The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006

American Colony in Jerusalem Timeline 1828-1980



As the economic Depression deepens, the struggling Vester and Co.—American Colony Store in New York is sold to Nils Lind, son-in-law of Frederick and Bertha Vester.

ca. 1931          

Bertha Spafford Vester and others operate the American Colony Aid Association, a charitable organization with financial supporters in Palestine and the United States.  The American Colony School of Lacemaking and Handicraft is one of its beneficiaries.

ca. 1933-1945

With the rise of power of Adolf Hitler in Germany and in the course of the events of World War II, tens of thousands of European Jews fleeing persecution and death migrate to Palestine, primarily from Eastern Europe, or attempt to relocate to the United States. Some six million will die in the systematic anti-Semitic holocaust of the Nazi regime.

ca. 1934-1946

G. Eric Matson (b. 1888), who was as a boy among the Swedish migrants to the American Colony in 1896, takes charge of the photo department and Lewis Larsson departs from colony membership. Palestinians Hanna Safieh (1910-1979) and Joseph H. Giries, both earlier apprentices in the American Colony Photo Department, work as photographers with Matson, as does John D. Whiting. Eric and Edith Matson leave Jerusalem amidst rising violence. They run the Matson Photo Service in the United States, utilizing many American Colony Photo Department images.

1936, April-Oct.

Palestinian general strike.


Arab revolts in Palestine.


World War II.

1942, Jan. 2

Frederick Vester dies suddenly of a heart attack at the American Colony. He is stricken during a American Colony reception for nurses and social workers doing war relief work in Jerusalem.


Arab League established.

1946, July 22

Bombing of the King David Hotel, home to British administrative offices in Jerusalem.


Civil violence ensues over the partitioning of Palestine. The American Colony endeavors to maintain neutrality; is damaged by mortar fire.

1948, May-October

The state of Israel is proclaimed May 14. The Arab-Israeli War soon commences.  Mary Franji (b. 1927), (Nurse Mary) of the staff of the Anna Spafford Baby Home and wife of Hanna Franji, door man of the American Colony, nurses wounded at the American Colony International Red Cross Emergency Clearing Station.


East Jerusalem and the West Bank placed under the administration of Transjordan (Jordan) under Abdullah ibn Hussein. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs become refugees from Israeli-occupied territory. Armistice agreement between Israel and Transjordan of April 1949 divides Jerusalem along north-south lines. The American Colony is located at the border of No Man’s Land, which stretches to Mea Shearim, in the area administered by Jordan until 1967.

1949, Feb.

First Israeli Parliament meets in Jerusalem. David Ben Gurion is the first prime minister of Israel.


Israeli Parliament proclaims Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The Jordanian Parliament proclaims annexation of East Jerusalem, with Amman as capital of the expanded state.

circa 1950s-1960s

Dr. Hassan Dajani and Dr. Mahmoud Dajani are among the physicians on the Spafford Children’s Hospital medical-surgical staff.


Bertha Vester publishes the American version of Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, 1881-1949. New York, Doubleday & Co., with introduction by Lowell Thomas. She departs on a book tour to the United States to fund raise for the colony’s charities and promote the publication at women’s clubs, churches, and other venues. She will work on the English edition of the book while in New York City, and return to Jerusalem in the summer of 1951.

1951, Feb. 28

American Colony teacher and botanist John Dinsmore dies in Jerusalem.

1951, July 20

King Abdullah of Jordan is assassinated in Jerusalem, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

1951, Oct. 3   

John D. Whiting dies in Jerusalem after suffering a heart attack earlier in the year.  He is buried in Ramallah. Grace Whiting will make a trip to the United States after his death to visit her children, including Edmund Wilson Whiting, recently the father of a baby girl.


Spafford Baby Home refurbished as the Spafford Children’s Hospital. Anna Grace Lind returns to Jerusalem after living in the United States and begins to help her mother manage the American Colony hostel and grounds.

1952, May 12

Helen Keller visits the American Colony while in Jerusalem for a lecture tour.


