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75 Years Ago this Month: The First Junior Fellows Arrive

Posted On January 25, 2016 | 14:52 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (February 2016)


Alison Frantz at the Athenian Agora Excavations, 1947.

Although the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection had transferred to Harvard in November 1940, the first Junior Fellows did not take up residency until early February 1941. They remained at Dumbarton Oaks through May. This first class of Junior Fellows was five in number. All but one had recently received a doctoral degree in a Byzantine or Byzantine-related field, unlike present-day Byzantine Studies Junior Fellows who come to Dumbarton Oaks as graduate students to research and write their doctoral theses.

In this first term, the stipends were $800 per semester for those Junior Fellows who did not reside at Dumbarton Oaks and $640 for those who were in residence. No meals were provided that first semester, although plans were underway to open a kitchen and dining room in the fall of 1941.

Describing the arrival of the first Junior Fellows to Mildred Barnes Bliss, who was then in California, Director John Thacher wrote on February 5, 1941:

Lester Houck, the first student in residence, arrived last Friday, and is apparently very happy in the quarters [Fellows Building, now Guest House]. Several members of the American Council of Learned Societies who were here last Saturday for tea and to see the collection spoke very highly of him and said that he was exactly the type of person who should be here and that if all of our students were of the same quality, Dumbarton Oaks would be setting a very high standard in scholarship. Then yesterday, Miss Florence Day, who is chiefly interested in Persian and Islamic art arrived. I put her into the room formerly used by Miss Godden as a sitting room, as Miss Godden assured me that she did not need the room at all. As it has its own bath and is separate from the other rooms on the third floor, it was most convenient to be able to use it. I did not want to put her down in the garage [now Refectory] all alone. Professor Morey is scheduled to arrive on Sunday with two of his pupils [Edward Capps Jr. and a Mr. Kendig; the latter never arrived]. Morey, of course, will be in the house, and the two students will be in the quarters with Houck. This will fill up one end of the quarters. I doubt whether there will be any more resident students this year. [Henri] Focillon is particularly happy about this as he, as well as [Wilhelm] Koehler, feel that for this year at least it is wise not to have too many. [There would be, in fact, two additional Junior Fellows that first semester: Alison Frantz and Virginia Grace Wylie.]

Who were these first Junior Fellows? The Fellows dossiers and related documents in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives provide the following information.

Lester Clarence Houck (1911–1980)

Lester Houck, the first Junior Fellow to arrive at Dumbarton Oaks, studied classical philology at the University of Michigan, receiving BA (1934) and PhD (1937) degrees. He came to Dumbarton Oaks to prepare his dissertation, “The History of Leo Diaconus, An Edition,” for publication. In 1937, Houck had received the Prix de Rome, and he was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome between 1937 and 1940. His work on the tenth-century Byzantine historian, Leo Diaconus, which consisted of translations and annotations, was intended for publication by the Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres under the direction of Henri Grégoire. The Second World War, however, foiled this plan, and Houck never brought the work to press.

All of the following descriptions of the Junior Fellows are quoted from the Underworld Courier (Vol. 1, no. 17, June 5, 1941), the occasional newsletter that the staff of Dumbarton Oaks wrote for the Blisses in California. Houck is described thus:

As previously mentioned in an earlier issue of the Courier, he is six feet, six inches tall. He lowers his head when going through many a door; is lean—as so tall a person is apt to be—with a head which is distinguished in an intellectual way. The written word, the recorded thought, is his absorbing passion. Perhaps his selections from the research library are along certain definite lines, but from the general literature sections, he borrows, 4 or 5 at a time, books ranging from Dante and Gerard Hopkins to Harold Nicolson and Maurice Baring. His humor is plentiful, if pedagogic, and though his scholastic opinions appear to be quite firmly established, he has a pleasant receptivity to the potential usefulness of books with titles such as: - Mazes and Labyrinths . . . Origins of Applied Chemistry . . .

Florence Eli Day (1908–1990)

Florence Day was an Islamic art specialist who had been born in Beirut, then part of Syria. She was educated at Vassar College (AB, 1930) and Radcliffe College (MA, 1931). She had worked on the 1936 Princeton Institute for Advanced Study’s excavation at the Islamic site of Gözlükule at Tarsus in Turkey before receiving her doctorate in Islamic art from the University of Michigan (1940). She came to Dumbarton Oaks to work on a paper, “The Islamic Finds at Tarsus,” which she published in Asia in 1941 (vol. 41, pp. 143–46). At the time of her fellowship, the male Junior Fellows inhabited the Fellows Quarters (later called the Fellows Building and now called the Guest House), and it was thought unseemly for both men and women to live in the same building. For that reason, Day occupied a bedroom in the servants’ quarters on the third floor of the Main House at Dumbarton Oaks. Florence Day was the only one of the first Junior Fellows to continue her fellowship into the 1941–42 academic year.

