Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel D. Hansen (Part II)

As a young woman, Hazel Dorothy Hansen broke several glass ceilings. From a humble background –her father was a foundryman—she was admitted to Stanford University in 1916, at a time when the institution had severely limited the admission of women. In 1904, Mrs. Stanford became afraid of the increasing number of women enrolling at Stanford (by 1899 reaching almost 40% of the student population) and implemented a quota that restricted their numbers at the undergraduate level: for every woman at Stanford, there had to be three men. (See Sam Scott, “Why Jane Stanford Limited Women’s Enrollment to 500,” Stanford Magazine, Aug. 22, 2018.). Fortunately for a girl of modest means, Stanford remained tuition-free until 1920.

She broke the glass ceiling again when she chose a prehistoric topic for her dissertation (“Early Civilization in Thessaly”) that also required extensive surveying for sites on the Greek periphery.  In the 1920’s female graduate students at the American School had limited options when it came to field research. Apart from Alice Leslie Walker, who had been entrusted with the publication of its Neolithic pottery, Corinth remained a male domain, with Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen controlling access to, and publication of, archaeological material. Hazel would have needed either to finance her own excavation, as Hetty Goldman and Walker had done in the 1910s, or to write an art history thesis based on material in museums. It was not until David R. Robinson began excavations at Olynthus and Edward Capps spearheaded the Athenian Agora Excavations that women were allowed to participate in the publication of (secondary) excavation material.

Hansen’s monthly report (March 1924) to the School’s Director, where she lists her trips, and also proudly claims that she discovered the prehistoric site of Μαγούλα Παλιάμπελα (“and not even mentioned by Mr. Wace”). ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 108/1, folder 5.

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Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel Dorothy Hansen (Part I)

“Her main contribution was not destined to be in the field of excavation, but in discovering in dark cellars a good number of broken vases still covered with earth, discovered by others over the years in the island of Skyros. There she collected, cleaned, patched, and provided with a shelter transforming into a small Museum a room in the City Hall of Skyros. For this service to archaeology and the island she was made Honorary Citizen of Skyros,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas about Hazel Hansen in early 1963, a few months after her death, in the Annual Report of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter).

I asked several archaeologists of my generation and slightly older if her name or her association with the island of Skyros rang a bell. It did not, although she was known well enough in Greece, for her death to be noted at length in Kathimerini (December 22, 1962), one of the most respected Greek newspapers. «Ηγγέλθη χθες στην Αθήνα ο θάνατος της φιλέλληνος αρχαιολόγου καθηγητρίας του Πανεπιστημίου Στάνφορδ, Χέιζελ Χάνσεν, η οποία είναι ιδιαιτέρως γνωστή δια το σύγγραμμά της περί του αρχαιοτέρου πολιτισμού της Θεσσαλίας…”. In addition to her work in Thessaly and Skyros, the note referred to her participation in the excavations at Olynthus and on the North Slope of the Acropolis. The author of Hansen’s Greek obituary knew her well and wanted to capture the accomplishments of a friend and able colleague. It must have been (again) George Mylonas, whose friendship with Hazel started in the 1920s when they were both at the American School.

Hazel D. Hansen, 1923. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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Grèce en vogue: A New Wave of American Philhellenism in the 1920s

Raymond, Penelope, and Menalkas Duncan, 1912. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Raymond, Penelope, and Menalkas Duncan, 1912. Source: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

In early October of 1924, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, together with Ida Thallon Hill, was planning one of their first (perhaps the first) official dinners in the Director’s House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter, the School or ASCSA). They were both new brides. In July Elizabeth (Libbie) had married Carl Blegen at Lake Placid, New York. Blegen was then assistant director of the School. Within a month, Ida, her lover and former professor at Vassar College, married Bert Hodge Hill in England. Hill had been the director of the School since 1906. Robert L. Pounder has recently written about the complicated nature of the Blegens’ and Hills’ relationship (or partnership as they themselves described it) [“The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, edited by N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 83-96]. Libbie kept a social diary recording the activities of the two couples during the academic year 1924-1925. Read the rest of this entry »