New Child Welfare Center wing of the Spafford Children’s Hospital. The hospital includes an X-ray Department, surgical facilities, an out-patient clinic, and the Mother Craft Training Center.


The American Colony loses the last vestiges of its once productive farm with the closing of the piggery, as the municipality develops around the colony’s formerly pastoral property.


Deaths of Swedish American Colony members Christina Larsson Levy (b. 1875), Nellie Olson (b. 1861), Annie Larson, and Charlotte Johanssen. 

1956, October-November

Sinai Campaign.


Vester and Co., Ltd., established.


Bertha Vester publishes Flowers of the Holy Land. Kansas City, Mo., Hallmark Cards.

Bertha and Frederick’s son, Horatio Vester (d. 1985), a barrister in England, moves to Jerusalem to manage the American Colony Hotel with his British wife, Valentine Vester (d. 2008). Bertha and Frederick’s eldest daughter, Anna Grace Lind, joins her sister Frieda Ward in administering the Spafford Children’s Hospital. Lind assumes full directorship in 1973, when Ward returns to England.


Bertha Vester is awarded the Jordan Star by King Hussein of Jordan. 


Bertha Vester publishes a new and enlarged edition, Flowers of the Holy Land. Kansas City, Mo., Hallmark Cards

Grace Whiting dies, Jerusalem.

1967, June

The Six-Day War. The American Colony Hotel is damaged by mortar fire and foreign correspondents and the Red Cross use it as a gathering place. The outcome makes for the American Colony’s third change of country. It has been part of Syria, Jordan, and Israel, while occupying the same East Jerusalem land.


Dr. Jantien Dajani joins the staff of the Spafford Children’s Hospital. She will later become the director of the Spafford Children’s Center.

1968, June

Official reunification of Jerusalem and removal of barbed wire barriers and road blocks allows increased freedom of movement for residents after twenty years of Israeli-Jordanian restrictions.

1968, June 27 

Bertha Vester dies, Jerusalem.


The Spafford Children’s Hospital becomes the Spafford Children’s Center, providing social and psychological services, public health and preventative medicine to a primarily Palestinian clientele of women and infants, children, and youth.

1978, September

Camp David peace accords signed by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.


Management of the American Colony Hotel shifts to Gauer Hotels of Switzerland following the retirement of Horatio Vester. The shareholders and board of directors of the hotel primarily remain descendants of the early founders and members of the American Colony.


Two women sitting on a balcony making lacedescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Women making lace, Jerusalem.  American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC

View of city rooftopsdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon View of Jerusalem from the roof of the Anna Spafford Baby Home/American Colony Aid Association, ca. 1938. G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC,  LC-DIG-matpc-03429

Group portrait on a staircasedescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Swedish group, those from Dalarna remaining in the colony, May 10, 1946. G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-12938

Nurse and woman with a child on a scaledescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Clinic examination, Anna Spafford Baby Home, Jersualem.  G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-13968

Buildingsdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon The American Colony main building, ca. 1950. G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-22831

Courtyarddescriptive record icon enlarge image icon American Colony main building, courtyard, ca. 1950.  G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-22832

Casual portrait of two women and a mandescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Bertha Spafford Vester, John D. Whiting, Grace Spafford Whiting, Jerusalem, 1951. Image from photographs of members of the American Colony (Jerusalem) and Middle East locations (page 3). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-18908

Woman with baby on her lapdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Gameli and baby Anna, Anna Spafford Baby Home. G. Eric and Edith  Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-13964

Man and woman conversingdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Anna Grace [Vester] Lind at American Colony bazaar, 1954, with Edith Larsson in the background. Image from American Colony bazaar photograph album (p. 13, bottom). Visual Materials of the Papers of John D. Whiting, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-18906

Man and woman conversingdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Mrs. Bertha Vester listening to Mr. Hanna Atalla at an American Colony bazaar, 1954.  Image from American Colony bazaar photograph album (p. 13, bottom). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-ppmsca-18905

Brochuredescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Spafford Children’s Center pamphlet, Jerusalem, Old City. American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC