The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006

American Colony in Jerusalem Timeline 1828-1980



The population of Jerusalem drops significantly in war time, as residents are deported, drafted into military service or labor, and suffer from famine and disease. American Colony members engage in relief efforts and public health and social welfare activities for the local populace during World War I, including operation of a volunteer nursing corps and a supper kitchen. Bertha Vester organizes a sewing school and a women’s lace-making cooperative, to help Palestinian women whose husbands are absent during wartime to support their families.


British Army officer T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) helps fuel the Arab Revolts against the Ottoman Turks in collaboration with Feisal, Abdullah, Auda Abu Tayi, and other Arab leaders who will feature in the leadership of Arab states after the war’s end. T. E. Lawrence is a familiar guest at the American Colony during his time in the Middle East. He is well-liked and known for playing ball with the children on the colony lawn.


The American Colony Nurses corps is active in several hospitals in Jerusalem. They work with both the Red Crescent and the Red Cross. Many colony members volunteer, among them Olaf and Lars Lind, Bertha and Frederick Vester, and Grace and John D. Whiting.

American Colony photographer Lewis Larsson serves as an official photographer of the Red Crescent. He travels with American Colony photography assistants behind lines of battle, and documents the campaigns in Palestine and Syria. The American Colony produces albums featuring scenes documenting the war and its political aftermath.


John D. Whiting begins service as an undercover intelligence officer with the General Headquarters Advance Field Intelligence, British Army. Fluent in Arabic and a frequent traveler, he works under Lieutenant Colonel Wyndham Deedes. Whiting will continue to work in British intelligence at various points in his later life.

1917, November

British dominate Turks in Gaza and Jaffa, and advance on Jerusalem.

1917, December         

The occupation of Jerusalem by the British Army and proclamation of martial law by Field Marshal Edmund Allenby signals the beginning of British administration in Palestine that will continue until 1948. The surrender of Jerusalem by the Turks December 9, and the public reading of the proclamation December 11, are documented in photographs by Lewis Larsson and in the writings of American Colony members.

1918, July 4

Allenby and staff attend a 4th of July celebration at the American Colony.

1918, July 24

The Vesters attend ceremonies on Mount Scopus dedicating Hebrew University. They have become a part of the formal social world of British military officials and diplomats, their wives and staff. Bertha Vester will befriend Edmund Allenby, Ronald Storrs, Lord Herbert Samuel, Brigadier General Sir Wyndham Deedes, and others, and welcome them to receptions and events at the colony.

1918, September-December

British forces advance to Nablus, Damascus, and Aleppo. The Turks surrender December 31.

ca. 1918-1922

Bertha Vester administers an orphanage and foster system for Greek Orthodox Christian and Muslim Palestinian impoverished girls who had lost one or both parents to poverty, illness, or warfare during World War I. It is supported primarily by donations of Americans through the Christian Herald.


The American Colony runs a playground in the Old City adjacent to the Spafford Baby Home.

1919, May      

Gertrude Bell (d. 1926) visits the American Colony and is introduced to members of the Arab Palestinian community by Bertha Vester. Bell praises John D. Whiting’s intelligence after meeting him for tea at the American Colony with Bertha Vester and Jacob Spafford. Bell’s niece, Valentine Richmond, will in 1939 marry Horatio Vester, Bertha and Frederick Vester’s son, in England.


Lewis Larsson begins his service first as Vice Consul and then as Swedish Consul in Jerusalem.

Herbert Samuel becomes High Commissioner. British civil administration begins in Jerusalem, and will last until 1948.

Religious and ethnic violence marks Easter and Nebi Musa festivals.

1921, March 28                      

Frederick and Bertha Vester attend reception for Winston Churchill during his visit to Jerusalem.


John D. Whiting and T. E. Lawrence are among those who participate in the ceremonial meeting of Emir Abdullah and other Arab leaders with Herbert Samuel in Amman. The event is captured by American Colony photographers.

1921, July 7

Ruth Whiting marries Maurice Goldenthal, a Romanian Jew who worked in the House of Industry of the London Jews’ Society before joining the American Colony in 1899. The marriage will prove rocky and the Goldenthals will leave the American Colony community with their children in 1926. After a brief attempt to run a store in Los Angeles, California, they return to Jerusalem in 1928. At the time of her mother’s death in 1931, Ruth Whiting is a resident of the German Colony in Jerusalem.


Bertha Vester visits the United States with her children, including scenes of her youth.

