AMERICAN FARM SCHOOL
BRUCE LANSDALE MEMORIAL
From its earliest days the American Farm School was an act of faith. Miracles seemed to happen almost on a daily basis. One of those miracles was that the Quakers influenced key people and a Quaker would appear at critical moments to lend a helping hand.
THE INFLUENCE OF QUAKERS ON THE AMERICAN FARM SCHOOL
Excerpts from a lecture delivered at the American Farm School,
May 14, 2003
I’m glad to have the opportunity tonight to explain to you how much our school was influenced by various Quakers. I will speak first about the founder, John Henry House, and the decisive support he received from Quakers when he was pessimistic about the possibility of opening the Farm School. Then I will speak about his son and successor, Charlie House, at the start of the first world war. After that we will move forward to the Asia Minor Disaster, to Charlie’s wife, Ann House, to Sydney and Joice Loch after the second world war, to the founding of the girl’s school, and finally to the incorporation of that school in the Farm School. In other words, we will travel from 1904 until 1966, with various stops in between.
Let’s begin, however, with a few words about Quakerism, which is extremely different from Greek Orthodoxy. I once went to a concert in America whose program included a very recent piece that was so radical that the conductor had to introduce it by saying, “this piece has no melody, no rhythm, no harmony. You’ll ask, ‘What’s left?’ The composer has answered: ‘What’s left is sound.” Quakerism is similar. The principal effort of its founders was to subtract whatever belonged to humans instead of to God. Therefore they subtracted music, icons, a special church building, Sunday as a special day, the sermon, bishops, even priests, the Bible, sacraments, and theology. Without a doubt you will say, “My oh my, what’s left?” The first Quakers answered, “What’s left is Christ,” or, influenced as they then were by John’s Gospel, they answered: “What’s left is ‘the true light that enlightens every man.’” In other words, they tried to escape the apparatus of other sects. And their liturgy, released from this apparatus, was and is silence – that is, waiting in silence in the hope of acquiring some immediate contact with Spirit/Light/Truth/Substance/the Eternal Christ.
From the very start of their movement, Quakers have refused to become soldiers. They are pacifists. The most important leader at first, George Fox – who lived during the English civil war, a religious struggle in which each side declared that it was fighting for Christ’s sake – refused to take part, saying to the recruiters that he “lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars … I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.” Fox’s justification was that he lived in accordance with the will of the “God of peace” (Rom, 15.33). The key word is “lived.” Since the Quakers do not attach much importance to theology and do not have any creed, they honor what one does more than what one says. Action/one’s life/service: those are important. And since the Quakers are pacifists, their life – their service – usually consists of aiding those who have suffered from war, with the condition that their aid be offered to both sides, given that the incentive for religious humanitarian service must never be political.
With that as prologue to my topic, I believe that we can begin to understand the nature of the Quakers’ influence in advance. In short, it derives from an ethos whose principal ingredients are peace and service.
The influence upon the Farm School began at the very start, in 1904, when our school was founded. It was owing to the service offered by American Quakers in the reconstruction period following our civil war. Various black slaves had been emancipated in our southern states and these people, usually illiterate, needed to learn to read and write, but not only to read and write – in order to survive, they also needed to learn a trade: something to do with their hands so that they could earn a living. In 1862, the Quakers, in order to face the terrible postwar situation of the former slaves, founded a school in South Carolina that they named The Penn School to honor the famous Quaker who had founded Pennsylvania, William Penn, and to put into practice his well-known faith in the brotherhood of all human beings – that is, the brotherhood of blacks and whites. In 1901 the school received its official charter from the state and assumed the name Penn Normal, Industrial and Agricultural School (please compare the official name of our school: Thessalonika Agricultural and Industrial Institute). The person who was the first chair of The Penn School’s board of trustees was Hollis Burke Frissel, the president of another school, Hampton Institute, which had been teaching the emancipated blacks since 1868 according to the “learn by doing” method. We know that John Henry House, the founder of our School, visited Hampton Institute before 1904. More significant is the fact that House’s daughter Grace Bigelow House (1877-1965), who had been teaching at Hampton, accepted Frissel’s proposal in 1905 to become the assistant director of The Penn School, a position she occupied until 1944. She was the most enthusiastic proponent of the above-mentioned system, “learn by doing,” especially for agriculture. And she convinced two of the Quaker school’s trustees to serve as pioneer trustees of the newly established American Farm School. These two were Frissel, who brought to our school his experience at both Hampton and Penn, and Levi Hollingsworth Wood (1873-1956), a well-known Quaker lawyer and active pacifist.
This contribution by the daughter provoked a sort of marriage between House’s aspirations, on the one hand, and the Quaker’s service to our former slaves, on the other. We need to recognize that House was deeply pessimistic at that time. He had attempted in vain to find supporters in New York; he was ready to give up. Thus we can conclude that the School’s very existence derives from the encouragement that House received from Frissel, Wood, and his own daughter Grace.
