Founding and Establishment
The Founding Committee of Athens College was organized in 1924 in New York City by Americans, Greeks, and Greeks of the Hellenic Diaspora. The purpose of the Athens College, as it was then and is still known, was to provide superior education for Greek children, only boys initially, without regard to their social or economic status.
Athens College, which was incorporated under both Greek and American law in 1925 and chartered by the Board of Regents of the State University of New York in 1926, is a not for profit, tax exempt organization. The school has two Boards: a Board of Trustees in the United States and a Board of Directors in Greece. The President of the school is, as prescribed in the by-laws, an American.
The Board of Trustees in the U.S. participate equally with the Board of Directors in Greece in setting strategic direction and in making major strategic decisions. In addition, the Board of Trustees manage the endowment, coordinate U.S. development, recruit and compensate the American President and administer many U.S.-based programs including faculty development and fundraising. The Board of Directors in Greece manage the day to day operations of the School, and its affiliated programs. Both Boards work closely with the President.
The Early Years
Athens College officially opened its doors in October 1925 with only a handful of students in attendance. Those few students were attracted by a public announcement which read:
"Athens College aims to follow the standard educational systems and also to introduce those modern English and American methods of education which can best be adapted to the history, psychology and national needs of the country, and are preparatory for the universities of Greece, England or America."
For two days there was no response at all. Not one candidate ventured to enroll. Then the first student, Elias N. Eliacos, came forth. Fourteen students followed him, and Athens College began. The school initially occupied a small one room house in the heart of Athens before moving to its present campus in 1928.
The beginning was spartan, to say the least. The small rented house on 18 Androu Street was in the classic Venetian-Byzantine style with heavy stone masonry and shuttered, arched windows. There was no furniture. The first desks, chairs, and blackboards were all borrowed. The single boarding student was put up in a nearby hotel. Part of a wall was knocked out so that students could have room for sports and other activities. It was a humble beginning, the sort that is familiar to so many American preparatory schools
Move to New Campus
Then, by November 12, 1928, the first classes were held on the present campus -35 acres of land in the suburban town of Psychico donated to the school by its earliest benefactors, Emmanuel Benaki and Stephanos Delta. By 1931, the school had grown to 351 students and a faculty of 44. The average age of the teachers was thirty. Nine were Americans.started out with the same desire to create an educational alternative.
Almost immediately, they were joined by other Americans. One was Strond Reed, who was an instructor at Robert College in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and was in Athens looking to broaden his horizons. Reed was chosen by the founding committee as the new school's first headmaster and promptly recruited two of his colleagues -- Homer Woodhull Davis and his wife, Marjorie, as instructors. In 1932, Davis became president of Athens College and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1960. His name is still revered as a cornerstone of the school that has grown into one of the world's most unique educational ventures.
Crisis and Survival
At 6:45 on the morning of October 28, 1940, air raid sirens sounded. Teachers and the students rushed to the basement of Benaki Hall, assuming it was just another air raid drill. But the Second World War had began in earnest. Mussolini's troops were attacking Greece through Albania. The Greeks stood and fought back, even advancing into enemy territory. But they did not stand much of a chance when, six months later, Hitler came to the rescue of his ally. Starvation and horrible living conditions prevailed throughout Athens, and the young were no exception to hunger. Dead lay in the streets. Among them were young Athens College graduates who had joined the resistance on the mountains of Greece by enlisting as part of British Force 133. At Athens College itself, beneath a hanging swastika, the Nazis burned the school's archives, and destroyed the library.
Throughout the fearful occupation of Athens and all its savage scenes, a dedicated staff of Athens College operated in a dilapidated old building and managed to keep a flicker of learning alive. The school was moved to a home in the middle of Athens and to a rented house in Psychico and somehow managed to go on, risking everything. When Homer Davis returned to Greece in the fall of 1944, he immediately set to work to reopen Athens College.
A year later, on November 12, 1945, Athens College returned to its campus in Psychico and, despite the hardships of the time-- the Greek Civil War was about to start again-- the enrollment increased to 594 students, with 170 younger ones remaining in the Athens wartime house as a lower school. It was a belt-tightening period. Benaki Hall had been left in a shambles, and there was a considerable task ahead to rebuild and re-equip the school.
The students were without money, and the U.S. trustees agreed with Homer Davis that the entire income from the endowment, some $25,000, would be used for scholarships. Every student, from the youngest to the seniors, understood the difficulties and volunteered to forsake lunches from time to time so the school could remain open.
The U.S. people have been instrumental in seeing Athens College through its early hardships. The library, which was once occupied by the Nazis, now bears the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) insignia, so its visitors will know that through the generosity of the American people, this library was resurrected.
During the School's long and fascinating history it endured many hardships - wars, occupation, poverty - but its spirit, and the spirit of its students, faculty and staff endured. With their perseverance, and their strength, the College became the leading educational institution in Greece, rich in history and tradition.