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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athens to Trikala: Fifteen Hours by Train (1927)

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

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

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

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

To Greece for a Third Time (1929)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Place of Their Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stills from Triumph Over Time

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To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

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

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

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

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

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The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.

A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting the Dots: Peripheral Figures in the History of the American School of Classical Studies. The Case of R. S. Darbishire.

Steve Jobs once said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Archives is all about connecting the dots. When processing archival material, you often come across documents, photos, or notes that don’t connect in any obvious way with the rest. For this reason all finding-aids have a “Miscellaneous” section.  And such is the case of R. S. Darbishire (1886-1949), a name I came upon in the Carl W. Blegen Papers several years ago, in a booklet of poems; and more recently, while going through a small box of unprocessed material from the Blegen/Hill household on Ploutarchou 9, in a set of architectural blueprints. It took me a while to connect the dots in the Darbishire puzzle.

The Elusive Mr. Darbishire

ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers

In the Blegen Papers, there is a small booklet with a collection of handwritten poems titled “Poems to Order. Thera, June 17-21, 1928. Robert Shelby Darbishire.”  The short poem on the first page is dedicated to CB:

Εξ αδοκήτο [Unforeseen]
You, when I asked, “What shall I do in Thera?”
Unexpectedly in my empty mind
Casually dropped this: “Write pretty!”
Here (unexpectedly) nought else I find.

Darbishire appears in the student list of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA, or School hereafter) for the year 1926-27; he is also thanked in the preliminary reports or final publications of a number of excavations conducted in 1927-1928: Prosymna, the Odeum at Corinth, and Olynthus.

There is very little information about Robert Shelby Darbishire on the web, and one has to type his name in various ways in order to retrieve a few scraps. Born in 1886 at Fort Meade, Florida, he was the son of Godfrey Darbishire (1853-1889) -a British surveyor and a famous rugby player, who immigrated to the States in 1883– and Ann Shelby of Chicago. Robert was unfortunate in losing his father at an early age.  Mother and son lived for a while on a farm they owned in Danville, Kentucky before they moved back to England to be near the paternal side of the family. (Darbishire’s grandfather was Robert Dukinfield Darbishire, a well-known philanthropist and biologist from Manchester.) Nevertheless, the Kentucky farm remained in the Darbishire family’s possession for a long time; mother and son would move back to it after the death of Robert Dukinfield in 1910; and Robert Shelby would retreat to the farm in various periods of his life. In fact, the family papers are deposited at the University of Kentucky Special Collections, and it is from their finding-aid that I managed to obtain good and reliable information about the Darbishires.

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Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926

Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.

The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός). Read the rest of this entry »