Charles Lucius House (1887-1961) was born in Bulgaria but went to America to enroll in prep school and then in Princeton University, where he studied civil engineering. After graduating in 1909 he began to build roads, bridges, etc. He had no urge either to direct a school or to return to Macedonia. But then the first world war intervened in his life. Charlie doubted the ethical justification of this war. In 1916 he discovered as his guru the best known Quaker of the time, Rufus Jones, who was soon to found the American Friends Service Committee, which, devoted to the welfare of the victims of war, received the Nobel Peace Prize after the second world war. Jones opposed every formula, every inflexible credo that supposedly expressed the relationship between God and humanity, a relationship that he saw as continually evolving. His own credo was that religious people ought to work continually to improve the civilization around them. So Charlie, influenced by Rufus Jones, decided to change his life, devoting it to the service of others. He also became a pacifist, which meant that he would go to jail instead of becoming a soldier. However, a government physician rejected him when he was called up on account of pleurisy. His mother and father told him that they wanted him at the school. “In our hands was his opportunity for service.” We can conclude that Charlie went to the Farm School and eventually became its second president because he was influenced and supported by Quakers.
Charlie wrote in relation to the Asia Minor Catastrophe: “The Farm School was in the midst of the tragic drama of 1922 and ’23, and the upheaval of men, women and children in Asia Minor and their arrival in Greece. Many of these people settled on farm land not far from the school. The school was anxious to help and gave work to these refugees, but soon the scourge of malaria became rampant.” The students organized a club whose members brought quinine to the homes of the afflicted, but the number of refugees increased and the students were no longer able to cope. Fortunately several English Quakers had come to Thessaloniki to ascertain the refugees’ condition. Seeing the students’ efforts, they applied to locate their own effort at the school. In order to fulfill their mission, they sent Dorothea Hughes (1891-1952), an American nurse who had joined the Quakers in London.
Dorothea Hughes would go out on foot or on donkey-back from our school to about fifty villages in order to give relief to three hundred homes where she cleansed, bathed, and fed the sick. Making use of funds received from the English Quakers, she distributed clothing and set up weaving centers so that women could work. Thanks to money from the Quakers, the president imported gamvousia fish from Italy – this fish devours the larvae of the anopheles mosquito, which transmit the disease. Hughes gave the institution’s first passenger automobile so that our students could reach the fifty villages more easily. Secretly and anonymously, she granted to the English Quakers a considerable sum that every year gave five boys the opportunity to enroll in the school free of cost. Charlie ends his account of Hughes’s service in this way: “She planted so quietly that many have never known who was responsible for the help they received. She believed in giving as Christ taught us, ‘When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you’” (Matt. 6:3-4).
Theo Litsas, who had come from Smyrna in 1922, revived the boy scout troup and sent it to the surrounding villages to fight malaria in various ways. His educational philosophy, “learn by doing,” was similar to John Henry House’s. As he was a pacifist devoted to others, we may conjecture that he was influenced by Quakerism. What matters is not whether he was a member or not, but rather the quality of his life: how he lived and what he did, rather than what he said or thought. One individual who worked at the school and definitely embraced Quakerism was Yannis Voudourouglou, who also arrived from Asia Minor and who became director of the school’s boarding department.
Ann Kellogg House (1888-1989) reached Greece in 1923 to marry Charlie. Reading chapter 9 of Brenda Marder’s history, – Stewards of the Land – we realize what an exceptional person she was. Bruce Lansdale wrote to a friend: “More than any of the people who you and I know, Ann reflects the value that we both strive for …” I want to examine a little the “value” that Lansdale evokes. After her graduation from university in 1912, Ann began to teach in the very progressive Ethical Culture School in New York, where she remained for ten years. The head of this school was a Quaker and a most resolute pacifist who had formulated an ethical system that Ann embraced because, among other things, it preached peace and the equality of the races. Consequently in 1917, the time of America’s involvement in World War I, despite the fact that her first husband joined the army willingly, Ann, as a pacifist, took part in anti-war demonstrations. In addition, she spent the night with a black student when the class went on an excursion to Washington and their hotel forbade entrance to this black child. I conclude that the “value” that Lansdale evoked and that served the Farm School during the long duration of Charlie’s presidency was, like the “value” exemplified by her husband, the product, at least in part, of Quaker influence.
