Dollies and Doilies: Priscilla Capps Hill and the Refugee Crisis in Athens, 1922-1941

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about the (forgotten) relief efforts of Priscilla Capps Hill through Near East Industries during the great refugee crisis that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922.


In the months that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in September 1922 and the population exchange of 1923, more than a million Orthodox Christians were ultimately compelled to desert their birth rights in Anatolia. Their influx to Greece generated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. American expatriates in Greece took immediate action. Darrell O. Hibbard of the YMCA and Jefferson Caffery, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission, created the Athens American Relief Committee, which notified Red Cross missions in Europe and America about the crisis and organized the first relief efforts. Bert H. Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), was appointed Chairman of the Relief Committee, in which role he was expected to coordinate communication with the Greek government.  Harry Hill (no relation to Bert), an Englishman, head of the American Express Company in Athens, was charged with purchases and banking.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were collected by the time the Committee was disbanded on November 24, 1922, when the American Red Cross arrived in Greece to provide humanitarian aid together with Near East Relief, the latter focusing largely on Turkey.  Its work had been invaluable. (See also E. Daleziou, ” ‘Adjuster and Negotiator’: Bert Hodge Hill and the Greek Refugee Crisis, 1918-1928,” Hesperia 82, 2013, pp. 49-65.)

The ASCSA’s involvement did not stop there. In the years to come “the School continued to be a hub for Americans offering their services to a variety of refugee relief efforts such as the ARC, the American Women’s Hospital Organization, Near East Relief, the YMCA, and the Athens American Relief Committee” (Daleziou 2013, p. 58). In addition to relief work, Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee and a professor of Classics at Princeton University, was asked by Greece’s former prime-minister Eleftherios Venizelos to raise awareness in America of what was happening in Greece. Without wasting time, Capps, who knew Venizelos personally from his days as U.S. Minister to Greece (1920-1921), founded The American Friends of Greece (AFG), the broader mission of which was “to promote friendly relations between Greece and the U.S.” (The AFG later published booklets in support of Greece during World War II and a monthly newsletter, “The Philhellene,” which circulated from 1942-1950.)

Priscilla’s Story

Incorporation of the AFG on October 15, 1923 marked the start of Priscilla Capps’s involvement in refugee affairs, a much less well-known story than her father’s.  Priscilla Capps (1900-1985), a graduate of Smith College, had assisted her father in Athens during his service as Minister, while she was a student at the ASCSA, as a kind of “first daughter.”

Priscilla Capps clad in a traditional Greek costume, ca. 1920s. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Priscilla’s role in confronting the crisis is documented in the archives of Near East Industries (a subsidiary of Near East Relief).  She was associated with Near East Relief from 1923 and became the Overseas Director of Near East Industries in 1925.  Near East Industries was represented in America by Rose Ewald, who marketed refugee craft goods from the organization’s flagship store at 151 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. They were sold by other merchants on commission, in Christmas sales, and in summer sales on Cape Cod.  Capps made frequent promotional trips to New York, and she and Ewald eventually built a business that, at the dawn of WW II, employed 350 women.

James Barton’s The Story of Near East Relief: 1915-1930 (1930) notes that “the general theory of helping women work evolved into the Near East Industries … Workshops were operated in three refugee centers, Athens, Beirut and Constantinople, under the supervision of Miss Priscilla Capps, Miss Dorothy Francis and Miss Sarah Ravndal.”

In Athens itself products of Near East Industries were first offered to tourists from Priscilla’s shop at 48 Amalias Street across from the Arch of Hadrian, and, after 1931, at 2 Amalias, near Syntagma (Constitution) Square.  Independent tourist shops also took goods on commission.

Card advertising Near East Industries. Photo: ASCSA Archives.

Priscilla built Near East Industries on foundations established by the AFG.  And we know how this happened because we have a vivid account of the experimental launch in 1924 of the program of refugee craft production that blossomed in 1925 and became Near Eastern Industries, thanks to Gladys Slade Thompson, wife of W. Stuart Thompson, architect of the Gennadius Library of the ASCSA. Her pamphlet titled Refugee Workshops in Greece: A 1924 Experiment Becomes a 1925 Fact (Washington, D.C.: American Friends of Greece, Inc.) is scarce and deserves to be much better known.

According to Thompson, refugee workshops in two communities of Athens were already producing crafts for the AFG by 1925.  She begins:

“When the great invasion of refugees came in 1922, they had no place to go.  Some slept in boxes, others on street corners, or the gutter, still others in enormous concentration camps that so reeked with vile smells and fifth that they were dangerous to visit.  Today the worst of these pest holes are gone, and some of the refugees who were herded there are now living in the new villages which are growing up around the city of Athens.”

