saw in his 1945 trip to Greece with Skouras: “A bareness noted in the landscape, he said, was due to the sacrifice of groves of trees for fuel. The people he described as worn, ragged, poor, but hopeful. A friend he met in Corinth had hidden a New Zealand soldier in a hole in his home through 73 searches by Germans, who had machine-gunned whole families of his neighbors for such offenses. A whole generation of children, he said, have never seen chocolate, and didn’t know what to do with the pieces they were given. Invariably, the children seem three or four years younger than they are because of retarded growth…”(Newport Mercury, 15 February 1946, p.8)

Another press release announcing his Broneer’s return to Greece, in July of 1946, praised him for his hard work toward the rehabilitation of Greece, his public speeches in support of Greece before American dignitaries, and his indefatigable travels to explain the relief program of the GWRA to Greek communities all over the United States. (When I first published this essay in 2008, I did not have access to the rich archive of; my research was, therefore, limited to the few clippings that Broneer had saved in his papers. A recent search in proved to be very enlightening concerning Broneer’s humanitarian efforts in the U.S. on behalf of the Greek cause.)

Celebrating Greek Day at the GWRA Headquarters, 1946. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Having explored Broneer’s activities during the war years, I now return to the making of Triumph over Time. When Broneer agreed to initiate the ASCSA’s capital campaign soon after his appointment to the position of acting director for 1947-1948, he depended heavily on his close ties with the Greek American community. He also asked that Margaret Thompson assist him in the campaign. Broneer and Thompson’s plan was to organize their fund-raising drive under the sponsorship of the local societies of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which in turn would cooperate with the local Greek American communities.

The reel of Triumph Over Time is housed at the ASCSA Archives. In 2007 it was digitized and reissued as a DVD.

The film was finally shown in thirteen American cities, but, despite the large audiences that attended the showings, it brought almost no financial gain to the ASCSA. There are many reasons for the failure of this attempt by the ASCSA to raise money. One has to do with Broneer personally. The death of his wife, Verna, in January of 1948, just before the beginning of the fund-raising drive, forced him to withdraw completely. Although other American archaeologists undertook the task of lecturing and showing the film across America, it must have felt like they were escorting an orphaned child. In my opinion, Triumph Over Time would have had a better chance if Broneer himself had remained behind the wheel, making use of his previous GWRA contacts.

The second reason has to do with the change in the political situation. By 1948, the American public, including Greek American communities, were exhausted from the financial strain of supporting the many fund-raising campaigns that various relief agencies had introduced since the outbreak of World War II. In addition, with the announcement of the Truman doctrine and the launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, the American public felt that the rehabilitation of Greece and other European countries no longer depended on their individual philanthropy but was being taken care of centrally by their government.

Nevertheless, thanks to Broneer, Thompson, and Skouras, the ASCSA managed to produce a film of enduring value in 1947, one that serves as a vivid testimony to a love of Greece, both the land and its people, that still characterizes the work of the ASCSA today. (You can watch the 40 minute film in YouTube.)


The papers of Nicholas Mavris provide plenty of insight into the actions of another organization, the American Friends of Greece (AFG), and Theodore Leslie Shear (1880-1945), its vice chairman and director of the School’s excavations in the Athenian Agora (1931-1945).

Theodore Leslie Shear and architect Piet de Jong, Agora Excavations 1935. ASCSA, Athenian Agora Excavations Archive.

Established by a group of American philhellenes in 1923, the AFG’s mission was to contribute to the strengthening of Greece after the Asia Minor catastrophe. During World War II, the AFG contributed enthusiastically to the relief of the Greek people through the GWRA. In order to avoid duplicating the work of other agencies interested in the rehabilitation of Greece, the AFG concentrated its efforts on educational institutions in Greece, through contributions to Athens College and Pierce College, the establishment of scholarships, publication of scientific studies, and the promotion of good cultural relations between America and Greece. The officers of the AFG included eminent members of the ASCSA, such as Edward Capps, George H. Chase, Theodore L. Shear, and W. Stuart Thompson. The ASCSA Archives preserves several issues of the organization’s bulletin, The Philhellene. In the Gennadius Library, one can find publications of the organization; e.g., Greece Fights, by Homer W. Davis, and Let Freedom Ring, which was issued on the occasion of a benefit dinner held in honor of the Greek people on March 25th, 1942.

