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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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 »


“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 »


Athens 1918: “In Every Way a Much More Attractive City than Rome”

The headquarters of the American REd Cross in Athens, 1918-1920

The headquarters of the American Red Cross in Athens, 1918-1920. Source: Horace S. Oakley Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago.

This description of Athens was penned by A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), one of the deputy commissioners of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece, a few days after his arrival in October 1918. Weld, an investment broker from Boston and a graduate of Harvard University (B.A. 1891), was one of a million Americans who responded to President Wilson’s call to provide military and civilian aid to many European countries at the end of WW I. The mission to Greece was organized in June and July of 1918 in response to an appeal from the Greek Red Cross (Capps 1919, 9).

There came from America to do the work 103 persons (60 men and 43 women), and several others were recruited in Europe. They enlisted in the service of the American Red Cross from all parts of the United States, and represented all manner of occupations and professions. There were business men, lawyers, bankers, physicians, preachers, teachers, farmers and mechanics, and among the women, trained nurses, stenographers and social workers. The authority of the Commission was vested in the Commissioner, who held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and seven Deputy Commissioners with the rank of Major.

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The Modern Greek Exam, “Professor Blank’s” Method, and Other Stories from the 1930s

After publishing Jack Davis’ essay about the recent history of the ASCSA admission exams and while I was reflecting on Donald Haggis’ reference to the Modern Greek exam, defunct since WW II, I recalled a passage in Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell (1947). While writing about his life in pre-WWII Corfu, Durrell painted a perceptive, if not-so-flattering, image of the foreign archaeologist in Greece: “Like earnest mastodons petrified in the forests of their own apparatus, the archaeologists come and go, each with his pocket Odyssey and his lack of Modern Greek. Diligently working on the refuse heaps of some township they erect on the basis of a few sherds or a piece of dramatic drainage, a sickly and enfeebled portrait of a way of life.”

Durrell’s criticism and the recent discussion of exams in this blog enticed me look more carefully than I had ever previously done at the pre-WWII fellowship exams. Here, I should emphasize that these were FELLOWSHIP exams. Before WW II there were no admission exams. Candidates sat competitive examinations only for fellowships. Harold Fowler (1904-1917), Samuel Bassett (1917-1936), Benjamin Meritt (1931-1932), and others served as Chairmen of the Committee on Fellowships (only in 1950 was its name changed to the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships). Students were admitted on the basis of their credentials; although a knowledge of Classical Greek “was expected and assumed…in exceptional cases, a student ignorant of the Greek language [was] accepted as regular member of the School if he [was] qualified to pursue special studies in some field (e.g., architecture or art) where a knowledge of the Greek language [was] not absolutely necessary (ASCSA Handbook of Information, 1932, p. 16). Those competing for fellowships in Archaeology were examined in Modern Greek, but not in Ancient.

What were these exams like? Below I reproduce, as an example, the Modern Greek exam of 1936, which to my surprise also included a passage to be translated from English to Greek, as well as the requirement to translate an essay by poet Kostis Palamas from Greek to English. The passage for translation from English is amusing and imagines a conversation between an American archaeologist and a Greek boatman, the latter complaining about Edmond About’s unflattering portrayal of Greece (La Grèce contemporaine, 1858) and hoping that his American passenger will steer a different course! Read the rest of this entry »