Thompson then turns to the “Kountouriotis Camp” —300 one-room houses in Ambelokipi, built with funds from Greeks in America.  She describes conditions:

“About thirty of these houses run along in a row with one roof.  They look like little bathing houses with all the bareness of the seashore but none of the beauty of the sea.  Short clothes-lines run crosswise down the narrow dirt road, and we are oblique to duck our heads to avoid the many ragged patched pieces of clothing hanging on the lines.  Each house is about ten feet square and has one window, a dirt floor and a roof that is now beginning to leak.”

Koundouriotis Village Workshop. Source: G. S. Thompson, Refugee Workshops.

The village took its name Κουντουριώτικα from that of Admiral Pavlos Koundouriotis, the President of Greece who had granted public land behind the soccer stadium on Alexandras boulevard for the settlement.  (See also http://www.mixanitouxronou.gr/pia-ine-afti-i-prosfigiki-gitonia-pou-sinedese-to-onoma-tis-me-ena-thriliko-gipedo-podosferou/)

Aerial view of Koundouriotika (ca. 1960), near the soccer stadium, on Alexandras Boulevard (Leoforos Alexandras). Photo: N. Paradeisis, Ambelokipi.

From Thompson’s account we also learn about the workshop there.  She writes:

Won’t you look into the workshop with me?  The room, about twenty feet square, has no furnishing except benches.  Forty women and girls are there, from eleven years up to any age where the woman has eyes to see.  They are embroidering little Greek bags with designs taken from the old pottery of Rhodes, and in another room the cloth is woven by weavers who, in more happy days, wove their own material but never worked for others.  Some are weaving beautiful natural silk into just the right width for scarfs, while others are weaving cotton into material for bags and dresses.

The raw silk and natural dies were brought from Kalamata and the silk dyed in Athens to match the colors of Rhodian pots and antique scarves. Lucy Shoe Meritt, who shared an apartment with Priscilla in 1928, reminisced in the obituary she wrote at the time of Priscilla’s death in 1985: “At the time she was running a shop for the Near East Relief… [the] motifs copied from pieces that Priscilla had found in the Greek Islands… Fortunate are those of us who have reproductions of some of these from her shop which was always popular with tourists” (ASCSA Newsletter, Spring 1986, p. 13).

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

In a second refugee village, another 100 women were working in Pangrati to produce handkerchiefs and “luncheon sets.”  250 women in Lesbos, 100 in Chios, 100 in Samos, 100 in Crete, and 300 in Thessaloniki also filled orders from the AFG.

Efforts by the AFG were soon absorbed by Near East Industries, while Priscilla Capps built bridges to other relief agencies too.  I quote from a 1929 report of the Near East Foundation, submitted on the eve of the Great Depression:

“Miss Capps gives us a most remarkable report covering her work for the month of March [1929]. You will note that she is most confident in being able to continue the Industries without orders from America.  With Mr. Acheson’s approval, Miss Capps has been loaned by the Near East Relief for two hours daily to organize the various refugee industries under the Refugee Settlement Commission. In this connection it is interesting to advise you of the fact that about 300 of our ex-orphan girls are employed by the Danish Mission work-shops. Their products are entirely of a different character than anything produced by Miss Capps’ workers and practically the entire output is sold in Denmark. These girls have clean, well-lighted work-rooms and Miss Yibson, the Director, is a Danish woman of the finest type. The girls have daily religious exercises before beginning their work and this one industry has done much to keep alive hundreds of Armenian families supported entirely by these ex-orphan girls.”

The Refugee Settlement Commission with which Priscilla Capps collaborated had been created by the League of Nations in September 1923 at the request of the Greek government, and was vested with full legal authority to coordinate resettlement of refugees.  In 1924 her father, Edward Capps, had declined to serve as one of its four members because of other commitments.

Nonetheless, Edward Capps did continue his involvement in refugee affairs, albeit not to the extent of Priscilla’s.  Most of the men employed between 1923 and 1925 in the construction of ASCSA’s Gennadius Library were refugees.  Capps also raised funds to employ Greek men formerly held as prisoners in Turkey so that roads around the School could be improved.  In 1925 he even proposed building a model women’s workshop with salvage timber from the construction of the Gennadius Library (Newberry Library, Horace S. Oakley Papers, Capps to Oakley, April 24, 1925).  And he served as a trustee of Near East Relief. Bert Hodge Hill also joined the Refugee Settlement Commission alongside Edward Capps from 1927 until its dissolution in 1930 (Daleziou 2013).

Greek refugee girls weaving. Photo: The National Geographic Magazine, November 1925, p. 585.

Caught in the Great Depression

By 1931, in the heart of the Great Depression, the financial situation of Near East Industries had become grim. Priscilla’s summer sale in 1931 had failed to deliver anticipated profits and, among other problems, tourism in Athens had declined. She responded to this downward trend in sales by introducing new product lines and by accepting new commissions.  Her women were now making embroidered suits, dresses, and coats, and she announced that Near East Industries would produce stage curtains for the theater of the University of Athens, for the house of the director of the Gennadius Library, for the professors’ house at Athens College, and for the new Corinth Museum.

One product line sold on commission in the U.S. during the 1930s remains popular among collectors today — 8” dolls dressed in traditional costumes of Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Palestine. From the mid-1930s they were distributed in the United States by Kimport Dolls, a company managed by Ruby and Arthur McKim of Independence, Missouri. Kimport had contracted with Near East Industries to market them, but it is clear that the same or similar dolls were already being made in the 1920s in Athens by refugee women.

 

Some of the dolls made by Near East Industries, Athens, Greece. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Jack L. Davis Collection.

Skyrian doll made by Near East Industries. Private Collection. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan

Making Garments for Air Raid Victims

Sales on Cape Cod continued to be held on behalf of Near East Industries even on the brink of America’s entrance into WW II. A press release from the Near East Foundation Archives describes an exhibition of craft goods to be held in Yarmouth Port in July, probably 1940.  The S.S. Excalibur of the American Export Lines had carried the goods from Greece across the Atlantic, running “the gauntlet of mined areas of the Mediterranean.”

Priscilla soon abandoned the production of craft goods for export to America altogether as conditions in Europe worsened.  There were greater needs in Greece itself.  Laird Archer, the resident overseas director of the Near East Foundation in Athens, described (“Identification of the Author,” in P. Capps Hill, General Study of the Problem of Reclothing the Greek People After the War [Near East Foundation, 1943]) her herculean efforts on behalf of Greece:

Mrs. Priscilla Capps Hill did the planning which was the basis for the remarkable production of both home-made and workshop garments for air raid victims and the homeless from invaded regions during the hostilities in Greece, 1940-42… It gave employment to more than 5,000 women and girls from families whose breadwinners were in war service … in a few months more than 400,000 handmade garments were produced – in spite of material shortages and interruptions by air-raids …

The clothing distribution was a joint enterprise of the Near East Foundation and a new Greek War Relief Committee, a group of Americans in Athens who assembled at the invitation of General Metaxas.  Harry Hill, Priscilla Capps’s husband since 1933, was Executive Vice-President and Laird Archer was a member.  Through American Express, Hill ensured that supplies of cloth reached Athens.

Priscilla’s work continued until she and Harry were evacuated in April 1941. Near East Industries in Athens closed, but that did not mark the end of their enthusiasm for Greek causes.  Harry became American Ambassador to the Greek and Yugoslav governments in exile in Cairo during WW II, while continuing to serve the Greek War Relief Committee.

Pins and matches advertising the work of the Greek Work Relief  during WW II. ASCSA Archives, Jack L. Davis Collection.

Reclothing Greece

Priscilla was also active in the Greek War Relief Committee throughout the war, but from her base in New York.  There she and Alice Carr, former Director of Public Health for the Near East Foundation in Greece, laid plans to reclothe Greece and provide medical aid for workshops and cloth distribution centers when peace would be restored.  In her report to the “Coordinating Committee of American Agencies in Greece,” already referenced, Priscilla noted that the Germans had requisitioned what stores of cloth had existed in Greece and had commandeered mills.  She proposed that relief shipments of food to Greece be followed by supplies needed to re-establish workshops of the sort organized in 1940 and 1941.  In this way the Greeks would quickly become self-sufficient again. She specified both the types of clothing and quantities required. As long as the war continued to rage, she suggested a project be sponsored in Cairo, where Greek refugee women could be put to work and make a start producing the clothes needed after the armistice.  The idea had been first proposed by Dorothy Cox, an OSS officer in Egypt who had been architect for Carl Blegen’s excavations at Troy in the 1930s.

