How Modern Greek Came to America


Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about how Americans first heard Modern Greek being spoken in the early 19th century. An aficionado of antiquarian shops, Runnels has frequently discovered unique documents of great historical and informational value, such as the four documents presented below, which tell us the story of a Greek merchant, Nikolaos Tziklitiras, who, after landing by accident in Boston in 1813, became the first Greek teacher in town and laid the foundations for the spread of Modern Greek studies in America.


On a late autumn day in 1813 the ship Jerusalem made its way slowly into Boston harbor.  She was a long way from home.  The 750-ton ship began her journey in Smyrna with a Greek-speaking crew bound for Cuba to take on a cargo of coffee, sugar, copper, and hides for Boston.  Unfortunately, things did not go exactly as planned.  Contemporary reports in the Niles Weekly Register, a popular news periodical of the day, relate that the Jerusalem was detained in September on her way to Boston by the British on account of the copper ingots in her cargo, and the ship was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  She evidently put into Boston on her way to Canada (“September 18: The Greek Ship Jerusalem”).  Now, in November, having sorted out her difficulties with the British authorities, she was at last bringing her cargo to Boston (“November 27: The Greek Ship Jerusalem”).

The news of Jerusalem’s detention as announced in Niles Weekly Register, Sept. 18, 1813.

The arrival of the Jerusalem in Boston was newsworthy because as far as the authorities knew she was the first Greek ship to reach the United States.  It was something of a sensation, and members of the public, along with officials, merchants, students, and at least one Harvard College scholar, Edward Everett, flocked to the dock to see the ship.  One man in the throng, however, was not interested in the story of her voyage and capture, nor was he interested in her cargo of Cuban sugar and coffee.  John Pickering (1777-1846) had come to hear the crew talk.

Once in a Lifetime

Having learned “Oriental” languages while serving as secretary to the American Minister in Portugal in the 1790s, John Pickering now practiced law in Boston.  There he acquired a reputation as a grammarian and a linguist, and his keen interest in languages, both ancient and modern, led him to perceive in the unexpected appearance of the Jerusalem a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn modern Greek from living speakers of the language (Larrabee, p. 299n4).  His desire to learn how Greek was pronounced was at least in part because of the well-known three-hundred year old controversy over the correct pronunciation of ancient Greek begun by Erasmus (Pickering, p. 4-25).

Few people in the United States knew anything about modern Greece in the years before the Greek War of Independence.  Though ancient Greek culture and language were staples of American education, only two Americans are known to have travelled in Greece before 1821: Joseph Allen Smith and Nicholas Biddle (Larrabee, p. 10-11).  I suspect there were other visits by American merchants and sailors in the early nineteenth century, as ships plying the Mediterranean must have put into ports in the Aegean, especially the island of Syra.  But if there were American visitors other than Smith and Biddle they left no records of their impressions.  Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) kept a journal and wrote several very descriptive letters home, but these unfortunately remained unpublished until our own day (McNeal 1993).  Biddle made the trip to Greece in 1806 as part of a tour of Europe, and his travels were undertaken in order to learn something about the political circumstances in other countries to fit him for a political career when he returned to Philadelphia.  His observations on modern Greek culture and language, especially its pronunciation, would have been of great value for scholars like Pickering had they been known.  As it was, Pickering was unable to find out anything about modern Greek even during his time in the Mediterranean.  He was prevented from travelling to the eastern Mediterranean because of quarantine laws, and Greek-speaking merchants and sailors rarely ventured beyond Malta in those days (they were under pressure from the Sublime Porte to remain within the eastern Mediterranean).  So it is not surprising that Pickering was excited by the prospect of speaking with the Greeks on board the Jerusalem.

Pickering hit the jackpot.  There were two men on the ship fluent in Italian (the lingua franca of Mediterranean commerce) who were able to converse with him.  One of them, Captain Lazarus Nicholas Katara, a native of Hydra, had little education and knew nothing about ancient Greek, but the other one was the man for the job.  Nikolaos Tziklitiras was a merchant who had resided for many years in Constantinople and was now the supercargo, or officer in charge of the cargo, on the Jerusalem.  A native of Navarino (modern Pylos) in the Peloponnese, Tziklitiras was intelligent, educated, and familiar with ancient Greek; and he was willing to instruct Pickering in modern Greek and its pronunciation.  Pickering’s first lesson was how to pronounce his tutor’s name: he tells us that Tziklitiras pronounced his name “cheek-lee-teeras” and went by the Italian version of his name “Nicola Ciclitira.”  Thus we have a record of perhaps the first modern Greek lesson on American soil (Pickering, p. 1-3).

