Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece

In 1924, Hetty Goldman (1881-1972), who was directing an excavation at the site of Eutresis in Boeotia, hired architect Piet de Jong to draw some of the finds she had unearthed during the season.  To beat the dullness of the evenings, De Jong, who worked for American and British excavations in Greece, made pencil caricatures of his fellow archaeologists which he later turned into striking Art Deco watercolors. The majority of these caricatures once in the possession of Sinclair and Rachel Hood, are now in the care of the Ashmolean Museum. Published by Rachel in Faces of Archaeology in 1998, they constitute visual biographies of American and British archaeologists working in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hetty Goldman’s caricature by Piet de Jong, 1924. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

De Jong’s caricature of Goldman depicts her “holding a Neolithic pot of which she was particularly proud. The object behind Hetty’s head is a seated archaic statue found up in a Roman villa which was excavated at some distance from the mound [of Eutresis]… There is the mound itself surmounted by the shelter to protect the diggers from the heat of the sun… The horse, Kappa, on the road below the hill to the right draws the cart containing Hetty herself, Hazel [Hansen], Dorothy [Thompson] and Mitso the driver, on their way to work… a sailing boat or caique refers to the expedition organized by the foreman, George Deleas, to try and row across the Gulf of Corinth from Creusis, the harbor settlement of Eutresis.  On the left of the picture at the foot of the mound two village girls with long plaits carry on their heads baskets of washing… Below them is a temple which probably refers to classical architectural findings at Hetty’s previous dig at Halae…” (Hood 1998, p.51).

Goldman herself is depicted “as a powerful, determined woman with square chin, sensible clothes, furrowed brow and large brown hornrimmed spectacles” looking sideways and smoking a cigarette, another indication of her willfulness.  In 1924, Hetty was in her early 40s and in the middle of her long archaeological career. Another woman of her time might have contemplated retirement, at least from strenuous field work, as other pioneer women archaeologists had done before her, but not Hetty, who 10 years after Eutresis would start her most ambitious project, the excavation of Tarsus in Cilicia. She would also become the first woman, in 1936, to hold a professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Thirty years later, in 1966, when she received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, only the second recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s highest award, she would be lauded “as an excavator, author, mentor of archaeologists… [and] a pioneer in many fields and in many lands.” (Mellink and Quinn 2004, p. 337).

De Jong chose to title his portrait of Goldman The Popentate, Hetty’s nickname, not without significance, since it resonates with the Latin Potentate, meaning powerful. (Jack Davis tells me that Popentate also resonates with Pope –perhaps a joke since she was Jewish?). With pioneering people, especially women competing in fields dominated by men, it is always tempting to look into their early years for the first signs of assertiveness.

One of four children of Julius and Sarah Goldman, Hetty was born in a house that valued both wealth and education. Her paternal grandfather, Marcus Goldman, had founded the investment house of Goldman, Sachs, and Company together with two brothers, Julius and Samuel Sachs. Her maternal line included many university-educated men. The Sachs family, bound to the Goldmans through intermarriage (two of the Goldman sisters married two Sachs brothers), was also prominent in the promotion of education, having founded the Sachs School for Boys in 1871 and the companion School for Girls in 1891, which Hetty and her sisters Agnes and Bertha attended. Julius Sachs, who established these schools, had studied classics in Germany and practiced classical scholarship throughout his life. His son and Hetty’s cousin, Paul Sachs (1878-1965), would become Assistant Director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum and Professor of Art History at Harvard College. He is also credited with the development of the earliest museum studies program in America. Sachs, through the Fogg Museum, would support several of Hetty’s projects in Greece and Turkey.

“Some Share in the Field Work of the School”

After attending the Sachs School for Girls, Hetty received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in 1903 where she double majored in English and Greek. Not sure about her scholarly interests, she would spend the next six years trying to decide whether to pursue a career in writing or to enroll in graduate school for classics.  She finally did the latter. In 1910, after having received her Master’s degree from Radcliffe, she went to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), as the recipient of the Charles Eliot Norton fellowship — the first woman to receive it (one of the many “firsts” in Goldman’s academic year). In Athens she found eleven students, five of whom were women. She would immediately strike a friendship with Alice Leslie Walker (later Cosmopoulos), with whom she would excavate the site of Halae. Other students included Carl W. Blegen and William Bell Dinsmoor. Bert Hodge Hill was the School’s Director with Cyrus Ashton Rollius Sanborn performing the duties of Secretary (much later Sanborn would marry Hetty’s younger sister Agnes).