So far as I know, WW II marked the end of Priscilla’s devotion to refugee affairs.  In 1945, the Hills moved to Paris, where Harry served as Vice-President of American Express in Europe.  The Germans had occupied their house in Psychiko during the war, and it was sold in 1947.  Now her attention turned to the welfare of the ASCSA, and after Harry’s death, from her home in Princeton, she continued her father’s campaigns to build the endowment of the School. Her efforts as treasurer and Charlie Morgan’s as chair of the Auxiliary Fund added thousands of dollars to its endowment between 1959 and 1974, “diligently tracking down lost old friends, annually writing informative and persuasive letters to new ones, and publishing the growing list of contributors to the Fund each year” (Lucy Shoe Meritt in ASCSA Newsletter Spring 1985, p. 13). She also donated her collection of old and rare embroideries to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Priscilla Capps Hill died in 1985.


Acknowledgements

I am grateful for the help I received in researching this post from Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and Eleftheria Daleziou of the ASCSA, Kostis Kourelis of Franklin and Marshall College, Renee Pappous of the Rockefeller Archive Center, Linda Jacobs, formerly of the Near East Foundation, Caitlin Eckhard of the Jackson County Historical Society (Missouri), Nancy Pearl (Walnut Creek, California), and Cathy Breedon (Fargo, North Dakota).


Greece 1935-1938: Involuntary Testimonies

For the really significant history is that grass roots history which reveals the everyday life of people, in their homes, and at their retreats, in their work and in their play, in turbulence and in repose.
Theodore C. Blegen, 1948

“I suppose you have heard about the Revolution which is taking place here. It began last Friday night -March 1st. During dinner we heard various rumblings and shots out in the city, but didn’t think much about it, believing them just the ordinary noises of the city. But afterwards they became so pronounced that we knew something was happening. So Betty [Dow] and I went down-town, in the direction from which the shots came. We met many troops marching through the streets, and finally came to the region where the firing came from – near the Akropolis. A revolution is such a strange thing here – everyone takes it as a matter of course, and a little as a joke – and the firing isn’t widespread at all. We were able to approach so near –without any danger – that we witnessed a tank storming a barracks for soldiers, and saw the firing on both sides… after the attacks on the barracks which we saw (we were in a crowd of about 25 – the sole witnesses), we saw other tanks, at close range and finally came upon battalions of soldiers drawn up with guns and bayonets in the streets and ready for action… ” wrote Richard (Dick) H. Howland, age 25, to his family back in America.

Most of Howland’s letters carry the “Stadium” stamp, which was issued in 1932 as a supplementary stamp of the 1927 “Landscapes” set. The “Stadium” was withdrawn from sale in 1939. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

The attempted coup d’état of March 1, 1935, a failed Venizelist revolt against the government of Panagis Tsaldaris, would hasten the collapse of Greece’s short-lasting parliamentary democracy (1924-1935) and the return of the king in November that same year. Fifteen months later, on August 4th, 1936, Howland, Gladys Davidson, and a few others from the School would look desperately for a taxi to take them to Piraeus to catch the boat to Istanbul. Howland reported to his family that they managed to arrive in the harbor “despite the fact there was a taxi strike in town and a general strike of all workers because the premier of Greece had just made himself dictator. Soldiers in the streets everywhere, but no goings-on. No newspapers published at all that day. I have learned since, of course, that it all went off quietly and things settled down, but as we left, it looked as though we were going to miss a big revolution.”

Having come to Greece in the fall of 1933 to attend the year-long program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), Howland and his peers at the School became “witnesses in spite of themselves” to critical events in the political history of the nation (Ricoeur 2006). Their “involuntary testimonies” (and the “target of a historian’s indiscretion”) may or may not add new information to what was already described in the press at the time but they suggest real potential for any systematic study of mundane history which lies unacknowledged or hidden in archival reserves. This is a type of social history, one that starts from the bottom rank of social agency, even if, in our case, the agents were privileged foreigners living protected lives within the walls of the “white tower” of academia.  This is also “applied history” in the sense that it engages and connects its readers with “large history,” and allows, as in novels, “one’s own mind to be temporarily inhabited by that of another person” (Phillips 2017).

The King Does Not Eat Better Food Than We Do

“I haven’t met the King yet, but then, none of the American School, even the Director has. We trade at the same grocery, however, and the King has no better food to eat than we do. Very often, when we stop by in the evening for a box of crackers, some cheese, or wine, we see the King’s kitchen buying a can of peaches or something similar for the royal dessert” Howland wrote on Feb. 9, 1936. A week later, at the School’s Open Meeting, “his highness, the Crown Prince Paul sat down in front, and left as soon as it was over, not stopping to talk to anyone except to say a word to Dr. Shear and Dr. Capps, the Director” he reported to his family with some disappointment, not perhaps realizing that there was probably a better explanation for the Crown Prince’s lack of interest in socializing with the leadership of the American School. It must have been known to the royal family that both T. Leslie Shear and Edward Capps had been ardent supporters of former Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos. In fact, immediately after Venizelos’s death on March 18, 1936, Stuart Thompson, the architect of the Gennadius Library, was asked, most likely by Capps, to draw up plans for an extension to the building which would be named after Venizelos (“Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου”). (The plans, long-forgotten, were discovered in a closet of the Gennadius Library during construction work in 1999; see Kalligas 2004).

Plan for the “Venizelos Library and Museum” next to the Gennadius Library, July 20, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Architectural Plans.

Howland’s wish to meet or, at least see, King George II up close was granted a year later, at the Open Meeting of the French Archaeological School. Howland noted (February 19, 1937) that “the king, who sat in a chair about 15 feet away from mine, looked tired and thin and yellowish, as if he was getting jaundice. He left the minute it was over, of course, as a King can’t stick around to chat with people… ”.  A month later he would find King George attending the Archaeological Society’s meeting “where the lecture was delivered at break-neck speed – in order not to tire the King…” (March 21, 1937). Deserted by his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the former Princess Elisabeta of Roumania), who divorced him in July 1935, and childless, the King cultivated a reserve that was noticeable to everybody.

From a late visit of King George II to the ASCSA in 1940. Front row (left to right): Theodore Leslie Shear, ?, King George II, Annette Stevens, Lincoln MacVeagh, Gorham P. Stevens. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

Howland’s descriptions of the royal family’s aloofness provide a sharp contrast to the narratives of other members of the School from the earlier 20th century. The letters of Nellie Marie Reed (1895-1896), Ida Thallon (1899-1901), Theodore Heermance (1903-1905), and those of long-time Athenian residents Carl Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill describe the court as lively and hospitable during the reign of King George I and Queen Olga, and later during the short reign of King Alexander (1917-1920). But back then, the royal family had not yet experienced long periods of ­­­exile and the extent of Venizelos’s power over the Greek people.

Looking Like an English Lord

Richard Hubbard Howland (1910-2006) was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied at Brown (B.A., 1931), Harvard (M.A., 1933), and Johns Hopkins (Ph.D., 1946) universities. Following the end of WW II, he made a career in historic preservation in the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland. He served as the first president of the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation (1956-1960) and served for many years in various positions at the Smithsonian Institution.

From 1933 until 1938 Howland lived in Athens, first as a student and later as a fellow of the ASCSA, excavating both at Corinth and the Athenian Agora. Having lost his mother in 1932, he addressed most of his letters to an extended family (“Dear Folks”), the Hubbards and the Howlands, who lived in a “two-family,” eight bedroom house (according to the State of Rhode Island Historic Property Search) on 89 and 91 Whitmarsh Street, Providence.  There he took great care of his appearance — always impeccably dressed— and surroundings. Tall, blond, and handsome, he was often mistaken for a noble Englishman during his time in Greece. In a few cases he was even mistaken for the Crown Prince and “treated to much embarrassed formality, which fled when they found out I wasn’t,” he wrote after a week of vacation at Corfu in July 1938.

Richard Howland outside Loring Hall, ca. 1934. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

During his second year in Greece he met Carol Bullard, whom he initially described as “a Chicago debutante with lots of money and no ideas at all of archaeology. Her aunt [Ada Small Moore] gave the new Corinth Museum, and thought her niece might enjoy a year in Greece…” Soon after, however, he would take Carol to late dinners and dancing at the Cosmopolite Roof, the Fix Brewery “where there is an excellent restaurant run by a Hungarian, in connection with the brewery,” and the Glyphada Casino (July 27, 1936).

Carol Bullard and Richard Howland clad in Skyrian costumes, Skyros ca. 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

By the 1930s Glyphada, a newly developed suburb on the south side of the city, had become the preferred recreational destination (including night swims) for Americans and other foreigners living in Athens. In July 1937, Henry Beck, the U.S. Vice Consul, hosted a big party “at his villa in Glyphada – a buffet cocktail and supper on the terrace, with musicians in a balcony above. Afterwards dancing and at midnight, when the moon came up, everybody got into a small boat and were paddled, with the musicians, to the Glyphada casino, for more dancing. It was quite a brawl” (July 17, 1935 to Gladys Davidson, with whom he shared a close friendship). After two years of courtship, he and Carol were married in 1937 setting up their first household on the second floor of a house behind the School on Dinokratous Street. The uncertainty of the times, however, forced them to return to America in 1938. After their divorce in 1942, Howland did not remarry but continued to lead a vigorous social life that contributed to successful fundraising for the institutions he served. As chairman of the School’s Managing Committee (1965-1975) he persuaded Claire Woolie Mayer to donate her house in New York to the American School in 1974. The so-called Mayer House housed served for years as the School’s base of operations in America until it was sold for $5,850,000 in 1998, thus enriching the ASCSA’s endowment.

But for Classical archaeologists (and I have to admit it took me some years to realize this) his most lasting contribution to the field was Greek Lamps and Their Survivals (Princeton 1958) —a.k.a. Agora IV. Sixty years after its publication it remains one of the most important reference volumes in Greek archaeology. Very few, however, are aware of the man behind H[owland]T[ype] 24, or HT 25 Prime.

An Innocent Abroad

I was, however, fortunate to meet Howland in 1996 on his last journey to Greece — an elderly, distinguished man who walked into the Archives and introduced himself as Dick Howland. He had brought with him his collection of photos from his various times in Greece. He had already entrusted his personal correspondence to his old friend and Trustee of the School Doreen Canaday Spitzer. (His photographic collection, as well as that of Gladys Davidson Weinberg, was digitized as part of a recent ESPA project.) Although there are a number of photographic collections from the 1930s in the School’s Archives, Howland’s letters to his family are perhaps the only written record preserving information about the daily activities of the small “colony” of American expatriates living in Athens during that decade. Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diaries at Bryn Mawr College also exist, but after 1933 these accounts are limited to descriptions of summer visits. There also are the M. Alison Frantz’s papers in the Firestone Library at Princeton, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading.

A few years ago Kostis Kourelis published a rich and multi-layered essay exploring the avant-guard leanings and bohemian background of several of the School’s members, including directors Rhys Carpenter, Richard Stillwell, and Charles Morgan, artists Piet de Jong and Georg von Peschke, and their occasional interactions with members of the Greek “Thirties Generation” through the extended social circles of Eva Palmer Sikelianos and Joan Bush Vanderpool (Kourelis 2007).  Howland did not belong to this group, either because he was too young, just “an innocent abroad,” or perhaps because the “others” (i.e., the Carpenters and the Stillwells) were an exception to the rule. His letters rarely mention social interactions outside the orbit of the American colony in Athens. Although he and others from the School were invited to parties at Olga Cheimonas’s new apartment on Speusippou street — Mme Cheimona being the Russian widow of Greek-Russian painter Nikos Cheimonas (1866-1929) — where they might have met Greek artists, these encounters seemed not to have generated new ones (July 17, 1935 to GD). (I must mention here that the School owns two paintings by Nikos Cheimonas, which are currently on display in the dining room of the Director’s residence.) On another occasion, he, Gladys, and Ted Erck (Assistant Librarian at the Gennadius Library) “were invited to the Vanderpools for dinner. The Sikelianos were there…; we had a good dinner down in their garden” (July 27, 1936), but again he did not seem to have been able to reach out further  into contemporary Greek intellectual circles.

The program from Dimitri Mitropoulos’s Concert at Old Corinth, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

On Sunday morning, September 27, 1936, Howland and others from the School visited Corinth “as the Athens Symphony Orchestra with Mitropoulos directing, gave a concert in the ancient theater, at old Corinth” attended by 3,000 people. “The concert was very good, Beethoven’s 1st and 7th Symphonies and was well appreciated, despite the rain which immediately preceded it.” (The program from that event has survived in the papers of Oscar Broneer, who also must have been in attendance.)

A few months later, during the week of April 17, 1937, Howland represented Brown University at the festivities for the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens. There is a great photo in the Howland papers commemorating the event, which was attended by many members of the School who had been appointed delegates of American Universities.

