William Bell Dinsmoor

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William Bell Dinsmoor Sr.
Born(1886-07-29)July 29, 1886
DiedJuly 2, 1973(1973-07-02) (aged 86)
EmployerColumbia University
SpousesZillah Frances Pierce (1910 til her death in 1960), [Unknown Greek woman, first name, Nota, who had been his nurse after the stroke] (til his death in 1973)
ChildrenWilliam Bell Dinsmoor Jr., Frances Atheniese Dinsmoor Sandstone

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. Dinsmoor was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1933.[3] 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 enganged in 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. Dinsmoor was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1944.[4] 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's full bibliography is collected in the journal Hesperia.[5]

Dinsmoor is best known for two major works. The first of these is his complete rewriting of The Architecture of Ancient Greece (1927).[6] Although Dinsmoor always allowed much credit for the work to Anderson and Spiers, the revision of the book was essentially a unique accomplishment. The second book is The Archons of Athens in the Hellenistic Age (1931), which attempted to assign absolute dates to the eponymous archons of Hellenistic Athens. The book is fundamental for Athenian chronology.

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, 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. ...
  3. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  4. ^ "William Bell Dinsmoor". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 2023-02-09. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  5. ^ "Bibliography of William Bell Dinsmoor". Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 35 (2): 87–92. 1966. JSTOR 147298.
  6. ^ William James Anderson; Richard Phené Spiers; William Bell Dinsmoor (1927). The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development : Being the First Part of The Architecture of Greece and Rome. B.T. Batsford, Limited.

External links[edit]