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Creating a Utopia

Moved by a series of profound tragic losses, Chicago natives Anna and Horatio Spafford led a small American contingent in 1881 to Jerusalem to form a Christian utopian society known as the "American Colony." Colony members, later joined by Swedish Christians, engaged in philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem regardless of their religious affiliation and without proselytizing motives -- thereby gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. During and immediately after World War I, the American Colony played a critical role in supporting these communities during the great suffering and deprivations of the eastern front by running soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures. In addition, members of the Colony were permitted to photograph behind Turkish lines to create a unique record of life under the constraints of war.

Women Working at the American Colony School of Handicrafts and Dressmaking, with the Dome of the Rock in the Background First American Colony Building Located Within the Old City of Jerusalem

Although the American Colony ceased to exist as a religious community in the late 1940s, individual members continued to be active in the daily life of Jerusalem. Toward the end of the 1950s, Colony quarters opened to the public as the American Colony Hotel. The hotel is an integral part of the Jerusalem landscape, where members of all communities in Jerusalem still meet. In 1992 representatives from the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel met in the hotel for talks that led to the historic 1993 Oslo Peace Accord.

A new Library of Congress exhibition documents the fascinating story of the American Colony in Jerusalem. It was on view in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building through April 2, 2005; however, you can view the exhibition online anytime. The Exhibitions Web site offers more than 50 virtual exhibitions that interpret a broad range of topics.

For another perspective on World War I, visit the Veterans History Project Web site. Here are firsthand accounts of the Great War, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars as well as the current conflicts.

A. "Women Working at the American Colony School of Handicrafts and Dressmaking, with the Dome of the Rock in the Background." Reproduction information: Not available for reproduction.

B. "First American Colony Building Located Within the Old City of Jerusalem." Reproduction information: Not available for reproduction.


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