“I first went to Greece in the golden age before the [Great] War, when visas were unknown, and travelers were not yet corrupted to an unholy joy in depreciated currencies. I had a Harvard fellowship which assured me two years of study at the American School in Athens, and in my heart a great desire for that experience which up ‘till then had been denied women: some share in the field work of the School” reminisced Goldman in 1923.

Even though Harriet Boyd and Edith Dohan had conducted excavations on the independent island of Crete (thus outside the jurisdiction of the American School) in the early 1900s, the American School continued to discourage women from engaging in field activities. Hill, however, was willing to meet half-way Goldman’s desire to excavate in Greece. Goldman and Walker wanted to excavate the mound of Eutresis but they were advised “to choose a site nearer to where the men of the School were working that year, so that we should not be left to meet unaided the many difficulties, both practical and archaeological, which our inexperience was certain to encounter,” Goldman recalled in “Archaeological Excavation: A Profession and an Adventure” (Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, June 1923, pp. 7-8).

Either Hetty or Alice Leslie, most likely Alice Leslie, at Halae, ca. 1911. If the latter, it is the only photo we have of her in the School’s Archives. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

The site which the School chose for Hetty and Alice Leslie was the coastal city of Halae in Locris, not far from Atalante where the School was digging to find Opous, the capital city of ancient Locris. Years later Goldman jokingly would tell friends “that she and Walker were permitted to excavate at Halae only because the director of the School wished to locate them as far from Athens as possible” (Mellink and Quinn 2004, p. 303).

Workmen at Halae Excavations, 1911-1914. The bearded man on top is Angelis Kosmopoulos, foreman on many American excavations in Greece. Alice Walker would marry his son, George. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

Too Small to Admit One’s Faults?

It is also ironic that the School had to give up Opous after the first season because of poor results, while Goldman and Walker would ask Hill to apply to the Greek State for land expropriation at their own expense. At a time when excavation permits were issued within the day, the expropriation of the land where the acropolis of Halae once stood took more than a year. I cannot help but wonder whether Hill’s “laissez-faire” way of managing the School’s affairs was responsible for the delay in the negotiations with the Greek State or a subconscious refusal on his part to prioritize women’s business. In the end it was through the intervention of an important family in Athens, the Coe von Berlans, and their connections with the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, that the expropriation of Halae was achieved.

“In their eagerness to help us they went to no less a person than Venizelos, and they represented the situation so ably –the fact that although the Greek government had promised the American School to act promptly, we were still waiting after three months of excavation –that he was immediately interested… and personally wrote a letter to the general secretary of the Ministries… telling him to see that the expropriation be attended to immediately. I need not go into details, but suffice it to say that it took three weeks of telegraphing in the name of the Prime Minister to locate the papers… gathering dust in the office of a small local official in Lamia…” only to find out that in the meantime the owner of the land had not only tripled its price but he was also threatening to dig wells and plant trees, not to mention that he kept sending his wife to throw stones at the workmen (Bert H. Hill Papers, box 3, folder 6).

The excerpt above comes from a fourteen page letter that Goldman addressed to Hill on August 31st 1912 from Switzerland. Of great interest, and also indicative of Goldman’s quest for fairness, is that in the same letter she did not hesitate to accuse Hill of negligence and moral smallness.

“The losses of time, energy and money of this season are irreparable and into the question of whether they were inevitable, it is perhaps futile to enter now. One thing alone my self-respect will not allow me to pass over is silence. When I saw you for the last time in Athens you said to me ‘I consider that there has been absolutely no neglect in connection with the Halae expropriation’ and I, by keeping silence, may have seemed to acquiesce in this. Mr. Hill, I would have to give up every conception of duty I have ever held, if I were to believe that the Director of an archaeological school was justified in personally attending to a thousand and one nerve racking and trivial household details, and not himself enquiring… into so important a matter as the expropriation of an ancient site.”

To strike her final blow a few lines later: “I have known many people too small to admit an error but none too big to do so. I have never counted you among the former. After all, to a person of ambition and an independent way of thought opportunity means more than anything else, and I still remember with gratitude that very opportunity to excavate came from you; everything else, unless you yourself should again bring it up, I should prefer to let lapse into silence.”

We don’t have Hill’s reply to know whether he admitted his negligence, thus acting “big,” or followed her suggestion not to raise the matter again. The next time she wrote to him was in early November 1912, a month after the outbreak of the First Balkan War. She shared with him the good news that Venizelos had signed the Halae expropriation papers the day before the troops were mobilized and “that [she] felt as if [she] were in possession of an historic document.”

