Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.

“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”


Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950.

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950. Photo: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997). Read the rest of this entry »


“Dollars and Dreams”: American Archaeologists on the Hunt for Greek American Money in Chicago

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric Greek American aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

The Aunt from Chicago is one of the most beloved films in the history of Greek cinema. Produced in 1957, it became an instant hit and remained in demand for many decades. The movie had all the ingredients of a successful production: a great set and superior performances by the best actors of its time. As much as the film is a satire on the conservatism of the Greek family, it is also a subtle mockery of the “aunt’s” Americanization.

Proud of their successful relatives in America, but also feeling uncomfortable with their rapid assimilation by American culture, Greek intellectuals such as novelists Elias Venezis and Yorgos Theotokas tried to rationalize the loss of national identity by the Greek migrants.  If, before WW II, stories of hardship and suffering prevailed over stories of success, after the war America’s new supremacy left little room for a narrative of failure. Instead, a new transnational narrative wanted Greek migrants — with their age-old values and in light of the bravery they had demonstrated during the war — to have contributed to the building of a new America. Novelist Yorgos Theotokas in his Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), in the wake of a visit to the United States in 1953, would go so far as to claim that “From now on, the American people will be—to a small, but considerable extent—descendants of Greeks also” (Laliotou 2004, p. 86). (For a thorough study of the Greek migration in America, see Ioanna Laliotou, Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA, Dorothy Burr Thompson

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection

“The island of Skyros is fairly remote and inaccessible, on account of the winds. One consequence of its geographical location is that there is very little information about the island in the ancient authors, and the picture also given by the travelers is also fragmentary,” archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki could write in her archaeological guide to Skyros, as recently as 1998. Before her, American archaeologist Hazel Hansen, in writing about prehistoric Skyros in 1951, similarly described the island as “one of the most solitary islands in the Aegean for nearly all the other islands are nearer to one another or to the mainland.” Its isolation and the capricious sea between it and the mainland and Euboea are the reasons why Skyros is far less frequently visited…”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dorothy Burr Thompson’s Love for the Spirit of the Primitive

Dorothy Burr photographing wedding dance at Parapoungia 1924.

Dorothy Burr photographing wedding dance at Parapoungia 1924. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

“By myself in a Boeotian village, with the cry of the wind and drunken men in my ears! I love this place; it is so full of interest and a sense of real thing – seeing weddings whereat one reddens a finger… plodding one’s weary way homeward over purple fields to the din of bells like an organ cadence, knowing villagers… Oh, it is so full of life…” scribbled Dorothy Burr in her personal diary on November 9, 1924.

She was twenty-four years old and had come to Greece the year before, to study at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter). Before that, she had lived in Philadelphia and studied at Bryn Mawr College. After attending the year-long program of the ASCSA, she and Hazel Hansen, another student of the School, were invited by archaeologist Hetty Goldman to dig at the Neolithic site of Eutresis, not far from Thebes, in Boeotia. Read the rest of this entry »


Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall

Loring Hall on 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Loring Hall at 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Reading Louis Lord’s History of the early years of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or School), one gets a sanitized and condensed account of the building’s history (Lord 1947, 203-204). From his description, which largely concentrates on the final  phase of the project, one could hardly imagine that 16 years of complicated negotiations preceded its official opening in February of 1930; in fact, a women’s hostel had been the dream of several important women, including the exceptional but controversial M. Carey Thomas, President of Bryn Mawr College (1894-1922), before various forces finally named it after a man, Judge William Caleb Loring, and made it co-ed. Read the rest of this entry »


On Communism and Hellenism: An Archaeologist’s Perspective


Posted by Despina Lalaki

Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.


Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

J. W. Foster (left) and Carl W. Blegen (right) standing at the headquarters of the Allied Mission for Observing the Greek Elections (AMFOGE), 1946. Photo by Nat Farbman. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images/Ideal Image.

Read the rest of this entry »


“The Best Laid Plans… Often Go Awry”: A Tale of Two Museums

In the spring of 1934, the construction of two new archaeological museums was completed in Greece, both under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) and by the same architect, W. Stuart Thompson. Thompson had designed the Gennadius Library a few years earlier. The dedication of the Corinth Museum was grand and attended by most significant officers of the Greek Government. There was no dedication for the Lesvos Museum. Of the two museums, the one in Corinth is still standing and functioning, while the other on the island of Mytilene (Lesvos) collapsed shortly after its erection. Read the rest of this entry »