During the difficult years following the German occupation, after Charlie and Ann House were imprisoned by the Germans, Theo Litsas, whose inclination toward Quakerism we already know, served the school as its acting president. As soon as the Germans left and the country was liberated, the trustees in New York appointed Sydney Loch as president until Charlie and Ann returned. Loch was the representative of Friends Relief Service, which was working then with UNRRA. He was in Cairo. He applied to the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, also located then in Cairo, to be allowed to travel to Greece immediately, and the ministry answered on September 19, 1944, “Our Government fully realizes the value of the American Farm School and the importance of getting it into operation at the earliest possible moment.” Thus he was given permission to arrive in Greece among the first. He set out from Egypt on November 22, 1944 and reached Thessaloniki on the 26th of that month and went by foot to the school, where the staff reminded him “of sleepers wakening.” His time as president lasted until Charlie and Ann House returned on September 22, 1945 – that is eleven months. At the end of February 1945 his wife, Joice, arrived in her turn, also from Cairo, where she had been aiding UNRRA to compile lists of supplies that would be needed in Greece. The couple fulfilled many responsibilities: to distribute supplies as UNRRA representatives; to prepare the school to open its doors again to students; to battle various diseases; to produce foodstuffs for the neighboring refugees; to help nearby farmers to begin to produce. With the financial support of the Quakers in London, working day and night like maniacs they successfully executed numerous plans, not to mention their most spectacular invention, the girls’ school, which came into being after the Houses’ return.
When Charlie and Ann House reached Thessaloniki on September 22, 1945, Sydney’s service as president ended, but his and Joice’s Quaker activities continued. The Lochs terminated their official attachment to UNRRA, requested and received three hundred English pounds from London to reopen a workshop in Ouranoupolis in which young girls could weave carpets with Byzantine designs that Sydney found in the Holy Mountain. But their most significant idea was to convince the London Quakers to establish a school for girls by giving twelve hundred pounds the first year so that about forty girls could enroll without paying either tuition or room and board. The staff consisted of four Greek women and two individuals sent by the Quakers. On January 13, 1946 Loch wrote to London that the Ministry of Welfare had approved of the girls’ school with “deep appreciation.”
This school for Agriculture and Home Economics (or, more simply, Domestic Training School) was the perfect expression of the Quakers’ religious principles. Since the Quakers are pacifists, their service normally consists of relief given to those who have suffered from war, with the precondition that aid go to both of the opposing sides. This is precisely what happened in the girls’ school. Loch wrote to London on April 23, 1946: “It must be remembered that these girls come from bitterly warring political parties, that many had seen a parent or near relation killed. The girls themselves have become kind and thoughtful to each other.” The following year, when Sydney and Joice learned that the Quakers in London had agreed to continue their support even though the cost was four thousand pounds a year, Joice described the school as “the healthiest thing going in this part of the world, and to all our minds one of the few ways in which the work of real reconciliation can be undertaken.
The curriculum was extremely rich. It included at the start mathematics, reading, writing, English, church chanting, Greek dances, sewing, cooking, gardening, and first aid. The staff hoped soon to add the craft of handwoven carpets according to the Loch’s system. The general education system for the girls was “learn by doing,” the same that the founder of the Farm School preferred.
In November 1962 the London Quakers decided that the Greeks themselves should take over the Thessaloniki school. That was the Quaker philosophy from the very start concerning all of their relief projects abroad, not just the Greek school. In 1945 Loch had received a memorandum from London relating to the future of Quaker work in Greece that stated: “We are very concerned that any work undertaken in Greece should be in accordance with the wishes of Greek people and should, so far as possible, be done within Greek institutions and with full Greek participation. We come as friends and helpers and not as the givers of foreign charity. It has therefore seemed right to ask the Greek Government itself for any suggestions which it may have regarding our function in Greece.” Accordingly, the English Quakers began to negotiate with the Ministry of Agriculture and also with the Panhellenic Confederation of Cooperatives. Four options were explored, one of which was for the American Farm School to take control of the school if its board of trustees agreed. On June 19, 1966 he Quakers in London learned that the American trustees had accepted responsibility for the girls. The incorporation was finalized in 1978.
The Quaker influence on the Farm School lasted for more than sixty years, from 1904 until 1966. You will perhaps conclude that our school would be very different if the Quakers had not contributed so much, and that perhaps it would not exist at all, if we recall how pessimistic the founder was before he came to know those at The Penn School and Hampton Institute who had already applied the “learn by doing” method. In addition, you perhaps will conclude that his successor, Charlie, would not have returned to the School if his life had not changed thanks to Rufus Jones’s influence, and that he would not have found Ann Kellogg so compatible if her life, too, had not assimilated Quaker philosophy. Finally, you definitely will conclude that Sydney and Joice Loch, representatives of the Quakers in Greece, made our school ready for its students to return, joined it to the overall effort to bring relief to the surrounding villages, invented the girl’s school, and helped prevent that institution from going finally to the ministry.
It is clear that we have been talking about the Farm School’s administration and about Americans, English, and Australians (Joice Loch was born in Australia). What can we conclude about the Greek staff? We know at least that Theo Litsas, who served both as staff and administration, fell in love with Quaker philosophy and applied it. I do not know about the others, except for Voudourouglou. Yet I hope that somehow they were influenced indirectly by Quaker philosophy’s emphasis on peace and on service to others. In any case, our school is an amalgam of many influences from Greek sources and non-Greek ones. These influences coincide; it is difficult to understand their variety and complexity. From this skein I have extracted just a single thread, a single part of the whole, but a part that I hope you will now recognize as both interesting and important.