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.
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.
It would take multiple web searches and various combinations of his name before I could identify his middle name as Alfred. His name also appeared here and there as an illustrator of a number of books for children or works of historical fiction: Julia Augusta Schwartz’s Wilderness Babies (Boston 1905), George Barton’s Barry Wynn. The Adventures of a Page Boy in the United States Congress (Boston 1912), John McIntyre’s In Texas with Davy Crockett (Philadelphia 1914), and John P. Ritter’s The Crossroads of Destiny (New York 1901). (Most of these books and their authors are now largely forgotten, perhaps because their genre –the adventures of young boys– is no longer popular or because their authors were not of the magnitude of Charles Dickens or Mark Twain.) Thus far, Huybers appeared to have made a living illustrating books on the East Coast in the early 1900s. From the Library of Congress entries, where he is listed as contributor to these books, I discovered his date of birth and death (1859-1920).
Subsequent efforts to learn more about Huybers failed to bear any fruit; however, over the years I have learned that one often has to be patient when doing archival research on the web. I know from experience that tons of new information is added to it daily, so it pays to conduct new searches every two or three months. My notebooks are filled with partially studied topics marked as “potential essays.” Moreover, as I have written elsewhere, archival research is really about “connecting the dots.” If you are lucky, once in a while, there is a breakthrough or a discovery and, suddenly, everything comes together.
Another web search tracked Huybers’s name down in a collection of personal papers in the National Library of Australia: the Patricia Clarke Papers. Clarke (b. 1926) was an author and journalist, who wrote extensively about 19th century Australian women. One of her subjects was Jessie Couvreur (1848-1897), neé Huybers, also known as “Tasma,” after her pen name. According to Clarke, the Huybers were an English family of Dutch origin who migrated to Australia in 1852; most of their children, including John, were born in Hobart in Tasmania. In 1873, John’s mother, Charlotte, took five of her children on a tour of Europe that lasted several years. Perhaps as intended, it appears that very few of the Huybers children returned to Australia after the tour; most of them settled in Europe, earning their living as artists and foreign correspondents to English, Australian, and American newspapers.
In 1881 Jessie published (under the name Tasma) her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, which earned her considerable success (although her reviewers presumed that the novel had been written by a man). In 1889 there is evidence that she was in Athens, either by herself or with her brother John, because she reported for the “Melbourne Argus” on the royal marriage of Prince Constantine of Greece and Sophia of Prussia. Up to that point, my various web searches had revealed that John Huybers was an English Australian who had spent considerable time in Europe before he moved to the United States in the early 1900s.
A Memorial Fund
Huybers lay dormant in my notebook for another year until recently, when browsing Louis E. Lord’s History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Cambridge, Mass., 1947), my eye landed on Huybers’s name in “Appendix V: Funds for General Purposes”: J. Huybers Fund; established 1921; $714.53 (which is the equivalent of about $18,000 today). There was, however, no additional information about why or how this fund was established. When studying the School’s institutional history, I find that the next best tool after the pair of “School Histories” is the collection of Annual Reports; and, sure enough, in the ASCSA Annual Report for 1920-21 (p. 21), Edward Capps, the School’s Chair of the Managing Committee, reported Huybers’s death, as well as some other biographical information:
“[He] was for many years a resident of Greece, whence he sent to the American press, and particularly to the Christian Science Monitor, admirable articles on Greek affairs. He died at Phalerum in 1919 [sic]. His writings showed such admirable sanity of judgement, good information, and genuine philhellenic sympathy and understanding that his friends in America, chiefly those of Hellenic descent, desired to perpetuate his memory in connection with the School, which they highly regard as the permanent symbol in Greece of American-Hellenic unity. We are indebted to Professor A. E. Phoutrides of Harvard University, for conceiving this idea and carrying it to completion, and to His Excellency Mr. Tsamados, then Minister Resident of Greece in Washington for generous assistance. A principal fund of $545 was contributed.”
At last, a real breakthrough in my search for Huybers: not just an illustrator but also a foreign correspondent stationed in Greece during the last years of his life, with strong connections to the School and possibly Harvard (where I found four of his pencil sketches), and a philhellene with ties to the Greek-American community in the U.S.
The Story of an Immigrant Boy
I ran another search, this time through the School’s website, because I wanted to see if his name appeared in any of our collections of personal papers. It did not, but I was pleasantly surprised to find him as an editor, as well as an illustrator, in a book titled: When I Was a Small Boy in Greece, by George Demetrios (Boston 1913). Huybers had edited and published the autobiographical story of Demetrios. At first, I thought that Demetrios was a fictional name that Huybers had invented in order to write a historical novel, but then I remembered that Demetrios was the donor of the four sketches by Huybers to the Harvard Art Museums in 1933.
