The American Ambulance of Paris
at the Lycée Pasteur

It would not be long before the wartime "child" far outgrew its peaceful "parent" institution in size and fame! The American Ambulance became a focus of American volunteer activity in both France and the United States---and attracted widespread attention.


It is really more than an achievement. It is, in a sense, a masterpiece that we are about to contemplate.

Some fifteen years ago, our friends from the United States founded an American Hospital at Neuilly. They have now just made an "annex," which they modestly call the "Ambulance Section" of the American Hospital. This section is nothing less than the magnificent Lycée Pasteur School building, absolutely new, in fact, not entirely completed in certain parts, but splendidly situated in the beautiful Neuilly Park near Paris.

This spacious building was, of course, appropriated by the military authorities immediately after the order for the mobilisation of the French troops. To what use should it be put? Who was destined to occupy it?

The Americans in Paris at once asked that this honor be accorded to them, freely offering to bear all the expense entailed. In a few weeks, without noise, but with ardent devotion, intelligence and perfection of method, which could not be surpassed, they transformed the Lycée Pasteur into a model military hospital.

The Committee which organized this work took possession of the premises about August 10th. One of the eminent gentlemen on the Committee said: "We know what our fathers did for Paris in 1870, and we shall try to be worthy of them."

They certainly are. The appeal made by these earnest and generous men to their compatriots in Paris and in the United States has, in the space of five weeks, produced six hundred thousand francs ($120,000). They say: "We want three millions" ($600,000), and they will surely get them.

But the raising of money, even though it run into millions, is not everything. The knowledge of its judicious use is equally necessary, and here again the founders of the Ambulance Section have been equal to their task. The day after the Lycée Pasteur was confided to their hands, they set themselves to work, the first thing being to. adapt the immense building advantageously to their purpose. Some forty rooms designed for the work of students were transformed into dormitories; communicating directly with these dormitories were arranged the rooms necessary for the multitudinous accessories which go to make up the complex service of a thoroughly organized hospital. Some of these rooms when taken over were in an unfinished condition; but this obstacle was soon overcome. Workmen were obtained, glaziers, painters and others, to complete the work which the war had suddenly interrupted.

In a few days all was completed, and an entire wing of the great Lycée building became, by skilful transformation, the American Ambulance Section. Its creation thus accomplished, it only remained to provide for the immediate fulfillment of its mission. This took even less time.

While the automobile service for the transportation of the wounded from the battlefield was rapidly organized, every preparation was made for their reception; the operating rooms were made ready with all their accessories; there. were stocks of linen and other necessaries in profusion, baths, kitchens, everything was equipped, and ... over and above this brilliant array of material things, there stood, as the crowning element of the work, the professional staff. Those who have given themselves to this noble work are indeed of the élite, an incomparable group, at the head of which figure sixteen physicians and surgeons, some of whom are of great renown.

Under the direction of these physicians and surgeons there are some forty men attendants and about double that number of nurses. More than thirty of these women hold diplomas; these are professionals of recognized capacity, and nearly all come from excellent American families.

The others are volunteers, ladies and young women of the American colony in Paris whose generosity, elegance and cordiality, we have so often admired, and who now, appearing before us in a new sphere, give proof of what "ladies of society" are capable of in the way of fortitude and self-sacrifice, when they are resolved to meet the exigencies of a situation demanding that they be women in the highest acceptation of the term.

Without the slightest trace of coquetry, with smiling faces, but with the utmost attention to their tasks, they move from place to place ministering to the needs of the helpless victims of this atrocious war, attending scrupulously to the most humble duties which fall to them. Some, unknown to me, were pointed out, but others I recognized, and among them were some of the queens of American society in Paris.

The staff of men attendants and others connected with the service is equally interesting; for example, the ambulance section has two door keepers (concierges), one is a rich retired American, and the other an American artist of repute and a Knight of the Legion of Honor! Occupied in the kitchen we find a prominent club man of the colony, and attached to dormitory service a financier whose business has been entirely interrupted by the war. And so on, there are other striking examples.

One of the surgeons said to me: "What does it matter what one does? Every task may become a noble one; you know the proverb, the man glorifies the work." And indeed this truth found ample demonstration, for I had just a little while before seen a well known lawyer of the colony, a most agreeable personality, in hospital costume, sleeves rolled up, engaged in making the bed of one of the wounded soldiers.

The American Section is one of the first auxiliary hospitals to which the wounded were brought. There were 240 last week and it is expected the number will reach 300 to-day. They are only too anxious to receive them. As to their resources---it is hoped at least---that they will reach large proportions : the Lycée Pasteur certainly affords the space.