From Supercargo to Greek Teacher

Olympic gold medalist Konstantinos Tsiklitiras, grandson of Nikolaos Tziklitiras. Source: International Olympic Committee, public domain.

The ship and its crew probably remained in Boston over the winter (Pickering referred to his conversations with Katara and Tziklitiras as taking place “in 1814”) and sailed for the Mediterranean with the return of good sailing weather in late spring.  Captain Katara would turn up again in Greece where he ran into Edward Everett, the Harvard scholar he met in Boston (Larrabee, p. 29).  After a few years Tziklitiras returned to Boston to stay and to earn his living as a teacher of modern Greek and its pronunciation (Pickering, p. 1-3).  He remained in Boston for four years, and he married in 1815 a French woman (Phebe Catharine Ouvre) and had two children, one of whom, his son Nicholas, would become the grandfather of the noted athlete Konstantinos Tsiklitiras (1888-1913).

These facts can be gleaned from the reports in the Niles’ Weekly Register, the biographical background provided for Konstantinos Tsiklitiras on line, and a small book on the pronunciation of Greek published by Pickering in 1818.  Particularly interesting is the lithographed facsimile in Pickering’s book of a letter in Greek by Tziklitiras that establishes the date of his return to Boston and his intention of becoming a teacher.  To these sources we can now add a small collection of manuscript documents in the Archives at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).  One day about 20 years ago I received a small packet in the mail from a bookseller in Brockton, Massachusetts (John William Pye, 1948-2016).  Pye explained that the documents were miscellaneous items that had turned up in a box of materials obtained at auction.  He had no idea of their provenance or content, but knowing my interest in all things Greek, he thought I might like them.  A short examination led me to believe that they were possibly an independent record of Tziklitiras’s contribution to the teaching of modern Greek in the United States, and for this reason I donated them to the ASCSA.  They deserve a detailed description.

One document is a piece of tattered paper on which are written names (including “Tzikliteras” and “Jenks” in Greek), a Greek alphabet, and a quotation from the Greek New Testament.  At the bottom, in English, is a note: “[This] specimen of Greek chirography is from Mr Tzikliteras, [a native] of the south of the Morea, now resident in Boston, [and a] teacher of youth. He was supercargo of the Greek ship, lately in this port. My introduction to him was due [to the] kindness of my much esteemed & accomplished friend, the Hon. [John] Pickering Esq. Boston August 25, 1818.”  The note is signed “W. J.” for William Jenks.

William Jenk’s note about Tziklitiras, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The second document is a holograph letter in Italian signed (in Greek) by Nikolaos Tziklitiras and addressed to the “Honorable John Pickering Esq.”.  Tziklitiras reminds Pickering that he promised to provide some proverbs and other quotations in idiomatic Greek to Mr. Jenks and asks Pickering to give the enclosed manuscripts to Jenks when he sees him.  The letter is also dated “Boston, 25 August 1818.”

Handwritten note by Nikolaos Tziklitiras to John Pickering, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The third document bears the same date and a text in Greek on one leaf written and signed by Tziklitiras.  It consists of Greek alphabets, proverbs, and Biblical quotations.  On the second leaf of the paper the Greek texts are translated into Italian and signed ” il peloponnissio greco, Nicola Ciclitira.”

Handwritten note by Nicholaos Tziklitiras, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The final manuscript is a letter in Greek addressed to “loanni Zugomala (Chiote) in America” from “his mother” and dated “Smyrna, June 15, 1830.” The writer hopes her son’s studies are going well and begs him to “dip your pen in the ink” and write her a letter.  The Greek text has a note in English (“My own omission”) keyed to a word that has a correction to the spelling, suggesting that this manuscript is a copy of an original letter.  An English translation on the back in another hand ends by stating “The above transl. by a Greek, probably” and “Tr. Dec. 3rd. 1830”.  It is unknown whether this letter is connected with Nikolaos Tziklitiras (perhaps the translator mentioned in the note?).

Letter addressed to Ioanni Zugomala in America from his “mother,” 1830. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

These documents belonged to William Jenks (1794-1884), a minister, one time professor of Oriental Languages and English at Bowdoin College, the founder of a mission for seamen in Boston, and the author of a Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible (six volumes, 1835-1838).  Jenks was also a co-founder of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Oriental Society.  Jenks, who was a private teacher in Boston at the time of the arrival of the Jerusalem was, like Pickering, an accomplished linguist.  He was reputed to have the largest private library in Boston. (The William Jenks Collection is housed at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.) The significance of the documents that once belonged to Jenks and are now in the ASCSA is that they confirm the presence of Tziklitiras in Boston in 1818 and his connection with John Pickering, and illustrate how Tziklitiras engaged with scholars who were interested in modern Greek and the nature of the information they sought.

