The Pasha's Palace
Picnic at Ain Farah, 1897. Image from members and activities of the American Colony (Jerusalem) photograph album (page 31, no. 110). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC. LC-DIG-ppmsca-15830-00110
The arrival of the large influx of Swedish members in the spring and summer of 1896 meant that the colony had outgrown their original living quarters in the house on the Old City wall. The colony retained the Old City building. It would become home to a photography laboratory and sewing rooms, and be used as a school and eventually as a baby home, children’s hospital, and social service facility.
The colonists moved their primary residence to a former pasha’s palace in East Jerusalem, located not far from the Tomb of the Kings in what was then the outskirts of the city beyond the Muslim quarter. Their new much more commodious building had an inner garden courtyard and surrounding grounds. It had been the luxurious home of Rabbah Daoud Amin Effendi al-Husseini, and was part of an Arab neighborhood of upscale homes beyond the city walls.
The American Colony renovated the building for its own use, and began to operate it as a hostel for Holy Land visitors around the turn of the century. While Swedish members labored baking bread and weaving, and joined Palestinian staff in laundry, cooking, child care and domestic chores, American Colony youth had a literary club and a tennis court. They enjoyed picnics and group outings to swimming holes in the country side, and entertained visitors with holiday dramatic tableaus.
The American Colony school, meanwhile, carried on in the old house under the generous directorship of American educator and natural history specialist John Dinsmore, who had come from Maine with his wife Mary to join the colony. Accepting both girls and boys, the school offered an English education to the children of well-to-do Muslim families, visiting diplomats, and a religious and ethnic mix of Jewish, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian and European youth. The colony’s children’s tutor Johanna Brooke, a seasoned teacher who left her work at the London Jews Society mission school to join the American Colony, concentrated on teaching the arts, especially drawing and painting. Dinsmore was an accomplished botanist. In his career at the colony, which extended until his death in 1951, he compiled an impressive herbarium. The study and photography and painting of Holy Land wild flowers was a favorite colony past-time.
In 1897, nineteen-year-old Bertha Spafford was recruited by Ismail Bey Husseini, a former student of Horatio Gates Spafford’s, to direct the Moslem Girls School in the Old City. Spafford took on the challenge along with the more seasoned Miss Brooke, who joined her as co-director. Spafford worked as a director and teacher at the school until her marriage in 1904.