I referred above to the arrangements for transporting the wounded from the battlefield every day by means of automobiles. These consist of a dozen or more light rolling vehicles, adapted so as to take, side by side, two wounded soldiers; besides the conductor there is an attendant on each auto, and all are under the direction of the accompanying physicians. Upon the return of the transports each wounded soldier is carefully examined and is then taken to one or another of the rooms for the particular treatment which his condition requires. In some cases an immediate operation may be necessary, and in such an event everything is ready.

A bath is given the patient if circumstances permit; if not, he is washed as completely and as carefully as possible. He is then taken to his bed and allowed to repose as long a time as necessary. Then others, whose services are of the greatest importance, minister to his relief and comfort: the barber, the pedicure, and finally the dentist.

Most of these poor soldiers have been unable for days and even weeks sometimes to give their mouths any attention. They come in with their teeth and their gums in a frightful state, which demands urgent and skilful treatment It is interesting to note, however, that our African soldiers (that is, the natives) are a striking exception in this respect. The African soldier has always with him, even in battle, small bits of wood which he mechanically and continually applies to his teeth and gums. One of the physicians told me that, due to this practice; the Arab will come out of the most terrible ordeals with his teeth perfectly white and his mouth in a healthy condition.

Consideration is given to the grouping of the soldiers, as it were, in little circles: there are rooms for officers, others for noncommissioned officers and soldiers. The wounded German soldiers, prisoners of war, are separated from the others; but throughout the hospital, the French and the English, from a mutual desire, fraternize. Reading matter is given them in abundance; a general in a state of convalescence was observed studying a map spread out before him and commenting upon the latest military operations.

One is impressed by the calm which pervades the entire hospital. In every room with its high white walls, an atmosphere of peace and comfort reigns, and already many of the faces reflect an expression of security and contentment. In their light colored pyjamas,, some of the wounded appear like sportsmen reposing after their rough encounters.

The military section of the American Hospital is governed by a committee of five persons, under whose authority are brought all the branches of service. Each one of this. committee, in his turn, assumes charge one day in five. He becomes the "officer of the day." and, as such, gives all necessary orders and assumes the responsibility of the direction of affairs during his day of duty. By this system the perfect order which prevails is easily explained. There is no conflict of authority: every one is in his place and knows who is in charge and to whom he owes obedience. This plan of rotation enables each member of the Directing Committee to acquaint himself with the smallest details of the service, since one day out of five it devolves upon him to manage the entire organization.

Who are these men? And who are their collaborators? It would give me much pleasure to name them; but I must refrain. These men of heart and generosity, inspired by the noble purpose to be in 1914, as they have expressed it, worthy of the Americans in 1870, desire that their names be not mentioned.

They will, at least, permit me to name here their chief, His Excellency Myron T. Herrick, the American Ambassador, who has been the guiding spirit of this magnificent enterprise. We ought never to forget it; it will always be for us an added joy to evoke it in our recollections; for, toward certain men, gratitude is the most agreeable of all duties.

Paris "Figaro," September 21st, 1914.

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The two outstanding movements of American Relief during the War were both of them due to Mr. Herrick's initiative; they were the American Relief Clearing House, and the American Ambulance Hospital, which latter was the parent of the American Ambulance Field Service. The word ambulance in French has as its primary meaning a military hospital, a mobile unit of hospitalisation which follows the army; and from that came the secondary use of the word as meaning any military hospital, as also the vehicles used for the transport of the wounded. The permanent American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine with which so many Americans are gratefully familiar, with its fine buildings and beautiful gardens, was chartered by the French Government in 1906; and in 1913 it was chartered by Act of Congress of the United States. In August 1914 there was opened that great American gift to France which was announced as, "A large Hospital for the wounded of every nation"; it was the work of Ambassador Herrick at its start, and the first gifts toward it were made by Mrs. Herrick. At the outset it was under the aegis of the Board of Governors of The American Hospital, and the direct control of the Hospital was placed by them in the hands of a governing body to be known as The Ambulance Committee. This Board of Management as originally named were H. H. Harjes, L. V. Benet, Chas. Carroll, F. W. Monahan, L. V. Twyeffort, and S. N. Watson; and by the mutual agreement of all concerned I was named Chairman of the Ambulance Committee. The French Government assigned for the use of this Hospital the buildings of the Lycée Pasteur at Neuilly; and amongst my papers (now in the Watson Collection at Stanford University) there is a copy of the official acceptance of the Hospital by the Government addressed to me as Chairman of the Ambulance Committee, and signed by General Février as head of the Service de Santé. The vast buildings of the Lycée Pasteur which surrounded a hollow square were unfinished at the time that we took them over; there were no doors, windows, plumbing, baths, heating, electricity; there were no kitchens, and the floors in general were covered with plaster; such was the condition of the plant on the day that Charlie Carroll and I went there to locate the offices and to plan for the beginning of administrative work. In a wonderfully brief time we completed the buildings for hospital use, and installed our first floor beds. One evening shortly after this was accomplished there came a telephone call; "message of immediate importance from the Chef du Service de Santé for Monsieur le Président of the American Ambulance." "Yes, mon Général."---"You will please make ready to receive 300 wounded to-night."---"But, mon Général, we have but 100 beds as yet." And the reply came back, short and sharp---"Beds! who is talking about beds? it is wounded soldiers I am talking about; if you have not beds put them on straw on the floor." Here was an old campaigner talking, who knew all about war and wounded men who had been lying by the roadside for days, possibly, with no change in their first-aid dressings. (We saw plenty of that in the days which followed.) And we, only civilians as yet with our American ideas of what a Hospital should be, and of sanitary measures in times of peace, we were what the British would have called "a mite fussy" in those days; yet I believe that it was the result of just that attitude that the Ambulance Américaine de Neuilly became a model among the hospitals of the War, so that men and even generals asked to be sent there.

