Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dudes: Stay Out! Loring Hall and the Hostel-For-Women in Lucy Shoe Merrit's Letters

On Thursday I spent another hour or so in the School’s archive, finally returning to my research-for-fun project on the School’s history. I haven’t been able to address the topic much (which, actually, was one of the main reasons for this blog’s existence), simply because we have been so busy here on the Regular Year Program. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have been getting some good work done on my Etruscan sacrifice projects; when I’m in the research-zone, it’s pretty hard for me to break away and explore other subjects, like ASCSA history. So I’m not the best at multi-tasking. I admit it. But I’ve been slightly obsessed with the issue of Prince George’s Palace, where the School’s women lived in the 1920s before Loring Hall opened. While I was researching that, I got a little side-tracked by some letters written by Lucy Shoe Merritt, so I’ll deal with Prince George later.

Lucy Taxis Shoe came to the School in 1929. She was born in 1906 to Mary Dunning Shoe and W. Bonaparte Shoe, an engineer.
Lucy Taxis Shoe and her Aunt Lina on the porch. (Photo from the Dunning Family Photograph archive.)
Lucy Taxis Shoe at age 16, school pic from the Philadelphia High School for Girls. (Photo from the Dunning Family Photograph archive.)

Lucy eventually got together with Benjamin Merritt, a specialist in 5th c. BCE epigraphy; he'd been a professor at Michigan (1928–1932), then Princeton (1935-1969) and then UTexas, Austin. One of his better known works was The Athenian Tribute Lists. Benjamin and Lucy were married at Princeton in 1964.
Lucy marries Benjamin Merritt, 1964. (Photo from the Dunning Family Photograph archive.)

Lucy was an incredibly active member of the American School community. She was a big fan of mouldings, and her first publication, Profiles of Greek Mouldings, came out in 1936. She also worked on Italian examples; we can surely call her one of the early American Etruscologists because of her 1965 Etruscan and Roman Republican Mouldings (and the 2000 version with Ingrid Edlund-Berry). Following in the footsteps of L.E. Lord, she wrote a history of the ASCSA, covering the period from 1939-1980. But she first came to Athens and the American School in 1929, just a few months before the Great Depression.

So we have some things in common, Lucy Shoe and I. She was a student at the School; so am I. She was at the School when the Market crashed back home; I am here during the Lesser Depression: Part 2. She liked School history; so do I. She liked Etruscan things; me, too! And of course, when she was here, she lived on the second floor of Loring Hall’s main building, from the day it opened to 1933, and at various times thereafter.

As I’ve mentioned, Loring Hall was initially supposed to be the Women’s Hostel. So when it was constructed, part of the agreement was that the upper floor of the main building was reserved for women, ONLY. Up there it’s got about 7 bedrooms and a small apartment that nowadays is referred to as the Queen’s Megaron (called after the mis-named room at Knossos; Lucy lived here in 1932). When Loring opened, those rules were far stricter than they are now.

As an example, in 1981 Lucy sent a letter and some notes to Joan Connelly, now housed in the Loring Hall box in the School Archives (Box 329/1, Folder 3). Her letter makes clear how different things were then. She mentions specifically about the time she had malaria (!), and she was bed-ridden upstairs. (That’s a nice thought, I wonder if she was in my room.) Her friend Homer Thompson, obviously very concerned about her malaria, came to her bedside to visit her. Apparently this created a gi-normous crisis. At that time, the woman living in the upstairs apartment was a member of the Managing Committee, and she’d been especially active in trying to bring about the Women’s Hostel (which had been scrapped in the late 20s when a bunch of money came in for the construction of Loring Hall). This woman was extremely upset, since she thought that the ‘Women’s Megaron’ (as they dubbed it then), should be ‘sacred’ in honor of the lost and mourned Women’s Hostel that never was to be. The agreement the School had made was that the upper floor of Loring was to be the mini-Women’s hostel, with no man allowed, EVER. Apparently Homer Thompson’s sin caused a clamp down, and no man ever braved those stairs again except for the doctor (Dr. Lorendo) in case of illness.

A lot of interesting things to be said about what was going on at the School, politics-wise, at the time. I’d love to do some serious work on it, but I guess that will have to wait until I actually have a job. I just hope that when I get malaria, my friends will come and visit me.

Incidentally, Lucy also described the housing arrangements usually made in Loring: women lived on the second floor of the main building, men lived on the second floor of the Annex, older men or women, or married couples lived on the lower floor of the Annex, and the visiting professor got the whole West House. This is pretty much how it still works today.
Loring Hall, a la Google Earth. From left to right: the West House and the Annex, then Loring's main building with the two porches on either side.

Over dinner last quarter, Pierre MacKay told me that when he came to his Regular Year in 1959 (more on this year to come), it was pounded into his head to never EVER go up the main staircase: that was the women’s area, and there were dire consequences for those who broke the rule. At some point in time, however, the Queen’s Megaron opened up for visiting male professors as well. Pierre, it turns out, was one of those. He told me that, even when he lived on the second floor in that apartment, he felt VERY awkward and uncomfortable climbing those stairs, having been warned against it for so many years before.
Pierre MacKay discusses Greek history with Regular Member Mark Hammond.


Johanna said...

hey katie -- i promised i would write, and today seems like a good day for 2 reasons. 1) I took the big exam today and 2) I curated a collection of letters and artifacts that LSM gave to a BMC archaeologist (Katherine M. Edwards). Her letters are fascinating, and full of funny details about life at the School! Hope you are well -- what kind of cookies do you want for your un-birthday? (There don't seem to be any other holidays coming up that are appropriate for cookies!)

Katie said...

Cookies? I am partial to chocolate chip. You would be the first to send me baked goods on my Regular Year program. I think you would even get a blog post for that :)

And yea, I thought LSM's letters were wonderful and charming. I'd love to read some more of them one day!

Nauplion said...

Awww. Sweet.

Johanna said...

Keep your eyes on your mailbox periodically this week... :)



Aren't you just dying to go down to UT Austin's archives and listen to Lucy Shoe's recorded interviews? KOSTIS KOURELIS

Katie said...

Yes, indeed. Maybe when I finally get myself over to SXSW!