Ida Thallon Hill, Charles Morgan, Oscar Broneer, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Hazel Hansen, Arthur Parson, U.S. Minister Lincoln MacVeagh, and Richard Howland at the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens, 1937. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

But most often, when Carol Bullard was not in Athens, Howland would dine with Rodney Young, Gladys Davidson, Alison Frantz, and Mary Zelia (Philippides). Other guests on these evenings might have included junior members of the U.S. Legation such as vice-consul Burton Berry (1901-1985), Henry Beck (died in 1939), and Harold Schantz, all bachelors with a laissez-faire attitude to life and a preference for Balkan or Eastern Mediterranean posts. Ambassador Charles W. Yost, in his memoirs, described Beck, upon his arrival in Alexandria in 1931, as a “natty little man in a Panama hat and tropical suit” who introduced him to the talents of an Egyptian belly dancer. Burton Berry who spent many years between Istanbul and Athens before he was appointed Ambassador to Iraq (1952-1954), is mostly known today for his valuable textile collection (Art Institute of Chicago) and his coin collection (American Numismatic Society).

As a couple, Howland and Carol socialized with the Joneses, the Kohlers, and the Rankins. G. Lewis Jones (1907-1971), Assistant Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Legation in Athens (1935-1939) would later become Ambassador to Tunisia (1956-1959) and Assistant Secretary of State; Foy D. Kohler (1908-1990), the Legation’s Secretary from 1936-1941, who would conclude his diplomatic career as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1962-1966); and Karl Rankin (1898-1981), the Commercial Attaché (1932-1939), would later be appointed U.S. Ambassador to China (1950-1953) and Yugoslavia (1953-1957). To a mover and shaker like Howland these early brushes with the diplomatic corps must have come in handy later in his career, as the head of U.S. cultural foundations. (With this new information in mind, his chairmanship of the ASCSA Managing Committee deserves to be studied anew.)

The Magic of Old Corinth

If life in Athens required compliance with a certain decorum, the rural environment and simplicity of life at Old Corinth not only freed the School’s students from the city’s dos and don’ts, but also encouraged contact with the locals during excavation or time at the dig house. Apart from the local hospitality, this was for many their only opportunity to practice Greek, or even learn αρβανίτικα. “It is spoken in Corinth very much, as most of the natives for miles around are of Albanian descent. It causes them great amusement to hear me speak it… I have had one ‘lesson’ from Argyrie, my pot mender. The maid, Helene, nearly dropped the soup when I talked to her in Albanian, and returned to the kitchen where she told the cook and the other maid about it with great astonishment. She’s my friend for life,” he wrote to his family with pride (Oct. 28, 1934).

Richard Howland and the Lekkas family after the baptism,  Old Corinth 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers

And indeed, young Richard did not hesitate to form a life-long relationship with one of the local families, when Evangelos Lekkas, the foreman of the dig, “asked me to baptize and be godfather to his daughter aged 10 months… In Greece it is quite a thing to be a Godfather… So according to customs and much advice from Greek friends in Athens, I went down to Corinth armed with a complete Baptismal outfit… all nicely embroidered, seven candles to use during the ceremony, a cake of soap, oil and incense, [and] some forty tin crosses to give to each guest as a souvenir, and last but not least a cash present to start a bank account for the baby. Any money I may have spent was certainly worth it, for I never had such a time in my life” (Jan. 21, 1935). Proof that he was not an “accidental” godfather, sixteen years later, in 1960, Howland would become again νονός, this time to Lekkas’s grandchild; and every time he came to Greece, even during his last visit in 1996, he would travel to Corinth to spend time with his Greek family.

Richard Howland baptizing Lekkas’s grandchild, 1960. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

 


References
I have borrowed the terms “involuntary witness” and “witnesses in spite of themselves” from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. K. Blamey and D. Pellauer, Chicago 2006.
Blegen, T. C. “The Saga of Saga Hill,” Minnesota History 29 (1948), pp. 289-299.
Kalligas, H. “1936: Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου,” The New Griffon 7 (2004), pp. 33-35.
Kourelis, K. “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s,” Hesperia 76 (2007), pp. 391-442.
Phillips, S. “Should you Feel Sad about the Demise of the Handwritten Letter?” Aeon Magazine April 12, 2017 (https://aeon.co/ideas/should-you-feel-sad-about-the-demise-of-the-handwritten-letter, accessed April 30, 2017).

 


Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort of Scholars

On February 17, 1901, a young American archaeologist and member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was “roaming over the city in search of Mr. Kavvadias, the general ephor of antiquities in Athens, in order to get a permit to begin work at Vari tomorrow” (letter of Charles H. Weller to his wife).  Together with a small group of students from the School, he had conceived of the idea of conducting a small excavation at the Vari Cave on the southern spur of Mount Hymettus, near the ancient deme of Anargyrous. Known since the 18th century, the cave had been visited and described by several European travelers who were particularly taken by the reliefs and inscriptions carved on its walls.