The Philhellene. Bulletin of the American Friends of Greece, October-November 1942. ASCSA Archives, Peter Topping Papers.

In addition to its educational mission, the AFG became involved, through its vice chairman, in the liberation of the Dodecanesian Islands. In an editorial essay in the October-December 1943 issue of The Philhellene, Shear boldly expressed his support for the Dodecanesian cause:

“Let the injustice of the past thirty years be expiated by immediate delivery of the Islands to Greece as soon as they are liberated! Let not the Dodecanese continue to be an apple of discord in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

The editorial essay had been preceded by an exchange of letters between Shear and Mavris, the president of the Dodecanesian National Council. The letters show that Shear was considered a staunch supporter of the Dodecanesian issue, and that the Dodecanesian Council frequently sought and accepted his advice on how to proceed. In fact, in the board of directors meeting of the Dodecanesian Council on September 15, 1943, Shear was unanimously elected an honorary member of the Council.

Anniversary dinner and dance of the Dodecanesian League of America and societies affiliated with the Dodecanesian National Council, 1940. ASCSA Archives, Nicholas Mavris Papers.

Theodore Leslie Shear went as so far as to write a personal letter to Senator Claude Pepper (1900-1989) expressing his utmost gratitude for Pepper’s action in introducing “the resolution on August 8th declaring that the islands are and of right ought to be part of the Greek realm” (August 12, 1944). Shear also urged “all Greek organizations and as many individuals to write letters to their own Senators demanding action on the resolution, which, otherwise, may die in Committee” (September. 29, 1944). In April of 1945 and in anticipation of the Peace Conference, Shear was worried that the Greeks might not get a world hearing unless all Greek organizations swamped the conference with their demands for justice; otherwise, he saw a risk of Greece remaining “a crown colony of England indefinitely.” What Shear had hoped and wished for the Dodecanese finally happened a year later, in 1946, when the American U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations unanimously adopted Pepper’s resolution asking that the Dodecanese be awarded to Greece (Saloutos 1964, p. 366). Unfortunately, Shear had passed away in July 1945.


I would like to conclude this essay by noting that the contribution of the ASCSA members during World War II towards the relief and the rehabilitation of Greece requires further exploration. The second volume of the History of the American School refers to the heroic efforts of those of its members who remained in Greece during the war, men such as Bert H. Hill, Gorham P. Stevens, Rodney Young, and the Vanderpools (Meritt 1984, pp. 6-38). From the ones who returned home, several (e.g., Carl Blegen, John Caskey, Dorothy Cox, Alison Frantz, Virginia Grace, and Jerome Sperling) offered their unique knowledge of topography and languages to the Office of Strategic Services, a subject that Susan H. Allen has investigated (Allen 2011); others, such as Oscar Broneer, George Chase, Antony Raubitscheck, Theodore L. Shear, Margaret Thompson, and Mary Zelia Philippides (to name a few) followed a different trajectory by reaching out to the Greek omogeneia, either by being involved in various relief efforts or using their established philhellenism as a vehicle to promote aspects of the Greek cause in America.

Did these newly formed postwar ties between the School and the omogeneia remain strong over the years or eventually fade?  I am inclined to say that they laid dormant for several decades. Spyros Skouras would become the first ASCSA trustee of Greek descent in 1947, but more than twenty years would pass, before the next trustee of Greek descent was elected in 1969 (Thomas A. Pappas, trustee 1969-1982; Meritt 1984, p. 277). It was only after the 1990s that the School pursued with zeal a renewal of its ties with the Greek omogeneia: as a result, more than a dozen Greek Americans are serving today on the School’s Board of Trustees and on the Board of Overseers of the Gennadius Library.


I first published this essay in The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture, ed. K. Kourelis, The New Griffon 10, Athens 2008, pp. 41-47. Since it has been out of print for years, I decided to revise and republish it here, by adding new information and more photographic documentation, thus making it accessible to a larger audience.


Allen, S.H. 2011. Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece, Ann Arbor.

Laliotou, I. 2004. Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism Between Greece and America, Chicago.

Meritt, L. S. 1984. A History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton.

Saloutos, Th. 1964. The Greeks in the United States, Cambridge, Mass.

Vogeikoff-Brogan, N. 2007. Triumph over Time: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens in Post-War Greece, Princeton.

Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles

I first came to know Bacon’s name when, as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989-1990, I was asked to report on the Assos Excavations during the School’s trip to Asia Minor. Assos, an affluent, ancient Greek city in the Çanakkale Province and a colony of Lesbos, is known for having erected the only Doric temple in Asia Minor, where the dominant style was Ionic. Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) was the architect of the excavations, which were funded by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and took place from 1881 to 1883, as well as one of the three co-authors (with Clarke and Koldewey) of a final publication that was not completed until 1921. Although Bacon’s name appears second, the publication would not have appeared without his dedication and persistence. Joseph T. Clarke (1856-1920) had given up on it long before, and Robert J. Koldewey (1855-1925) had dedicated most of his life to uncovering Babylon.

In 1878, Francis H. Bacon and Joseph T. Clarke bought a sailboat, the “Dorian,” in London and sailed to Athens by way of Holland, the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Aegean. Here a self-sketch by Bacon while examining a marble lekythos at the National Archaeological Museum. Source: MIT Libraries, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

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To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

I have always found informal travel accounts fascinating. By informal, I mean accounts found in personal diaries or letters. Occasionally, they are published posthumously by the writer’s relatives (usually for family consumption) and attract little attention because of their mundane nature. Until recently, such letters and diaries of anonymous folk were avoided by historians who considered their content subjective or inaccurate. After all, why use the private diary of an American expatriate in Greece as a source, when the event (e.g., a local revolution) was described in more detail in the newspapers or other official reports?

I, on the other hand, pay particular attention to these types of publications because they provide valuable information, otherwise undocumented, about the level of local awareness, participation or aloofness within foreign communities. Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and philosopher, once said that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It’s the second part of Chesterton’s comment that makes me delve into the travel accounts of foreigners-mostly Americans in my case–who have experienced Greece as a foreign land. Here I am not interested in the tourist but instead the engaged traveler, the expatriate, or, in rare cases, the committed immigrant (that is the foreigner who has almost “gone native”).

My latest source of inspiration for getting “to know my country as a foreign land” is a privately published collection of letters which came to my attention after a visit to the newly established Archives of the American College of Greece. There, Dr. Demetra Papakonstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist who now serves as the College’s Archivist, graciously shared with me a copy of a book titled Odyssey of a Learning Teacher (Greece and the Near East 1924-1925). Published in 2005 by David L. Aronson, the book contains transcriptions of the letters that his mother, Charlotte Eleanor Ferguson, a graduate from Mount Holyoke College and a teacher at the American College for Girls (what is now Pierce College), sent to her family in 1924-25. (The original letters are now part of the American School of Greece Archives.)

Front cover photograph: Charlotte Ferguson and Helen Larrabee departing from New York.

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On Finding Inspiration in Small Things: The Story of a Pencil Portrait

My story begins six years ago when we inventoried Bert H. Hill’s collection of photos at the item level. Among the images were early portraits of Hill when he was a little boy, and later, a handsome young man. A graduate of the University of Vermont (B.A. 1895) and Columbia University (M.A. 1900), Hill subsequently attended the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) as a fellow for two years (1901-1903). He then secured a job as the Assistant Curator of Classical Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1903-1905) and lecturer at Wellesley College where he taught classes in sculpture.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) was only 32 years old when he was appointed director of the ASCSA in 1906, a position he held until 1926.

Bert Hodge Hill, ca. 1910s. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

While processing the images my eye fell on a small portrait (12 x 9 cm) that was not a print but instead a well-executed drawing of Hill’s profile in pencil. On the back, Hill had scribbled “Huybers” and “BHH”.  An initial web search for “Huybers artist” produced four of his pencil sketches in the Harvard Art Museums, a gift from George Demetrios in 1933 (keep the name in mind); the artist was identified as John A. Huybers.

Portrait of Bert Hodge Hill by John A. Huybers, ca. 1915-1920. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

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Schliemann’s Culinary Adventures in Italy

Heinrich Schliemann, a man of the world, ca. 1870. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

A day does not go by in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) without an inquiry about the Heinrich Schliemann Papers. More than one third of the collection has been digitized and made available for research online; still, these inquiries keep coming from all over the world, including destinations as remote as Japan and Cuba.  Though unquestionably a legendary figure, Schliemann’s popularity is largely due to the richness of his personal archive, which remains an inexhaustible source of information for a wide range of audiences: historians, archaeologists, fiction and non-fiction writers, even film producers. (I have written about Schliemann before [Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius] and have hosted two posts by Curtis Runnels [Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding? and, “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann], the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist [2007].)