1922, June      

The League of Nations approves the British Mandate administration in the Middle East.

ca. 1923-1929

The Vester & Co.—American Colony Stores, Inc., is established as a partnership of Frederick Vester and John D. Whiting. The American Colony looks to expanding business ventures with a branch store in New York City, which Whiting and Nils Lind are involved in organizing.


Bertha Vester begins keeping a diary and continues the practice until her death in 1968.

1923, Apr. 17

Matriarch Anna Spafford dies after a long decline in health.  Bertha Vester assumes leadership of the American Colony.

ca. 1923-1925

Bertha Vester begins the Anna Baby Home in her mother’s honor. The children’s facility will develop over time into the Anna Spafford Baby Nursing Home and Infant Welfare Center, then the Spafford Children’s Hospital, and finally the Spafford Children’s Center, Jerusalem, offering pediatric care and social services. The facility is based in the original building in the Old City first occupied by American Colony founders upon their arrival in Jerusalem.

1925, April 1

Dedication of Hebrew University, Mount Scopus.


Dr. Helena Kagan (d. 1978), who is of Russian Jewish descent and received her medical education  in pediatrics at the University of Bern, heads the medical staff of the Spafford Baby Home, with the services of Arab, Jewish, and Armenian doctors and nurses.


Earthquake in Jerusalem damages the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al Aksa mosque, and the Augusta Victoria Hospice, as well as other buildings and religious and charitable facilities.

1928, 1929

Bertha Vester travels to America to fund-raise for the colony’s programs and visit her children who are studying in private schools.

1929, August   

Arab-Jewish riots in Jerusalem.


Stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

The American Colony is organized into a corporation, the American Colony of Jerusalem. The business arrangements and control of colony finances is a last straw in tensions between some of the prominent and most outspoken Swedish residents of the Colony and their American counterparts. The new business model imposed under the leadership of Bertha Vester results in a split in the group and the departure of many of the Swedish members. The dissenters, who depart with small severance payments, are referred to in Vester’s writings as the “minority.”  After the split in the colony membership, forty-seven residents remain.


A group of women and childrendescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Bertha Vester, on the American Colony grounds, reading the names of welfare recipients, 1916. Image from photograph album, World War I in Palestine and the Sinai (page 73). American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC

Group of men near an airplanedescriptive record icon enlarge image icon T. E. Lawence, Herbert Samuel, Amir Abdullah and others, Amman, 1921. Image from meetings of British, Arab, and Bedouin officials in Amman, Jordan, 1921 photograph album (page 27, no. 13). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19413

A group of men with a flagdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon The Mayor of Jerusalem Hussein Effendi el Husseini [al-Husseini], meeting with Sergts. Sedwick and Hurcomb of the 2/19th Battalion, London Regiment, under the white flag of surrender, Dec. 9th [1917] at 8 a.m., 1917. Image from World War I and the British Mandate in Palestine photograph album (page 5, no. 11).  Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00011

Crowds outside a structuredescriptive record icon enlarge image icon General Allenby's Proclamation [of martial law in Jerusalem] being read in English. December 11th, 1917. Image from World War I and the British Mandate in Palestine photograph album (page 13, no. 36). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00036

Group of men outside a buildingdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon General Allenby at American Colony reception, July 4th, 1918. Image from World War I and the British Mandate in Palestine photograph album (page 29, no. 85). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00085

Photograph album page with pictures of childrendescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Page from photograph album of the Christian Herald Orphanage, ca. 1918-1922. (Page 21). American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC

Children on a playgrounddescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Playground of the American Colony orphanage, 1918. Image from World War I and the British Mandate in Palestine photograph album (page 42, no.122).  Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00122

Small groups of people gathered on stepsdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Emir Abdullah, Mr. & Mrs. Winston Churchill, Bertha and Frederick Vester at reception, 1921. G. Eric and Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-08803

Three men in an open landscapedescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Unidentified staff member of Emir Abdullah (left), Emir Abdhullah (center) and John D. Whiting (right), Amman, 1921. Image from meetings of British, Arab, and Bedouin officials in Amman, Jordan, April 1921 (page 7, no. 3). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-15304-00003

Woman in a lush gardendescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Anna Spafford in the courtyard of the American Colony. Image from photographs of Jerusalem and the Middle East photograph album (page 141, no. 70). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-18419-00070

Woman and two children looking at newspapersdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Looking at comics, Anna Spafford Baby Home, ca. 1920-1935. Image from American Colony in Jerusalem members and trips photograph album (page 40, left). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-18893