William Bell Dinsmoor

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William Bell Dinsmoor, Sr.
Born (1886-07-29)July 29, 1886
Windham, New Hampshire
Died July 2, 1973(1973-07-02) (aged 86)
Athens, Greece
Cause of death Stroke
Employer Columbia University
Spouse(s) Zillah Frances Pierce
Children William Bell Dinsmoor, Jr.

William Bell Dinsmoor, Sr. (July 29, 1886 – July 2, 1973) was an American architectural historian of classical Greece and a Columbia University professor of art and archaeology.[1][2]


He was born on July 29, 1886 in Windham, New Hampshire.[2]

Dinsmoor graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor of science degree (1906). After working in an architectural firm, he joined the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece in 1908 and became the School's architect in 1912. Dinsmoor joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1919. In 1927-1928 he was the architectural consultant for the construction of the interior of a full-scale concrete replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. He then returned to the American School as a professor of architecture (1924–1928). He was married to Zillah Frances Pierce (1886–1960).[1] During the years in Athens, he wrote his magnum opus, a rewritten edition of the Architecture of Ancient Greece by William James Anderson (1844–1900) and Richard Phené Spiers (1838–1916); it first appeared in 1927 and would go to three editions and be a mainstay for the teaching of Greek architecture through the twentieth century. In 1934, following the resignation of S. Butler Murray, the Department of Fine Arts at Columbia was reorganized and Dinsmoor became chairman. He held this position until 1955. During the mid-1930s, Dinsmoor took on a celebrated debate on the configuration of the three phases of the Parthenon with the eminent Acropolis scholar Wilhelm Dörpfeld. In 1935 he was named professor of archaeology at Columbia University. Between 1936 and 1946 he was president of the Archaeological Institute of America. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Dinsmoor chair of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas. For much of his career he taught at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. He retired from Columbia University in 1963. In 1969 he was awarded the gold medal for his archaeological achievements by the Archaeological Institute of America. He died of a stroke while in Athens, Greece on July 2, 1973.[2]


Dinsmoor is best known for two major works. The first of these is his complete rewriting of The Architecture of Ancient Greece (1927). Although Dinsmoor always allowed much credit for the work to Anderson and Spiers, the revision of the book was essentially a unique accomplishment. In 1931 Dinsmoor published his discovery about the archons from the Propylaia of the acropolis in Athens. These lists of magistrates aided greatly the study of other objects from the Athenian Agora. Dinsmoor determined the original design to the Propylaia. His son, William Bell Dinsmoor, Jr. was also a distinguished classical architectural historian.[2]


Further reading[edit]

  • Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 86–88.
  • [obituaries:] “W. B. Dinsmoor, 87, an Archaeologist; Expert on Greece Is Dead--Long on Columbia Faculty.” New York Times July 3, 1973, p. 26; Archaeology 26 (October 1973): 308.
  • A History of the Faculty of Philosophy, Columbia University. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957, p. 54, 263-64.
  • Nicgorski, Ann M. "Dinsmoor, William Bell." Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 363–64.


  1. ^ a b "Mrs. William Dinsmoor". New York Times. September 30, 1960. Retrieved 2010-12-28. Mrs. Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor of 430 West Street, wife of Dr. William Bell Dinsmoor, noted archaeologist and professor emeritus at Columbia University, ... 
  2. ^ a b c d "W. B. Dinsmoor, 87, An Archeologist. Expert On Greece Is Dead. Long On Columbia". New York Times. July 3, 1973. Retrieved 2010-12-28. William Bell Dinsmoor, an archeologist who devoted a lifetime to the study of ancient Greek architecture, died today in a hospital of a stroke. He would have been 87 years old July 29. ...