Monday, September 29, 2008

Charles Weller, Letter's Home, and the Socio-economics of Archaeology

Spent the morning in the Blegen's Archive, looking at the personal papers of the people who excavated the cave of Pan at Vari in 1901. By doing so, I think I can tentatively say that I have started my dissertation!

I was reading Charles Weller's letters to his wife, written while he was at the School in 1901. He actually wrote to his wife EVERY SINGLE DAY, sometimes twice. Back in the day people were either much more dedicated to one another, or they had a lot more free time on their hands. While I was scouring the papers for any of his thoughts on the Vari Cave and ancient religion, I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the personal affairs that he discussed with his wife: their quickly mounting debt, the exhausting task his wife faced as she raised two children in his absence, the terrible sicknesses plaguing his kids. He wrote of receiving pictures of his children and not recognizing them because they looked like sick and emaciated people from third-world-countries. It was pretty heart breaking.

Such is the life for those people who choose to do archaeology in foreign countries, I suppose. Being an ex-pat can be difficult, especially when tragedies befall your friends and family back at home. For example, the first week I got here, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, where my cousin lives. It's not that fun not knowing what's going on with one's peeps.

Luckily my cousin's house is still standing. He's collecting images of his experiences here, btw, if you are so intersted. Remind me to recount the hurricane-related Rask-Kelly Cat Saga at sometime in the near future.

Oh yes, and Charles Weller did have an interesting note about Lida Shaw King and Ida Thallon, who worked at Vari with him. Apparently they were ready to go down for the excavation until they were told that it would not be 'proper' for them to do so, unless they arranged a chaperone (even though King was over 30 at the time). So they ended up spending the first several days commuting to the Cave, leaving everyday at about 3pm. Finally, they just moved down to Vari and slept on the other side of town. This was actually a momentous occasion. At Vari, King and Thallon were the first women allowed to excavate (on the mainland) in American School history. And it nearly didn't happen, as it was socially unacceptable at the turn of the century for unmarried women to sleep in the same building as men. It makes me glad I live in 2008. It's hard enough being an archaeologist without having to worry about being unmarried while you're at it. Yikes.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Here we are. The Regular (and Associate) Members for the 2008-9 Year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Loring Hall: The Hostel for Women Problem

Like all the Regular Members before me for the last 79 years, I live in Loring Hall.

Loring is the American School’s dorm, situated directly across the street from the School building itself. My room is on the upper floor at the top of the stairs, next to a book shelf which has been collecting paperbacks for more years then I’ve been alive. I’ve been wondering what famous archaeologists slept in my room back in their Regular Year days, so I’d thought I’d take a look at the history of Loring.

The upper floor of Loring, these days, is all female. As it turns out, it has always been that way, since the building first opened its doors in 1929. But even before that, the ground on which Loring sits was destined for the women students of the School. Just before WW I wreaked such havoc on the School’s goings-on, the topic of sleeping quarters for women came up among the Managing Committee. Someone proposed that a Women’s Hostel be built, so a committee was established to find the land on which to build it. The next year, 1916, saw the plot directly across from the School come up for sale (conveniently enough). Another committee was established to raise some funds; it was headed by a women, one Francis G. Allison of Brown University, who worked on Lucian in her spare time. By seeking funds from the women’s colleges in the States, she was able to get the money in record time, while also attracting the help of Bryn Mawr’s former president, Martha Carey Thomas.

Carey Thomas had been president of Bryn Mawr for a number of years before retiring, and she was known for her autocratic leadership style (which had actually gotten her in some trouble). In other words, she got stuff done. It seems that she became one of the driving forces behind the hostel project, yet the actual purchase of the land ran into some road blocks for several years because of ‘contractual problems.’ I’m interested to find out what those problems were, but I’ll have to save that for another day. After they got the land, it became harder to raise the money for the actual building.

By 1922, the situation was coming to a head; the School’s women had up to this point rented private residences and were not permitted to live on the School grounds. With the progress of WWI, Athens was inundated with refugees, making it nearly impossible for the women to continue finding residences. It was decided by the Managing Committee that, during the next year, the women would live in the main School building with the men; following ‘considerable discussion,’ it was implied that this was a very temporary solution which should be rectified, post haste.

In 1928, Carey Thomas and her fellow women decided to try to raise tons of money to make the Women’s Hostel a dorm for ALL university women in Athens; no men would be allowed except in the dining room. Right as this was happening, however, the International Education Board decided, hey, why don’t we donate over $100,000 dollars so the School can build a dorm for all sexes? And just like that, all the work done for over 10 years to get a Women’s Hostel up and running was thrown out the window. It was obviously a great thing for the school, but I imagine the frustration and disappointment that accompanied this very generous offer.
M. Carey Thomas and William Caleb Loring

Suddenly Carey Thomas was no longer in charge; Judge Loring himself came in from the Board of Trustees to head the new committee. He must have had a position of considerable authority and a penchant for raising enormous sums of money.
Loring Hall

In 1929, it was done; Loring had gotten the job done fast, and had even donated some money. The students moved in during July, and the structure was named William Caleb Loring Hall. The women, instead of getting their own hostel, got the rooms above the kitchen, laundry facilities, dining room and game room. In the end it worked out well (I much prefer to be in the main building, where I get wireless!), but I wonder how they felt at the time.
" airy (but well heated) dining room..."

Thus I’m living in a room designed for those women in the late ‘20s and furnished by a $5,000 grant (!) during the Great Depression, although I’m not sure how many of those original furnishings survive at this time.

Laundry facilities, donated by the 1984 Alumni Association
And so the American School's dorm was constructed and has served generations of students and archaeologists. It's been said that for most Members of the School, Loring is really and truly a second home. I'd wager that every former Member remembers exactly what room they were in that first year they spent at the school.
(Thanks to L. Lord's A history of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1882-1942 .)