George Demetrios (1896-1974) was a real person, who would become a sculptor and marry the novelist Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968). Barbara Elleman, the biographer of Burton, recounted the encounter of Demetrios with Huybers as follows: “In 1911, George, a Greek immigrant, had arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15 with a nametag attached to his lapel… To earn money, George shined shoes on the street. During slow times he amused himself by drawing faces of people he saw. One day a man, illustrator and painter John Hybers [sic], saw George’s sketches, and, very impressed, arranged for him to receive a scholarship, funded by art enthusiast Charlotte Hallowell of West Medford, to the School of Fine Arts in Boston…” (Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, Boston 2002, p. 15).
Huybers in the Editor’s Preface to When I was a Small Boy in Greece related a somewhat different story regarding his first encounter with Demetrios in 1911: “In the spring of last year, at the house of some Greek friends in Boston I heard a boy of sixteen, who had recently arrived from Southern Macedonia, tell in his own language, to some of his own people, the story of Xenophon’s ‘Retreat of the Ten Thousand’. The boy stood facing his audience. He spoke without a book… he knew the narrative well, and he put it in his own way in the beautiful modern language. I was seated behind the speaker and what impressed me strongly was the attitude and expression of the listeners… the look in their eyes showed their keen interest and the boy held the attention of all for an hour and a half, till he had finished… We spoke French, and he expressed his regret at having had to give up his studies and relinquish the promise of a university education… In leisure hours he told me the story of his boyhood in Macedonia. Then, too, he knew much story and verse by heart…In taking down all the boy had to tell me, I was a careful listener, and I tried to preserve –in the medium of translation—as far as possible, his thoughts expressions and words…”.
As mentioned above, Demetrios became a well-known sculptor whose works are on display at the Cape Ann Museum in Massachusetts. On the Museum’s web page, one reads: “During his sixty year artistic career, Demetrios had a profound influence on an entire generation of artists who studied under him here on Cape Ann and in his Boston studio.” In addition, in the possession of the Demetrios’s family is a fine watercolor of young Demetrios, dated 1913, by J[ohn] A[lfred] H[uybers] (B. Elleman, Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, Boston 2002, p. 16). It’s the one that was used for the cover of Demetrios’s book.
Dispatches from Athens
We do not know exactly when Huybers left Boston for Athens but probably sometime shortly after 1914. By 1915 he was working as a foreign correspondent for The Nation. Through the historical archive of The UNZ Review: An Alternative Media Selection I was able to retrieve 16 of his essays in The Nation. Most of them describe the political situation in Greece in 1916, especially the rift between King Constantine and Eleutherios Venizelos, as to whether Greece should remain neutral during WW I or join the Entente. Of great interest to me (and the readers of this blog) is an essay by Huybers, published on February 1, 1917 and titled: “The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” because it provides a vivid picture of life at the School and in Athens at the time.
According to Huybers one reached the School by taking Tram 15 which, however, brought you as far as the “Athens Normal School of Teachers” (a.k.a. Marasleion): “… taking the first corner on your right by the high wall enclosing the gardens of the Normal School, you come … to the gates of the American School, just beyond the tower of the British School adjoining. The name ΑΜΕΡΙΚΑΝΙΚΗ ΣΧΟΛΗ is carved in Greek letters on the stone pillar on one side of the high green gates of iron open-work, and in English on the other… To the left, pushed out on the hill, are a few small, one-story houses, tinted yellow and pink. In front of them stand some Australian eucalyptus trees, and seen above the tiled roofs a plantation of young pines on the hill gives a relieving note of green.”
He then proceeds to describe the School’s garden giving ample praise to “a great Judas tree, whose wealth of purple flowers is a springtime glory. Myrtles, laurels, and other native plants grow in the garden, and tall shrubs, with white and blood-red flowers.” The great condition of the garden must be credited to Carl W. Blegen who was the School’s Secretary at the time and a passionate gardener. Just a year before, the School had completed its first major expansion which had enlarged the library, added a women’s parlor as well as other space. I found it entertaining that Huybers made special mention of the three bathrooms added to the Director’s house during the expansion (hard to believe now, but until 1915 the Director’s house at the American School lacked an indoor bathroom).
“One of the most American features of the house is the three bathrooms, of the best quality and construction, American workmen and plumbers having come to Athens to carry out the work. The Queen of Greece recently visited the School, and repeated the visit the same week, accompanied by the King, pointing out to him the bathrooms, that were her special admiration. And both King and Queen admitted that the palace and royal summer home had no such faultless installations.”