Tziklitiras remained in Boston until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence when he returned to Greece with his son and young daughter (who died at sea).  During the war he served in the Peloponnese in a series of administrative positions before returning to Pylos at the end of hostilities.  He became a magistrate and died in Pylos in 1840.

In the Footsteps of Tziklitiras

The scholarly interest in modern Greek in the United States, however, did not end with the departure of Tziklitiras.  Colonel Alexander Negris, a distinguished veteran of the War of Independence, settled in the Boston area around 1827 and taught modern Greek at Harvard for two years.  He published a Grammar of the Modern Greek Language in 1828, the first grammar of modern Greek in the New World, in which he remarked “I can claim the credit of being the first to inspire men of learning and taste in America…with the desire of becoming acquainted with the living dialect of Greece” (Negris, Preface).  After Negris’ departure, modern Greek instruction at Harvard was undertaken by Evangelinos Apostolides Sophocles, who would make the greatest contribution to Modern Greek studies in America.  Sophocles was born at Tsangarada on Mt. Pelion in Thessaly about the time of Tziklitiras’ arrival in the United States (there is some inconsistency in Sophocles’ date of birth, between 1807 and 1814, an inconsistency due no doubt to Sophocles’ noted reticence in personal matters.  Sophocles was educated at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, and at some point came to the attention of missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions in Boston.  He sailed for Boston in 1828 with the missionary Josiah Brewer and two other Greeks.  After studying at Amherst College and holding various teaching posts, he moved to Harvard College in 1842 as Tutor in Greek (Professor of Greek after 1860), where he remained until his death in 1883 (Larrabee, p. 181, 255).  His contributions to modern Greek studies were many.  Besides teaching ancient and modern Greek to generations of students and scholars, he published many books, including a Romaic Grammar, and a History of the Greek Alphabet, which were standard texts for many years.  Sophocles was succeeded at Harvard by Aristides Phoutrides (1887-1923), who translated modern Greek literature and established Helikon one of the first Greek student organizations in the United States.  And today, thanks to the endowment in 1977 of the George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies at Harvard University, the study and teaching of modern Greek introduced two hundred years ago by Nikolaos Tziklitiras from the deck of a ship has become a permanent part of higher education in the United States.

On How to Pronounce Ancient Greek

While the interest in modern Greek flourishes today in the United States, the same cannot be said about Tziklitiras’s views on the pronunciation of ancient Greek.  Pickering tells us that Tziklitiras effected a change in his thinking about the pronunciation of ancient Greek:

“It now appears to me highly probable, nay almost certain, that the Greeks of the present day pronounce very nearly as their ancestors did, as early as the commencement of the Christian era” (Pickering, p. 3-4).

Biddle too had been surprised to learn that modern Greek was pronounced differently from the way he had been taught to pronounce ancient Greek.  At first he was skeptical about the application of modern pronunciation to ancient Greek, but he changed his mind.  He asked in his journal:

“Can a foreign people dictate to the descendants of the Greeks how Greek is to be read?”

concluding that “[there] was a strong argument in favor for the use of modern pronunciation” (McNeal, p. 146-148).

Tziklitiras’s letter to Pickering about how to pronounce ancient Greek, as published in Pickering 1818.

The question of the correct pronunciation of ancient Greek has been debated for centuries.  Before the time of Erasmus in the early 16th century it was not uncommon for ancient Greek to be pronounced much like modern Greek.  Erasmus adopted a new, and in the view of many scholars arbitrary, method of pronouncing ancient Greek that would eventually become the accepted pronunciation in Europe and later the United States (Pickering, p. 4-15).  Tziklitiras obviously did not accept the Erasmian pronunciation.  A. E. Sophocles, on the other hand, summarily treated the matter saying “we may safely assume that the Romaic pronunciation, as a system, cannot go farther back than the seventh century of our era” (Sophocles, p. 92, emphasis in the original).