Samuel N. Watson. Those Paris Years. 1936. Book II, Chapter 12.

* * * * *

We went out, one day in August, to visit the Lycée Pasteur, the unfinished school which the French government had permitted the Americans to use. There were no doors and no windows in the unfinished building. Heaps of plaster lay everywhere and it all looked very forlorn. Mr. Charles Carroll joined us and he and my husband decided on the location of the offices; ---and so the great work was begun. I am happy to see you so interested in the "beginnings" of which I write. The board met for weeks in the offices of the National Radiator Company and there also Mr. Monahan and Mr. Twyfort began their loyal service to the sick and wounded, a service that was greatly to America's credit.


Paris, August 13th, 1914.

Europe, being convulsed by the greatest struggle ever experienced, we as neutrals, have undertaken the equipment and maintenance of a large hospital for the wounded of every nation, following the glorious example of Minister Washburn. The leading Americans are collecting funds for this purpose. They entreat donations. Checks should be sent directly to Herman Harjes, Treasurer, care of Morgan, Harjes et Cie, 31 Boulevard Haussman, Paris. Any donations of the smallest amount will be gratefully received by

Signed---(                        )


Mrs. A. M. Thackara, Chairman.
Mrs. Griswold Gray Mrs. Frederick Allen
Mrs. James Burden Mrs. Francis Carolan
Mrs. Charles Carroll Mrs. LeGrand Benedict
Mrs. George Blumenthal Mrs. Spencer Cosby
Mrs. Samuel N. Watson Mrs. Claus Spreckles
Mrs. C. W. Cuyler

Mrs. Thackara, whom you all know, was General Sherman's daughter and the wife of the American Consul in Paris. She proved herself a most efficient chairman and almost immediately after her appointment we had all given her long lists of names of persons to whom we thought our appeals should be sent. The first response from my own list of names was from Mr. Bertram G. Work; the second came from Mr. and Mrs. Nelson C. Stone. Long before funds began to come from America, Americans living in France were pledging their gifts to the hospital. You must remember, too, that the first suggestion for this American gift to France was made by Mr. Herrick and the first gifts for it were given by Mrs. Herrick.

The permanent American Hospital in Paris was organized in 1906 and in that same year it was incorporated under French law. A bill for the Hospital was voted by Congress and signed by the President of the United States on January 30th, 1913. The Board of Governors were: John H. Harjes, President; John J. Hoff, 1st vice-President; W. S. Dalliba, 2nd vice-President; H. H. Harjes, Treasurer; Henry Cachard, Honorary Secretary; S. F. Biddle, Dr. C. W. DuBouchet, L. Huffer, C. Treis, Dr. Crosby Whitman, Frank H. Mason, Dr. E. Gros, Dr. A. J. Magnin, L. V. Twyfort, F. W. Monahan, W. S. Hillis, F. W. Sharon, H. A. Van Bergen, Dr. R. H. Turner.

Never mind if it bores us a little to read lists of names. It is a 'Roll of Honor' and every name spells all that is America's ideal manhood to France.