To the rich list of books and articles that have been written about Schliemann I would like to add the recent publications by Umberto Pappalardo, who has been studying Schliemann’s activities in Napoli and on the island of Motya, and Massimo Cultraro’s new book with the sibylline title L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia: Heinrich Schliemann e l’ Italia (1858-1890). Before them, in 2012, Elizabeth Shepherd published a comprehensive article about Schliemann’s wanderings in Italy in the fall/winter of 1875, especially his interest in the site of Populonia. Schliemann travelled to Italy seven times, first as a tourist (1858), and later, especially after the discovery of Troy (1871-1873), as a celebrity and potential excavator. He even drew his last breath in the streets of Naples one morning in December 1890. Yet, until recently, Schliemann’s Italian days remained understudied. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

The American School’s haphazard art collection continues to fascinate me. It lacks any thematic cohesion and at first glance often makes no sense, because most of the works have little to do with the institution itself. Yet, it remains a source of mystery because these same works are also associated with people who were once deeply involved in the School’s affairs. Before they ended up at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter), these objects decorated the walls of private houses and were part of those households’ life history. In Janet Hoskins’s Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives (1998), six women and men from Eastern Indonesia tell the history of their lives by talking about their possessions, thus creating an identity for themselves through objects they made, bought, were given, or collected. Our people are no longer alive but many of their possessions are with us, and they have a story to tell us (if we ask them…).

The Blegen-Hill house at Ploutarchou 9, ca. 1960s. ASCSA Archives.

Most of the artwork that hangs on the walls or decorates the mantels of the various buildings of the School comes from two households. One was the residence of two couples, Carl and Elizabeth Blegen (the Blegens) and Bert and Ida Hill (the Hills), who lived together at Ploutarchou 9 (Kolonaki) in the 1930s; the other belonged to the archaeologist George Mylonas and his wife Lela who lived in Saint Louis (Missouri) in the 1930s before they moved back to Greece in the early 1970s. Although both households were set up about the same time, the Blegens/Hills, because of Elizabeth’s personal wealth, began purchasing artwork immediately, while the Mylonases, both younger and refugees from Asia Minor, did not begin acquiring art until the early 1950s. (I have written about the nature of the Mylonas collection in a post titled “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens”; on the two couples living at Ploutarchou Street read “The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9,” by Jack L. Davis; and Pounder 2015.)

Lately I have been trying to identify the items from the Blegen-Hill household, which came to school almost intact after the death of the house’s last occupant, Carl Blegen, in 1971. Although we have an inventory, the fact that the objects were not photographed or tagged before they were dispersed among the various buildings of the School (including Corinth) makes it difficult to identify their origin today.  Some of the art, such Giovani Battista Piranesi’s “Vedute di Roma,” is easily identifiable, but portions of the collection remain shrouded in mystery.

In addition, we also lack indoor photos of the house, except for the one that shows the so-called “Greek Room.” (Take for comparison the interior of John Gennadius’s house in London, which was professionally photographed, making it easier to identify the artworks from it that came to the Gennadius Library.) Still we are slowly putting together a picture of the life and art at the Blegen residence. In a recent conference about Carl and Elizabeth Blegen, Vivian Florou reconstructed through archival research some of the social life of the house at Ploutarchou 9 during its peak times, before and after WW II (Florou 2015).  In “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros,” I identified some of the embroideries and pottery that were once part of it.  In “The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster,” I suggested that an oil by Brewster might also have once been belonged to the Blegens.

Today’s post focuses on another large painting that once hung on the walls of Ploutarchou 9 (item no. 10 in the Blegen Collection), but is now adorning the walls of my new office: a watercolor depicting the temple of Hera at Olympia, signed “F. Perilla 1930”. A quick search on the internet produced a few brief references to auction catalogs that identified him as a French art historian and artist, born in 1874, as well as to two recent translations of books he wrote about Chios (1928) and Mount Pelion (1940). A search in “Ambrosia” (the ASCSA’s online book catalogue) proved more fruitful, with several entries to publications by Perilla.

Temple of Hera at Olympia, watercolor by F. Perilla. ASCSA Archives, Art Collection.

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