John Gennadius (1844-1932), the founder of the Gennadius Library of the ASCSA, however, was in Tziklitiras’s camp.  He expressed his views on the subject in a number of periodical articles at the end of the nineteenth century.  Always a sharp critic of contemporary methods of teaching Greek in Europe, Gennadius believed that the prevailing Erasmian system of ancient Greek pronunciation impeded the learning of ancient Greek.  Gennadius argued that it was better to learn modern Greek first because the knowledge of modern Greek and its pronunciation would facilitate the learning of ancient Greek.  Unfortunately the views concerning the pronunciation of ancient Greek held by Gennadius, and before him Biddle, Pickering, and Tziklitiras, have not won over the majority of American scholars, and today the Erasmian pronunciation of ancient Greek yet prevails.  It is fitting, therefore, that Tziklitiras’ unpublished papers, disiecta membra from the ship that brought modern Greek to American shores, and at least temporarily convinced American scholars to pronounce ancient Greek in the same manner as the living Greeks, should be housed at the Gennadius Library.

Note: For a brief presentation of the four manuscripts when they were first received by the ASCSA in 2006, see AKOUE Fall 2006, p. G4.


References

Gennadius, John, 1895, “The Proper Pronunciation of Greek,” The Nineteenth Century, vol. 38, no. 224, pp. 681-698.

Gennadius, John, 1896, “Erasmus and the Pronunciation of Greek,” The Nineteenth Century, vol. 39, no. 227, pp. 87-97.

Gennadius, John, 1897, “The Pronunciation of Greek in England,” The Contemporary Review, vol. 71, pp. 373-393.

Larrabee, Stephen A., 1957, Hellas Observed: The American Experience of Greece 1775-1865, New York.

McNeal, R. A., 1993, Nicholas Biddle in Greece. The Journals and Letters of 1806, University Park, Pennsylvania.

Negris, Alexander, 1828, A Grammar of the Modern Greek Language, Boston.

Pickering, John, 1818, On the Pronunciation of the Greek Language, Cambridge.

“September 18: The Greek ship Jerusalem,” Niles’ Weekly Register, volume 5 (1813), p. 42.

“November 27: The Greek ship Jerusalem,” Niles’ Weekly Register, volume 5 (1813), p. 214.

Sophocles, E. A., 1842, A Romaic Grammar Accompanied by a Chrestomathy with a Vocabulary, Hartford, Connecticut.

Sophocles, E. A., 1848, History of the Greek Alphabet with Remarks on Greek Orthography and Pronunciation, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Online References

“Modern Greek Studies Harvard” (accessed 29 July, 2019) https://moderngreek.classics.fas.harvard.edu/about

“Konstantinos Tziklitiras,” (accessed 29 July, 2019) https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Κωνσταντίνος_Τσικλητήρας

“Sophocles obituary” http://www.mparaschos.com/Boston_Greeks/Sophocles.html

“William Jenks Collection” https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-260jen?view=text

 


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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“They returned… but stay I did”: Doreen Canaday’s Experience of Interwar Greece

I first encountered the name “Canaday” in the mid-1980s when I went to Bryn Mawr College for graduate school. Although we did most of our work in the seminar rooms above the Art and Archaeology Library (now the Rhys Carpenter Library), for books and periodicals about history or classics we had to go to the “big library,” which was none other than the Mariam Coffin Canaday Library.

A few years later when I returned to Greece to participate in the regular program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter), I heard people referring to Canaday House.  One of the two marble houses flanking the Gennadius Library at 61 Souidias, it housed temporarily the family of the then Director of the School William (Willy) D. E. Coulson. (The big earthquake of 1986 in Kalamata had caused damages to the Director’s residence across the street.)

An ink drawing of the Canaday House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Finally, in the summer of 1990, while digging at Mochlos on Crete, I met Doreen Spitzer on one of the “On-Site with The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” trips that she had been organizing for years, but without realizing that Doreen Spitzer’s maiden name was Canaday. It was only after I started working as the School’s Archivist that I became aware of Canaday Spitzer’s long legacy at the American School.  Doreen Canaday Spitzer (1914-2010) served as a Trustee 1978-1996, President of the Board of Trustees 1983-1988, Trustee Emerita from 1996 and President of the Friends from 1988 until her death in 2010.  (There is a thorough biographical essay about Doreen Spitzer by Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool in AKOUE 63, Fall 2010.) Her father, Ward Canaday (1885-1976), had also served as a Trustee of the School for almost four decades starting in 1937.

Doreen Canaday Spitzer listening to Manolis Andronikos, excavator of the royal tombs at Vergina, 1981. (Between them, barely visible, Machteld Mellink.) Source: ASCSA Archives.

Spitzer also cared deeply about preserving the School’s history and supported wholeheartedly the creation of an Archives Department during her term as President of the Board. Furthermore, she would contact School members, many of whom she knew personally from her time as a student of the School in 1936-1938, to solicit their personal papers.  No wonder why my formal title is the Doreen Canaday Spitzer Archivist. Needless to say that it would have pleased her immensely to see our new and enlarged facilities at the East Wing of the Gennadius Library. 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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“If a Jesuit should prove not to know Latin we’d better shut our doors!”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. I

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. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.


Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987)

Last summer, I began researching the life of Professor Gertrude Smith at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School), particularly in her role as Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships. (On Smith see D. Rogers, “Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene.“) Smith guided the selection process of students during the Academic Year and the Summer Session (SS) deftly for nearly 20 years (1945-1963). Delving into her correspondence with various people associated with the School, I was struck by one letter in particular, as she was discussing Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987), and his desire to be a SS Director at the School in 1961:

I wonder with him just what the Roman Catholic situation would be. Don’t think I have anything against the R.C.’s. I haven’t, but I do not want the summer session turned into an adjunct of the church, and, if he once does the school, I foresee an avalanche for that particular summer of applicants for that particular summer of applicants from people who have used his dratted Homeric Greek books and who will be urged by their priest or nun teachers to take the session when they can have it under his guidance. In the two sessions which I have done I have had each time four or five Roman Catholics, but I could usually control that and get them meatless meals when they had to have them and get them to places where they could get to church on time and so on. But we do not want the summer session dependent of the Roman Catholic church, and I think it might be if Father S. were leading around people, the majority of whom were R.C.’s. (ASCSA ADM REC Series 100, Box 106/1, Folder 3, 26 October 1960)

Did this mean that the School, as a whole, had a bias against Roman Catholics? Certainly this would not be unheard of in American academic circles. Even as late as 1977, Catholic priests were still noticing a bias in academia, which stemmed from deep-roots in America against Catholics (particularly immigrants from Catholic countries of Europe, creating a so-called nativism, or bias, in society). Fr. Andrew Greeley noted that people often told him not to wear his collar, or he would not be taken as serious as his lay counterparts. Indeed, he questioned:

Is the nativism in education conscious or unconscious? I suppose the best answer is that it doesn’t matter. Those who ask, Isn’t Catholicism incompatible with independent intellectual activity? might as well be asking, Isn’t it true that blacks have a distinctive body odor? Or, Isn’t it true women are happier at home raising children? The person who asks the question is prejudiced whether or not he knows it. (Greeley 1977, 43)

Further, the School has been noted for occasionally making less-than-polite comments about religious groups outside of Protestantism, particularly Judaism. In correspondence in the early twentieth century, if an applicant was Jewish, oftentimes that was noted in their files (See J. L. Davis, “A Preamble to the Nazi Holocaust in Greece: Two Micro-Histories from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.”) While this did not hinder students and scholars of Jewish origin from coming to the School, it is disconcerting to a modern academic audience that such issues would indeed be brought up.

So I began to go back through the Archives to see if there were any anti-Catholic tendencies in the School’s past, as Smith’s letter of 1960 had the potential to suggest. What I did find was a fascinating history of Catholic religious figures (of both genders) coming to the School as students and scholars and flourishing. Almost from the beginning of the School’s foundation in 1881, Catholic clergy had been part of our history, with the first Catholic priest in 1887-1889, Fr. Daniel Quinn. Read the rest of this entry »


Grace Macurdy of Vassar College: Scholar, Teacher, and Proto-Feminist


This is a guest post by Robert L. Pounder

Robert L. Pounder, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Vassar College, here contributes a review of Barbara McManus’s posthumous book about Grace Harriet Macurdy, titled The Drunken Duchess of Vassar. Pounder, who has been conducting in-depth research on the social history of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in the 1920s-1930s, writes that Classics was “dominated by unaware, myopic, smug, unsympathetic men, men who viewed academic accomplishment by women with condescension and skepticism.”  Women in academia, like Macurdy, were thought to be anomalies–a different species. Based on his work at the ASCSA Archives, Pounder has also published an essay, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal & Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015.


Born in 1866 in Robbinston, Maine, Grace Harriet Macurdy was the sixth of nine siblings whose parents had immigrated to the United States from the nearby Canadian province of New Brunswick just a year before her birth. Her father, Angus McCurdy (the spelling of the name was later changed to Macurdy because he did not want to be thought Irish) was a carpenter who barely eked out a living.  After leaving his children in the care of their mother and paternal grandmother for long periods and thus improving his situation somewhat, he was able to move the family to Watertown, Massachusetts by 1870; there they grew.  Watertown provided a better series of houses and slightly improved material circumstances for the Macurdy children.  Moreover, they profited greatly from the guidance of their mother and grandmother, both of whom encouraged the children, including the girls, to read, write, and pursue their educations.

Barbara McManus, The Drunken Duchess of Vassar, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press (2017).

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