Vari Cave interior with sculpted figures, 1923. Source: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

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The Spirit of St. Louis Lives in Athens, Greece

Have you noticed that in the last ten days the press has been flooded with articles about the Doomsday Clock?  Here are some of the titles: “The Doomsday Clock is the closest to midnight since 1953” (Engadget, Jan. 28, 2017), “Nuclear ‘Doomsday Clock’ ticks closest to midnight in 64 years (Reuters), “Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists (The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017), and “The Doomsday Clock is now 2.5 minutes to midnight, but what does that really mean? (Science Alert).

Martyl's design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Martyl’s design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s Science and Security Board; several of them were part of the “The Manhattan Project” that led to the creation of the first atomic bomb. (For those of you who want to learn more about “The Manhattan Project,” I recommend a drama series that premiered in 2014; although the series was discontinued after the second season, it featured good acting and it was fun to watch. Also see Jack Davis’s Communism In and Out of Fashion, Sept. 1, 2016.)  “Originally the Clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago, represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war; however, since 2007 it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity… The Clock’s original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight.  It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then, the smallest ever number of minutes to midnight being two in 1953, and the largest seventeen in 1991” (after Wikipedia, accessed 28/1/2017). As of January 2017 (and this explains the flurry of articles in the press), the Clock has been set at two and a half minutes to midnight, a reflection of President Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Trump posted this remark on Twitter on December 22, 2016, and followed it with an even more worrisome comment: “Let it be an arms race,” he said, referring to the Russians.

While reading the history of the Doomsday Clock my eyes happened to fall on the cover of the 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which featured for the first time the Clock (at seven minutes to midnight), and the name of the artist who had designed it: Martyl Langsdorf. Martyl is an unusual name, and I had seen it before. I went to the Archives Room of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter), where we keep the School’s administrative records, and personal papers of its members. There, hanging on one of the walls, was an abstract painting depicting a mountainous landscape, and signed in the bottom left corner: “Martyl.” To my surprise, when I checked our inventory, there was a second work of art, an etching, by “Martyl” in the Archives of the ASCSA. But this one also carried a personal dedication: “To George and Lela with affection and admiration, Martyl.” This meant that Martyl’s other painting had also originally belonged to George and Lela Mylonas. Read the rest of this entry »


Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor's letters to her mother, October 1910

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor’s letters to her mother, October 1910.

“Maybe I asked you before, but will you save all my letters, dear, for I may want to use some of the material in them” Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor (1886-1960) reminded her mother a month after her arrival in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910). And because Emma Pierce respected her daughter’s wish, a valuable collection of private correspondence describing the daily life of a young American bride in Athens in the early 20th century has been preserved in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

This is the second time From the Archivist’s Notebook features an essay about Zillah Dinsmoor.  In February 2014, guest author Jacquelyn Clemens published an account of Zillah’s Greek experience, mining information from her letters. “Students and scholars who study at the American School… have often been accompanied by their spouses, significant others, and children who live with them here in Athens. In the early 20th century, Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor was one of these women who traveled to Athens along with her husband, architect William Bell Dinsmoor” wrote Clemens in her introductory paragraph. (Read J. Clemens,”Letters from a New Home. Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor“)  Barely 24 years old (and away from home for the first time), this fashionable young woman from Massachussets wrote long letters once a week to her mother about her new life in Athens. Read the rest of this entry »


The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

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Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding?

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the accidental discovery of an original letter by Heinrich Schliemann at an Antiquarian Book Fair in Boston. The letter was found inside an old Greek-English lexicon that Runnels bought for his book collection.  In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).


Experienced booksellers and collectors always look through old books that come into their possession to see what might have been left between the pages.  Some people make collections of their finds, which range from the curious to the valuable.  It can be an exciting business: almost anything may turn up in a book, from gold coins and paper money to love letters and flowers—even a strip of bacon (cooked or uncooked, one wonders).  It was a matter of habit, therefore, that induced me to leaf through an old Greek-English lexicon that I purchased last November at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Of all the finds I have made in old books, this was perhaps the best: a letter written by Heinrich Schliemann.  It was tucked inside the first volume of A Lexicon of Modern Greek-English and English-Modern Greek by N. Contopoulos, which was published in two volumes in 1867 [volume 1] and 1869 [volume 2] in Smyrna by B. Tatikidou (vol. 1) or B. Tatikianou (vol. 2). Read the rest of this entry »