When Hill in a subsequent letter to her tried to undermine her Athenian friends, the Coe von Berlans, she wrote back that [she] “had to smile at [his] suggestion that the Coe von Berlans might have angered the officials, as I received with the same mail a glorious account from Athens of the relief work they have undertaken and the way in which everybody including royalty and prime minister, attended a sale for the benefit of the soldiers that Miss Coe von Berlan arranged” (Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 3, folder 6, Goldman to Hill, December 20, 1912). In fact, she managed to annoy him further by reiterating that “…the only thing I have heard is that all the foreign schools except our own have aided the Greeks, and that we have been rather sharply criticized in consequence.”  And to make up for the School’s lack of interest in participating in any relief work, she raised money among her friends in New York and sent it “to the Coe von Berlans to give to the Red Cross in the name of our excavations.”

In the Service of the American Red Cross

Machteld Mellink and Kathleen Quinn in their  thorough biographical essay about Goldman refer to her serving as a nurse in a Greek hospital in the course of the Second Balkan War (June 29-August 10, 1913), based on personal communication with Hetty’s aged sister Agnes. From Goldman’s letters to Hill in 1913, however, it appears that she spent most of her summer at the museum in Thebes working on the finds from the previous year. Her sister might have conflated Hetty’s later work, in 1918-1919, with the American Red Cross (ARC) and the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers that took her to Northern Greece (Thessaloniki, Serres, and Kavala), Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Jack Davis has retrieved in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C. Goldman’s final report, titled “Investigation of the Needs of the Jewish Communities of Greece, Southern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria,” to Lieutenant Colonel Capps, the American Red Cross Commissioner to Greece. Regrettably, her work has gone rather unacknowledged, since Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, who took extra care to publish in book form reports of the other six (male) members of the ARC Greek Commission, did not include hers.

“With The Spade in Greece”

Goldman and Walker worked for four seasons at Halae (1911-1914), unearthing the remains of an ancient Greek city from the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic period with its houses, public square, fortification walls, and graves. From a well they also dug out archaic figurines and building fragments associated with an earlier sanctuary to Athena. WW I brought to an end their field work at Halae; both women, however, took advantage of their free time in America to write their dissertations in the excellent libraries of Harvard and Berkley: Hetty Goldman on “The Terracottas from the Necropolis of Halae,” in 1916, and Alice Walker on “The Pottery of the Necropolis of Locrian Halae,” in 1917.  Moreover, in 1916, the two women contributed $1000 each toward the purchase of land in Athens so that the American School could build its first hostel for women.

Pottery and terracottas from the Halae Excavations. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

By the end of the Great War, however, Hetty and Alice Leslie had parted ways, with Walker concentrating on fieldwork at Corinth and marrying the excavation’s foreman, George Cosmopoulos, in 1918, while Hetty, “a person of ambition and an independent way of thought” (as she had described herself to Hill), after some supplementary work at Halae, would go on to dig the site of Colophon in Asia Minor in the summer of 1922, together with Carl Blegen. War, however, would interrupt her plans once more.

Colophon 1922. From left to right: Benjamin Meritt, Franklin P. Johnson, Lulu Eldridge, Kenneth Scott, Leicester Holland, Hetty Goldman, and Carl Blegen. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Colophon Excavations.

On September 11, 1922, Smyrna was destroyed by fire. “We had closed down the excavation before [the fire], thinking to continue after a short interval, but when we returned all the antiquities we had gathered by careful work… had disappeared. All that remained was a single iron bedstead on which a local policeman was found taking his noon day siesta,” recalled Goldman thirty years later in 1955 in an essay titled “Golden Moments in Greece.” The disruption of her work at Colophon brought her back to Greece, where, at last, she was able to dig Eutresis in 1924, her very first site, the one that the School would not allow her to dig in 1911.

Outside the Thebes Museum, 1924. Wooden box with archaeological supplies, and Goldman peeking from behind the box. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Halae Excavations.

An Aunt’s Advice

De Jong’s Popentate knew that she owed part of her success to her personal wealth, which gave her the independence to pursue her desires. Yet, it must have seemed unfair to her to have to pay for what her male colleagues were getting paid to do. In 1933, writing to her niece, Elizabeth Gutman, who also wanted to become an archaeologist, Goldman advised her against spending from her own purse.

“May I play the old Aunt and give a little advice? First of all be sure, for the success of your own career, that they do not get the impression in Athens that you are in the same position as myself and can work without pay. When I took to the special kind of archaeology I pursue, that is field work—I had a clear understanding with your Grandad that I would not be earning my living, and I asked him whether he was sufficiently interested in the results of such a career to finance me. It was only with his consent that I embarked upon it, for otherwise I should have turned to teaching or museum work” (Doreen Canaday Spitzer Papers, box 3, folder 8, Goldman to Gutman, Jan. 31, 1933).

