What was life like at the British School at Athens in the first 100 years? Some of the first female students
In her second blogpost, Orsolaina Felago (Università degli Studi della Campania) continues to explore the early history of the BSA. Orsolaina completed an Erasmus+ traineeship at the BSA, January–March 2021. Because of the national lockdown, original plans changed and Orsolaina worked remotely, helping to compile a database of all events (lectures, conferences etc.) that have taken place at the BSA since 1886.
If you are curious to discover what life was like at the beginning of the BSA’s operation, this is the right post for you. In this historical post we will find out how students used to live within the walls of the BSA and what the standards of living were.
You will remember from the previous blogpost on the BSA’s Centenary celebrations that Helen Waterhouse, in addition to delivery a lecture in 1985 in London entitled ‘The British School Centenary: Some aspects of the last 100 years’, produced a publication in 1986 entitled “The British School at Athens: The First Hundred Years”. This book provides a wealth of information on the inner workings of the BSA from its early days. At the same time it gives a lot of information about the students’ lives, those who faced the difficulties of the early decades.
An interesting detail to notice is that in the earliest days not all the students had accomodation at the BSA.
‘Before the Hostel was built some students had to live in the town; it is likely that some were accommodated in the Upper House, at least at first, and ailing students were well cherished by the wives of the Director’. […]
Even though female students were admitted from very early days (Eugenie Sellars, 1890; Amy Hutton, 1896), they were not permitted to reside, or to work on excavations. However they were funded, it was not by official studentship. Nowadays, this is completely beyond comprehension, that women had to wait to take part in the BSA activities.
The question of admitting female students to the Hostel was first contemplated in 1903, but it wasn’t given serious consideration until 1910, when M. Hardie of Newnham College was nominated for the School Studentship by the Cambridge Vice-Chancellor. Back then the BSA was contemplating an excavation in Turkey (Datcha). As a consequence ‘the question was raised whether ladies could take part in excavations’. In the end, Margaret Hardie got her studentship and could work in Anatolia. But the question was not completely solved. Indeed, the issue of School Studentship for women came up again in 1912. The Committee was re-drafting the letters in which these were offered to the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge. On that occasion, the wording was criticised by Jane Harrison as excluding women, since it referred to those as ‘members of the University’[…]. The following debate took the Committee to adjust the wording:
‘while the Studentship was originally founded for members of the University, there is nothing on the side of the School to bar the admission of women […]’.
‘A possible first step in the admission of women to the Hostel (Directors had always had their wives with them in the Upper House) was prevented by the outbreak of war in 1914’. The Assistant Director Hasluck, married to Margaret Hardie, asked permission for his wife to live in with him’[…]. Jane Harrison urged a favourable reply, but the reply from the general Committee was immediate and negative: […] in the long run men would certainly feel less comfortable than they had hitherto’. Female students used to live outside the BSA, as a consequence we should assume that they were seen there only in the Library or the ‘ladies’ sitting-room’, or in the Director’s house. After women students came to live in the Hostel, the tendency of archaeologists to marry each other accelerated, we can say it almost became a common episode. But not so common if the old bachelor Duncan Mackenzie referred to the news of Pendlebury’s engagement as ‘that scandal at the School in Athens’.
Finally, after the war several factors led to the opening of the Hostel to women. As it happens, there were a few bachelors and single women who were having to live out. It was a period of a political upheaval in Athens, and, in order to ensure everyone’s safety, upon the return of King Constantine in December 1920, the Director decided to accept all the students regardless of their status into the Hostel. The contribution of women of the BSA has been fundamental specially to increase the knowledge of internal dynamics. An example:
‘From December 1920 Lilian Chandler’s diary gives a vivid picture of British School life. Greece was bitterly divided, her resources committed to the war against Turkey’[…].
In Waterhouse’s publication we also read about the difficulties that students living off site faced in reaching the Institute. Students had to spend a lot of time travelling in difficult conditions. No train service was available nor punctual, roads were awful ‘apart from foot, the only way of travelling by road was to take a seat in a taxi, so tight against one’s neighbours that one could not shake about. Living in the country was cheap, but hotels moderate to awful’. This sentence explains very well what students went through..imagine having a terrible trip like that nowadays!
Even when students arrived, life was not easy. Waterhouse gives us the chance to understand the everyday difficulties in some of the small aspects of early BSA life:
‘Water was short but the School got enough; the completion in 1931 of the Marathon dam improved the supply but so increased the price that baths had to be rationed’. More to read: ‘Bedroom floors were bare, bedside lights non-existent. Mattresses were kapok.’ […]
One of the most well-known early female figures of the BSA was Winifred Lamb, who wrote about the happy atmosphere in some excavations. Winifred Lamb was a pioneer in many ways, in particular proving that in post-Ottoman Turkey women could not only take part in but organise excavations on Turkish soil. Let’s pause for a moment ‘Life at the BSA’ to spend some words on this amazing woman and archaeologist.
Her personality vividly comes out from David W. J. Gill’s (Professor of Archaeological Heritage at the University of Suffolk and Visiting Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of East Anglia) book: ‘Winifred Lamb, Aegean Prehistorian and Museum Curator’. An interesting publication entirely dedicated to her. The author collected all the most important events of her life and describes her as […]
‘A pioneering archaeologist in Anatolia and the Aegean. She studied classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, and subsequently served in naval intelligence alongside J. D. Beazley during the final stages of the First World War. As war drew to a close, Sydney Cockerell, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, invited Lamb to be the honorary keeper of Greek antiquities. Over the next 40 years she created a prehistoric gallery, marking the university’s contribution to excavations in the Aegean, and developed the museum’s holdings of classical bronzes and Athenian figure-decorated pottery.
As well as in Anatolia, Lamb had a parallel career excavating in the Aegean. She was admitted as a student of the British School at Athens for the academic year of 1920–1921, and served as assistant director on the Mycenae excavations under Alan Wace (Director from 1913 to 1923) and Carl Blegen (Director in 1971). After further work at Sparta and on prehistoric mounds in Macedonia, Lamb identified and excavated a major Bronze Age site at Thermi on Lesbos. Indeed, Lamb was one of the first women to present her work in a public lecture at the British School at Athens, and did so in the 1932–33 session with a paper entitled ‘‘Excavations in Mytilene’. She conducted a brief excavation on Chios before directing a significant project at Kusura in Turkey. She was recruited for the Turkish language section of the BBC during the Second World War, and after the cessation of hostilities took an active part in the creation of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara’. This book is perfect if you want to know more about Winifred Lamb and her career.
Through these emerging personalities we got to know the most intimate aspects of the British School of Archaeology, and people who lived in it. These strong women, with dedication and hard work, have been able to conquer their own role in the early years of archaeology.
It is extraordinary the big steps they made forward to be ‘accepted’!
Follow the BSA historical blog posts to discover many other interesting ‘inside’ curiosities.
Erasmus+ trainee, January-March 2021
Università degli Studi della Campania