Huybers also praised the views from the library, when one tired from reading could “step out on the white marble balcony at the end of the library and rest his eyes on the great hill of Hymettus,” including a lyrical description of the mountain view: “The very bareness and barrenness if the mountain becomes a thing of beauty in the vaporous atmosphere—cool and warm grays, pinks, and neutral tints, with purple flying shadows from the clouds above…”. Hard to imagine any of this today, with the large and horrendous mass of Evangelismos Hospital blocking all such southward views.
Echoing most likely Hill and Blegen, Huybers could not refrain from adding a comment about the increasing excellence of the American School in comparison with the French School. “The American student may as a rule come less well prepared than the man of the French School, but they ‘make good’ by their initiative and originality, bringing with them the new breath and clear vision of the young Western world.” Hybers backed up this comment with a statement by Wilhelm Dӧrpfeld, an authority in the study of Classical architecture, who reported that in the study of Athenian buildings, the “newest and most original interpretations were the work of the American School.”
The French American rivalry was not limited to just scholarly matters. “The French Government considers the proper maintenance of the French School at Athens as one of the obligations of good government. The American Government leaves such work to the enterprise of its colleges and the practical devotion to ideals of private individuals among his citizens.” Huybers concluded his essay with a line from Plato’s Protagoras: τρέφεται δέ, ὤ Σώκρατης, ψυχὴ τίνι; μαθήμασιν δήπου, ἢν δ’ἐγώ (and what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge.)
The Boston Connection
The short “obituary” on Huybers in the School’s Annual Report of 1920 also noted the creation of a fund through the initiative of Professor A. E. Phoutrides of Harvard University. The life of Aristeides Phoutrides (1887-1923) deserves an essay of its own (and is duly noted as such in my “Notebook”). I am not sure what to make of the connection between Huybers and Phoutrides, except that the latter, like Demetrios, had also immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. Born on the island of Icaria and having lived for a short time in Egypt, Aristeides arrived in America at the age of 19 without any knowledge of English. After attending Mount Hermon, a preparatory school for students who had interrupted their education, for two years, Phoutrides was accepted at Harvard College where he graduated in 1911 summa cum laude. Three years later he obtained his doctoral degree and an assistant professorship at Harvard.
A big proponent of Modern Greek Studies, Phoutrides, until his premature death in 1923 at the age of 36, travelled to Greece several times and launched several campaigns in the U.S. in order to support Greek national causes. His reputation was such that in 1919 he was offered the Chair of Greek Literature at the University of Athens by Eleutherios Venizelos, which in the end failed to materialize after Venizelos’s defeat in the elections of 1920. I suspect that Huybers must have met the young Phoutrides at one of the gatherings of the Greek American community in Boston about the same time that he “discovered” George Demetrios (ca. 1911).
A Sketchy Life: Hobart, Boston, Athens
Except for the pencil profile of Bert Hodge Hill, the four sketches at the Harvard Art Museums and the one watercolor in the possession of the Demetrios family, I was not able to discover any other original artwork autographed by Huybers. Most likely his papers were not preserved, especially since he moved around so much. There are major gaps in his life, especially until the early 1900s, when we find him working as a book illustrator on the East Coast; by then he was in his early 40s.
A final search through old Australian newspapers produced a letter from Huybers to the Editor of Mercury (a Tasmanian newspaper), written from Boston and published on December 29, 1911. He was offering for sale to the Hobart Art Gallery one of his paintings, “The Paris Soup Kitchen,” from 1886, which was exhibited together with two more of his paintings in the new Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He identified himself as a painter who had been forced “to take book and newspaper work because ‘Art for art’s sake’ did not procure a living.” He wanted to sell because he needed the money for an operation. I have not been able to find what happened to Huybers’s “Paris Soup Kitchen” or any of his other paintings. To judge from his book illustrations, however, he must have been a gifted artist, and Hill must have treasured his little portrait by Huybers.
On September 23, 1920 an obituary appeared in Tasmanian Mail reporting Huybers’s death (as having taken place on May 27, 1920). I was unable to obtain online access to this document, but it really didn’t matter so much because I had already achieved my real objective which was to draw a rough sketch of Huybers’s life and learn why the School came to own one of his drawings.
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.)
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.
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 »
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.
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.
“If a Jesuit should prove not to know Latin we’d better shut our doors!”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. IPosted: December 1, 2017
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.
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 »
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.
An African American Pioneer in Greece: John Wesley Gilbert and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1890-1891.Posted: August 1, 2017
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 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 »