In 1936 Goldman was the first woman to be invited to join the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton, with the understanding that she would spend half her time in the field and half at the Institute. She accepted, knowing that she would lose some of her valued independence, but it was time to settle down.  She did have an occasional regret. “The excavation is my first love and fundamentally I fear I am a wandering spirit,” she would write to Simon Flexner, brother of Abraham Flexner, the founding director of IAS, from her dig at Tarsus in 1938. A year later, war would interrupt her excavations a third time, as with Halae in 1914 and Colophon in 1922.


References

Goldman, H. “Archaeological Excavation: A Profession and an Adventure,” Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, June 1923, pp. 7-10.
Goldman, H. “With the Spade in Greece,” Radcliffe Quarterly 2, 1918, pp. 34-36.
Hood, R. Faces of Archaeology in Greece. Caricatures by Piet de Jong, Oxford 1998.
Mellink, M. J. and K. M. Quinn, “Hetty Goldman (1881-1972),” in Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists, ed. and G. M. Cohen and M. S. Joukowsky,  Ann Arbor 2004.

Note
I had hard time finding any information about the Coe von Berlan family, other than that Mary Anna von Berlan Seward Coe died in Athens in 1917. She and her daughters were also thanked by Walker and Goldman in the first published report about the Halae excavations in AJA 19 (1915), p. 418.

 


The Magnificent Mayer House: No Such a Thing as a Free Gift

Dedicated to Ludmila Schwarzenberg Bidwell

“Following a decision by the Board of Trustees at their November 1997 meeting, the U.S. base for School activities since 1974, was put on the market and sold in May for $5,850,000.” This story appeared in the summer issue of the 1998 ASCSA Newsletter (“Mayer House Sold,” no. 41, p. 4). By then, the U.S. base of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) had already been transferred to Princeton. That fall I was invited by Catherine Vanderpool, the School’s Executive Director in the U.S., to visit Princeton for two reasons: to meet Homer A. Thompson who was contemplating the idea of leaving his personal papers to the School (which he did) and to examine a large number of boxes containing the administrative records transferred to Princeton after the sale of the Mayer House. Many of the records had been damaged by flooding that precipitated the sale of Mayer House.

Mayer House, entrance. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, 2014.

Built in 1882, the four-story brownstone house was one of nine houses on East 72nd Street from no. 39 to 55. The family of Bernhard and Sophia Mayer had moved into the neighborhood in 1899 after purchasing a pair of brownstones in the row at no. 16 and no. 41. (I draw some of this information from the Daytonian in Manhattan, a blog about the architectural history of New York city.) Two family members were later active in New York’s intellectual and academic circles. Albert Meyer (1897-1981), an architect and city-planner, designed many apartment buildings in New York, as well as the master plan of Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian Punjab. His older sister Clara (1895-1988) was an educator and associated with the New School for Social Research for more than thirty years. She served as Dean of its School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts (1943-1960), and from 1950 to 1962 also as Vice President of its Board. Read the rest of this entry »


The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster

Temple of Poseidon at Sounion by Anna Richards Brewster, 1912. Private Collection (?)

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 »


Grace Macurdy of Vassar College: Scholar, Teacher, and Proto-Feminist


This is a guest post by Robert L. Pounder

Robert L. Pounder, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Vassar College, here contributes a review of Barbara McManus’s posthumous book about Grace Harriet Macurdy, titled The Drunken Duchess of Vassar. Pounder, who has been conducting in-depth research on the social history of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in the 1920s-1930s, writes that Classics was “dominated by unaware, myopic, smug, unsympathetic men, men who viewed academic accomplishment by women with condescension and skepticism.”  Women in academia, like Macurdy, were thought to be anomalies–a different species. Based on his work at the ASCSA Archives, Pounder has also published an essay, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal & Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015.


Born in 1866 in Robbinston, Maine, Grace Harriet Macurdy was the sixth of nine siblings whose parents had immigrated to the United States from the nearby Canadian province of New Brunswick just a year before her birth. Her father, Angus McCurdy (the spelling of the name was later changed to Macurdy because he did not want to be thought Irish) was a carpenter who barely eked out a living.  After leaving his children in the care of their mother and paternal grandmother for long periods and thus improving his situation somewhat, he was able to move the family to Watertown, Massachusetts by 1870; there they grew.  Watertown provided a better series of houses and slightly improved material circumstances for the Macurdy children.  Moreover, they profited greatly from the guidance of their mother and grandmother, both of whom encouraged the children, including the girls, to read, write, and pursue their educations. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

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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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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 »