Called “Flossie” by her colleagues and “Florence, mon enfant” by Maître Focillon. Above average height. Square lines. Her long blond hair cascades over her shoulders and falls across her forehead in a heavy bang. Behind thick glasses is discoverable a pair of very blue and smiling eyes. Her teeth are white and even, and her voice, which is without any trace of harshness, carries, usually, in its flow an agreeable mixture of words and low laughter. She was born in Beirut, where her father was head of the American College, and where she lived till she was eighteen years of age. Her parents are now both dead, and one gathers that she is very much on her own and has, at times, had a hard time making two ends meet. Her clothes are simple and often delightful. For example, little straight coats of some Eastern cotton material, in beautiful colors, sometimes quilted in a free design.

Edward Capps Jr. (1902–1969)

Edward Capps received his AB (1924), MFA (1927), and PhD (1931) degrees from Princeton University and came to Dumbarton Oaks to prepare his dissertation on late antique and early Christian ivories for publication. At Princeton, Capps had been the student of Charles Rufus Morey. However, he had disagreed with Morey’s view that Byzantine art stemmed either from neo-Attic or Alexandrine models and declined to have Morey supervise his dissertation. After his fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, Capps became a member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies and continued to teach at Oberlin College, where he held a joint appointment in the classics and art history departments between 1927 and 1968. He never published his work on ivories.

Not tall. Round lines, ever a suggestion of a paunch. Looking rather like an accountant, or a clerk—a Dickensian clerk. He bounced a little. Apparently, a methodical and self-serving worker. (We cannot remember his ever asking for anything.) That his specialty and love should be Byzantine ivories is—at first glance—surprising. One might have surmised that he would have turned to coins, or counting threads in fabrics, or determining the alloy content of metals. His sister is married to an Englishman, a Mr. Hill, who was the British representative of the American Express Company in Athens, and also one of the distributors of the Vanderbilt supply fund. His story of their escape from Athens, not neglecting to dole out supplies as they fled, was heard over the radio and was printed in the newspapers. A cable was received from Cairo telling of their safe arrival there.

Alison Frantz (1903–1995)

Alison Frantz studied Latin at Smith College (AB, 1924) and Byzantine archaeology at Columbia University (PhD, 1937). Before and after becoming a Junior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, she was an excavator and the staff photographer on the American School of Classical Studies’ excavations of the Agora in Athens, from 1933 to 1968. In the early 1940s, after her Junior Fellowship, Frantz worked closely with the Washington, D.C. Office of Strategic Services to keep them informed about the political and military situation in Greece. With the conclusion of the Second World War, she became a cultural attaché of the United States Embassy in Athens (1946–49), helping to establish the Fulbright program in Greece. At Dumbarton Oaks, Alison Frantz also resided in a bedroom in the Main House.

Dark and powerful. A short face with beetling brows and a small but determined chin. She drives her own car, a convertible roadster, and to see her drive up to the museum entrance, park her car, stop the engine, slam the door, walk swiftly across the sidewalk and up the steps is to be convinced once and for all of the coordination of her reactions and the economy of her movements. She has sufficient composure to be silent and unsmiling for long periods while in a group; on the other hand, she may be seen striding along with, for instance, the long-legged Dr. Houck, talking with apparent conviction and eagerness. She wears very good sport clothes; sweater and tweed skirts, low-heeled shoes.

Virginia Grace Wylie (1912–1998)

Virginia Wylie was the last of the Junior Fellows to arrive at Dumbarton Oaks. As there was no accommodation available for her in the Main House, she took a boarding room in Georgetown. She attended graduate school at Princeton University but did not complete work for her doctorate. A student of Charles Rufus Morey at Princeton, Wylie came to Dumbarton Oaks to work on a late medieval Flemish shrine. She published her research in an article, “A Copper-Gilt Shrine in the Museo Sacro of the Vatican Library,” in the Art Bulletin 27, no. 1 (March 1945), 65–66. In 1946, Wylie married the medievalist art historian Donald Drew Egbert. She later became a member of the research staff of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University.

Small: very pretty and dainty. Blue-gray eyes and dark hair which she wears low at the nape of her neck. Finally modeled profile and well-proportioned figure. She was born in Iowa, spent some early years in Philadelphia and the later ones in New York. Her voice has a surprising resonance and her speech rhythm is distinctly individual. Our only 1941 fellow who has not a doctorate, but one can sense that her eager eyes and fixed on that goal and that her energy and will are in service to transport her along the road.