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of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) which have often changed locations or even have been withdrawn from public view over the years, this one has remained in the same spot since it was dedicated shortly after Stroock’s death in 1930.
Two Meaningful Gifts
In Louis E. Lord’s A History of the American School of Classical Studies (1947), the Stroock name is mentioned twice, not in connection with Robert but with his father Sol, a prominent New York lawyer and an active member of the Jewish community in New York at the time. (His firm, which was founded in 1876, still exists as Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.) The first time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is in connection with the death in 1933 of James Loeb, an important philanthropist and a major benefactor of the School. “At his death it was found that he [Loeb] had been one of the School’s greatest benefactors. He left to the Trustees of the School five hundred thousand dollars to be used in conducting excavations in Greece. ‘Greece’ was to be interpreted as meaning ancient Hellas. A liberal interpretation of this by the executor, Mr. Sol M. Stroock, also a friend of the School, gave the School the benefit of the income on this legacy from the time of Mr. Loeb’s death,” wrote Lord (p. 245) in a somewhat cryptic paragraph, perhaps alluding to some complications with Loeb’s will, which Stroock was able to deal with.
The next time Sol Stroock’s name is mentioned is on the eve of WW II, when Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, announced a special gift “of three thousand dollars through Mr. Sol M. Stroock, to be used as a fellowship fund to assist properly qualified Jewish students who had been driven from Germany by Hitler’s persecution. To this German Refugee Fellowship, Heinrich Immerwahr, a graduate of Breslau, was appointed. He had just received his doctorate from the University of Florence and went immediately to Greece, rescued thus from a German concentration camp” (Lord 1947, p. 267).
This was the second gift by the Stroock family to the American School within a decade. Upon the death of their son Robert in December 1930, Sol Stroock established a Library fund of about $1,500, to be used for the purchase of books. (He established a similar fund of $20,000 at Harvard College, his son’s alma mater.) From 1932 until 1955, the Robert L. Stroock Fund appeared as a line in the School’s annual budget. (It appeared once again as the Robert L. Stroock Fellowship in 1969 with Frederick A. Cooper as its recipient.) Yet, there is no special mention of this fund either in Lord’s History or in the ASCSA Annual Reports. One would think that the premature death of a School member, one that was also followed by a commemorative gift, would have been noted in either publication.
“Be lowly wise…”
A graduate of Harvard College, Robert Louis Stroock attended the ASCSA program in 1928-1929. According to his application , which is preserved in the School’s Archives, Robert was a late arrival, having reached Athens in late October 1928, almost a month after the regular program had started. A search on the internet produced nothing about Robert Stroock in contrast to the many entries about his father.
What prompted me to write about Robert Stroock, the mysterious “lover of Ancient Greece,” was the recent re-discovery of a book that I had forgotten we had in the small reference library attached to the School’s Archives. Titled Letters of Robert Stroock: Written at Various Times, to Members of his Family and to some of his Friends, it was compiled, and privately printed in 200 copies, by Sol Stroock in 1932. I must have leafed through the book before, but it was only lately that I noticed that among the many letters written from England and Norway, it also contained about fifteen letters from Greece composed in 1928-1929, when Robert participated in the School ’s program. Since this period is poorly documented in terms of personal papers and photographic collections in the School’s Archives, I delved into the book with a renewed interest. While reading it, I was also struck by Robert’s writing style. These were the usual, descriptive (and sometimes gossipy) family letters that I have been accustomed to read in the School’s Archives. There is, however, a certain mysticism in Robert’s composition, as well as a profound need to go deeper. “He took the whole field of knowledge for his own,” wrote his father in the preface of the book.
