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Ardelia R. Hall

A descendent of Mayflower passenger John Alden, Ardelia Ripley Hall was born on December 4, 1899 to Willard Francis Hall, a machinist and policeman, and Lura Sawin Hall, a school teacher, in Weymouth, Massachusetts.  Though from a humble home, Hall's parents were able to send her to college and she enrolled at Smith College in Northhampton, MA.  Before graduating in 1922 with a degree in Chinese language and art history, Hall's father passed away, leaving her responsible for her mother's care and that of their home.

After Smith, Hall moved to New York City where she attended Columbia University and worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once she obtained her graduate degree in Chinese, she returned to Massachusetts and took a position as Deputy Curator of Far Eastern Art in the Department of Asiatic Arts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Hall worked at the MFA from 1930 until 1941, when she resigned for personal reasons.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Hall, like many others at the time, sought employment with the government. Guidance from her academic friends and colleagues, led her to apply for a position in the Far Eastern Division of the newly created Office of Strategic Services where her background in Chinese would be beneficial.  In March 1943, Hall began her career with the OSS, first as a research analyst and by war's end in radio intercept.

Nearly from the start, Hall was interested the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Treasures in the War Areas of the American Council of Learned Societies. As a member of the American Oriental Institute, the oldest learned society in the United States, she had close ties to those involved. In December 1943, Hall wrote to Professor Paul Sachs at the Fogg Museum, expressing her interest in joining the organization especially as it focused on the Pacific.

Before its dissolution in 1946, requests were made to have Hall transferred from the OSS to the MFAA, and she in essence became a consultant for the Roberts Commission. Hall's role was vital as a liaison between the Roberts Commission, the MFAA and the US Department of State on matters related to Asian art in the Far East; she even drafted principles of restitution for the Far East, similar to those enacted in Germany after the war.

Once the MFAA officially ceased operation, Hall was once again transferred, this time to the Department of State, where she tenaciously and diligently worked to protect cultural heritage and ensure that stolen objects were returned to their rightful owners. Her efforts are memorialized in the record group entitled Art Looting and Nazi Germany: Records of the Fine Arts and Monuments Adviser, Ardelia Hall, 1945-1961 housed at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Hall's work was not limited to looting during World War II.  While with the State Department, her efforts were turned toward protecting cultural treasures in Korea during the Korean War (1950 – 1953). Hall retired from the State Department in 1964 and died in Massachusetts on September 4, 1979.

 

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