Robert arrived in Athens during the second year of Rhys Carpenter’s directorship. Louis E. Lord of Oberlin College was the Annual Professor (Lord would later write the first volume of the School’s History), young Oscar Broneer had been appointed Instructor of Archaeology, Ferdinand de Waele was the Special Assistant in Archaeology, with Richard Stillwell serving as Special Professor of Architecture. Two of the three fellows were women, both from Bryn Mawr College, Agnes E. Newhall (later Mrs. Stillwell) and Mary Zelia Pease (later Mrs. Philippides); the third fellow was architect Lyman C. Douglas. Although most of them would have later illustrious careers in classics and archaeology, in 1928 they represented the School’s “new guard,” a relatively inexperienced group of scholars, most of them handpicked by the mighty Edward Capps. The “old guard”, Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen, had become by then personae non gratae, and were not welcome on the School’s premises. In terms of facilities, the School’s campus in Kolonaki had expanded significantly after the erection of the Gennadius Library in 1926, while a dormitory, not yet named, to the west of the Gennadeion, was under construction: Loring Hall was completed in late 1929, a few months after Robert’s departure from Greece. And the School’s most powerful man, Edward Capps, was in the midst of crucial negotiations with the Greek government and its prime-minister Eleutherios Venizelos for the much sought after concession for the Athenian Agora excavations.
Robert Strook was a handsome young man but of weak health. “While he was still an infant it was discovered that his heart was not strong, so that he was unable to participate in the vigorous sports of other boys,” wrote Sol Stroock in his preface. His weak heart was probably the reason for his untimely death in 1930, at the age of 25.
“Bob wrote his own autobiography in his letters. His profound religious experiences, the depths as well as the shallows of his thought, the fullness of his love of art and of learning, and the humble simplicity of his life are best expressed as he revealed them in those letters” further added Sol Stroock. After landing in France, unlike other foreigners of his time, Robert reached Greece in October 1928 not by boat, via Italy, but by land, “a day and a half of ugly Jugoslavia, and some twelve hours through the mountains and valleys of northern Greece—rugged, unclimbable, but low mountains, separated by broad, flat, stony fertile plains, unlike anything I’ve ever seen elsewhere” (Stroock, p. 104).
Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit
A month later he wrote to his friend Allan about his fellow students at the American School, praising the high tone of the group, especially the women who were able to put up with the most difficult living conditions.
“In Athens conditions are not over civilized, though in some points it is a finely European place and I love it for this. But Greece outside Athens and one or two other places is more primitive than anything… The coat of arms of the School en tour is ‘a Flit-gun on a field of argent, with a bed-bug dormant, a flea rampant, and a mosquito couchant.’ At some places the men sleep in the halls and dining room (from which the goats have been chased) and the women are crowded into the rooms. Running water is unknown… The point is that these American women… are able not merely to bear such conditions by night and to climb acropolises which horses die on by day, but to make the desert blossom like the rose” (Stroock, p. 106).
Robert’s women fellow-travelers in 1928-1929 were: Priscilla Lord, daughter of Annual Professor Louis Lord, Frances Capps, niece of Edward Capps, and Mary Caperton (who would later become the matriarch of the Bingham newspaper empire). Mary Zelia Pease and Agnes Newhall, second year fellows, might have joined the group from time to time. Robert attributed the stamina of the women in the program “to that strange conglomerate of freedom and old-fashioned Puritanism which seems to form the better aspect of the character of American woman”. The son of a dynamic woman, Hilda Weil Stroock (1876-1945), a graduate of Hunter College with an active interest in the welfare of women and children throughout her life, Robert had grown up in an environment that encouraged the development of women, especially in the Jewish communities.
Do you want precision? Study your Classical Architecture
The ability of the Americans to adjust to the hard living conditions was a recurrent theme in Robert’s letters. He felt that most of his fellow countrymen had lost their pioneer spirit, because:
“they have had nothing important to do… There are so few Americans who could possibly plaster onto any of their acts-figuratively speaking- the thrilling, simple words “Jones εποίησε” with all the weight of meaning” (Stroock, p. 114).
For Robert it must have been also liberating to be for a while away from Jewish environments, to judge from one of his comments to his friend Ruth: “Here one is not in the midst of that mauled race which we call fellow Jews—in fact here there are no Jews at all besides myself—but one does find an art with which to establish connections, and which was, perhaps, not so very remote from our more famous ancestors… Do you want precision? Study your classical architecture. Do you want clever associates[?]… Here there is a higher level of intelligence than in any other group of twenty diverse people I have ever found. Do you need your comforts? Ah then you had better stay away” (Stroock, pp. 110-111).
Stroock oozed happiness during his first months in Greece. Literally in love with the country, he felt that Greece with her brightness and clarity had cleared the “cloggings of his brain.” Raised with the notion that Greek Classical civilization was the foundation of America’s democracy and high culture, he wanted to “write the history of the Greeks but not in Greece nor for the Greeks. I shall return to America and write as an American with the Americans as a background and for my great American generation… In fact never did I feel more American than when I saw this prospect for myself here in Greece” (Stroock, p. 112).
Of Greek Folklore
Robert was much attracted to Greek folk songs, perhaps because they reminded him of Jewish folk music. “The music is extremely interesting, not being written in our scales, but apparently in modes, with an accompaniment in fifths. Some of the things, played by the peasants on a rude sort of pipe that looks like a large clarinet with accompaniment on a five stringed instrument about the size of a guitar or a little larger, with a smaller head… are extremely fine.” He wanted his friend Allan to find whether Victor records had a complete library of Greek music (Stroock, pp. 108-109).
He also thought of Modern Greeks as an extraordinary race. “Their constant good-nature, their sense of fitness, and their self-respect are three inestimable qualities exemplified in innumerable ways. They lie beautifully, thrillingly, on most occasions, yet the lies are not of great importance. Paradoxical as it may sound, one would rather trust a Greek than an American.
To put it epigrammatically, the American too often loses the spirit in the fact, the Greek embroiders the fact to fit the spirit” wrote Robert on November 30, 1928 (Stroock, p. 117).
In May 1929, he attended a national pageant of Greek costumes of all ages in the Stadium because he was interested in Modern Greek costumes and claimed to have known them “much better than do most native-born Athenians.” The next morning he went to Priscilla Capps’s shop “to buy what is known as the School uniform, a dozen or more being already in existence among both men and women: nine feet of washable, raw silk material which one takes to a tailor, at a total cost for the whole suit of about $20 and five days” Stroock reported to his family on May 21, 1929 (p. 158). The so-called School uniform that Stroock was making in the tailor’s must have been a Greek fustanella. There is a well-known photo among the School’s students which shows Theodore Leslie Shear, Oliver Washburn, and Gorham P. Stevens dancing, dressed in beautiful costumes in the early 1900s. I have discovered recently through the curator of the Greek Women Lyceum Club, Tania Veliskou, that Stevens’s Greek national costume is part of their collections, a gift of his Greek wife, Annette Notara Stevens.
During Easter break in April of 1929, Robert travelled to Palestine where he met other friends from New York, including Felix Warburg, a German-born Jewish banker and leader of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Hetty Goldman had worked for that Committee in 1918-1919, offering relief to the Jewish population of Northern Greece). During his trip, Stroock made it a point to visit a number of collective communities. “Their communistic experiments are unexpectedly successful thus far, and in their intellectual and artistic development they are fully abreast of the most important movements in the modern world… In their intense faith that they can create once more for themselves a live humanism they are unsurpassed.” Despite the fact that he had grown up in a secular and non-Zionist environment in America (anti-Zionism enjoyed considerable support in the Jewish communities before WW II), and also disliked the nationalistic aspect of these experiments, he found them appealing, especially to those who were looking to “retire from the dreadful prejudices which [one] must meet in America at every turn, and by which he is only too often beaten, frustrated”; Robert was obviously alluding to the antisemitism that he and other Jews encountered back home. (See also, Gulie Ne’eman Arad, America, its Jews and the Rise of Nazism, Bloomington 2000.)
A Hetty Goldman Connection?
Stroock returned to America in the summer of 1929 to continue graduate work at Harvard “in preparation for his doctorate and to fit himself to return to Greece to ‘carry on’ there.” And it is certain that he would have returned had he not taken severely ill in the spring of 1930.
As mentioned above, Sol Stroock honored his son’s love for Greece by establishing the Robert L. Stroock library fund at the ASCSA in 1931. Eight years later he would remember the School again by establishing a life-saving fund, the German Refugee Fellowship, to assist German Jewish students who had to flee Germany because of Hitler. Jack Davis who has published about Jewish academics in Athens in the 1930s, was not able to find more information about Sol Stroock’s initiative; he suspects, however, that Hetty Goldman might have been behind it, since her maternal uncle Cyrus Adler and Sol Stroock knew each other well and had worked together for the benefit of the American Jewish Committee [link]. In fact, Stroock succeeded Adler in the presidency of the Committee in 1940, a position, however, that he did not hold long; Sol died in 1941 at the age of 68.
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.
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 »
“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 »
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) has an interesting, albeit odd, art collection. It comprises mostly oils and watercolors, with a few three-dimensional exceptions, such as Paul Manship’s bronze Actaeon. The card inventory that George Huxley and Mary Lee Coulson created in the late 1980s was replaced by a database I developed in the 1990s, in order to record the whereabouts of the artworks which frequently moved from building to building without any notice.
While some of the objects were bequeathed to the ASCSA by former staff and members, most of the material lacks provenance. My first database was short on content, but the more I delved into the School’s institutional records and collections of personal papers, the more interesting information I discovered about the origin of some of the art pieces. In the case of Amory Gardner’s fine portrait by Anders Zorn, I found that it was a gift from the Groton School in 1938.
The sources of some of the modern paintings (e.g., those by Martyl Langsdorf or Tita Fasciotti) were puzzling at first because I could not connect them with any gifts. The advent of the internet, however, has solved many of these mysteries. Searches for artists’ names revealed that some of the modern paintings were connected with Saint Louis, suggesting that some may have come to the School together with the personal papers of archaeologist George Mylonas, who taught at the Washington University in Saint Louis for several decades. (See “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens“.)
Inventorying purposes aside, my preoccupation with the School’s art collection did not stem from an art historical interest but instead from a need to contextualize it: for it seemed that each piece had a biography that continued past the death of its creator and owner(s). With patience, some luck, and a good amount of research in the School’s archives, I soon concluded that there was an interesting story to be told about many of these objects, a story that connected them with men and women once intimately bound up with the ASCSA. Read the rest of this entry »
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.)
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.”
Posted by Clayton Miles Lehmann
Clayton M. Lehmann, Professor of History at the University of South Dakota, here contributes an essay about American college students coming to Greece, as part of study-abroad programs. This post represents a modified and shortened version of the 63rd Annual Harrington Lecture, which he delivered 28 October 2015 to the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of South Dakota. Lehmann was a Regular Member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1982/3, lived in Greece while he wrote his doctoral dissertation, and has returned often, three times as the Director of the Summer Session for the American School and regularly since 2005 as one of the professor-captains of the University of South Dakota’s short-term faculty-led study-abroad program “The Isles of Greece!”.
After disappointing tourism numbers for the 2004 Olympics, the Greek National Tourism Organization launched a major campaign, “Live Your Myth in Greece,” to rekindle Greece in the world’s imagination. When a group of my students arrived in Athens in 2005 for the study-abroad program The Isles of Greece!, they saw the advertisements for this campaign on the billboards and buses on the way into the city. At first glance, the images appeal to the typical touristic expectation of the Greek quartet of sea, sun, sand, and sex. But the classical architecture and supernatural figures suggest a more complex imaginary mix. The fine print on some of these posters read:
Greece: a land of mythical dimensions. Where the spirit of hospitality welcomes you as a modern god. And the siren song draws you into its deep blue waters. Where a gentle breeze through ancient ruins seems to whisper your name. And a dance until dawn can seem to take on Dionysian proportions. In Greece the myths are still very much alive. And in amongst them sits your own . . . patiently waiting for you to live it. Live your myth in Greece. Ask your travel agent.
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.