As soon as the creation of the Ambulance was decided upon a special board of Managers was appointed, composed of Mr. F. W. Monahan, Mr. H. H. Harjes, Mr. L. V. Twyfort, Mr. L. V. Benet, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Dr. Samuel N. Watson and, ex-officio, the President and Vice-President of the American Hospital. During all these tremendous days of August the work of preparing for this Ambulance went steadily forward. How the men and women worked! Aeroplanes over our heads even in daytime; steel arrows coming down in most unexpected places and at all sorts of hours; and always, always, we went about feeling that the whole thing must be a wild dream.

On the 27th of August, 1914, France, through her "Gouvernement Militaire," sent her gracious acceptance of the proposed gift.

It was in August that I pinned the badge of the Ambulance on my husband's sleeve: a white band, with a red cross, the letters A. A. and the seal of the Military Government of Paris. When I was little I used to read with absorbed interest and a beating heart the stories of the Knights and Crusaders; used to read of how wives and sweethearts used their own silken tresses to embroider devices on the Knights' banners; and here was I fastening a band on my own Knight's sleeve and watching him walk out under the Stars and Stripes through the cloisters of Holy Trinity Church, going to work and to stand for God and the Right. It was thrilling and I was proud. So are you, proud of him and of all our countrymen who did not wait one instant when the chance came to serve.

Jeannette Grace Watson. "Our Sentry Go." Chicago, 1924.

* * * * *

The "Ambulance" was organized into departments---or committees---such as the Nursing Committee (headed by Mrs. Vanderbilt) or the Transportation Committee (led by Frank Mason). The medical activities were soon subdivided into Wards, sponsored by American medical institutions and staffed by their doctors. Within this structure, a "chain of command" preserved the legality of all action. The Transportation Committee, for instance, answered to the Ambulance Committee, the latter subject to the authority of the Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris. Monies earmarked for the purchase of ambulances nonetheless first transited the special Ambulance fund in the accounts of the American Hospital.

The "romance" of the Ambulance----and its appeal to donators back in the United States----began with its setting: the Lycée Pasteur.

In June last, driving home from the Bois, I noticed a beautiful building in process of construction at Neuilly ----a very good example of a château of the time of François Premier, pink bricks and white filling, turrets, terraces, etc. I was told it was the Lycée Pasteur, a high school for boys, supposedly to open in the month of October to receive the young students. Little did I think what a different aspect the place would wear when I should see it again on the day when I drove up to offer my services as a Red Cross nurse! All along the front now were the ranged khaki-coloured motor ambulances, all bearing the sign of the inevitable Red Cross.
I pushed the door open and went myself in search of Mrs. Vanderbilt. [...] I have always wanted to know Mrs. Vanderbilt. The first thing I ever heard about her was that she was doing good. It impressed me in a vague way. And then I heard again that she was doing more and greater good; until finally she grew to stand for me as someone constantly doing good everywhere - a most enviable reputation!
When I pushed open that door at the American Ambulance and went in and found myself actually standing before Mrs. Vanderbilt, without any introduction, I did not realise even then that a long-looked-for moment had come. Even in that moment, I forgot who she was in my desire to become sensibly part of that great machine, the American Ambulance; and I forgot that the quiet, dignified woman in her nurse's dress was the great and celebrated Mrs. Vanderbilt. [...] I told her I had made some studies in Red Cross work and that I wanted to join the auxiliaries here. Mrs. Vanderbilt was president of the auxiliaries and had the whole corps under her charge.

Mary Van Vorst, War Letters of an American Woman, John Lane, NY 1916, pp 106-107

The new American Ambulance would not want for work: what had been intended to be a high school began life as a 600 bed hospital! (It should be noted that, down the street, its administrative master, the American Hospital,only housed 24 beds and in fact did set up tents in its garden!) Meanwhile, the actual Lycée Pasteur ---- a school without a building---- held its classes in various boarding houses and cafés around Neuilly, up until the end of the war.

The Neuilly Lycée, whose opening under Principal Fleureau had been slated for October 1, 1914, was transformed from the outset of the 1914-1918 war into an auxiliary military hospital managed by Americans.

Until America herself entered the war, the entire personnel of this hospital was comprised of volunteers. This was the case when, one June day in 1917, I was transported in rather poor condition to a ground floor classroom overlooking Rue Perronet. There were a dozen of us there, all badly wounded (since in principle at the American Ambulance, the only people there were those who truly needed to be!) The material organization was perfect, a meticulous cleanliness reigned supreme, with scrubbing commencing at seven in the morning. In each room (a classroom, in principle), there were two nurses and a male attendant. - a luxury of personnel and means, to be sure, which were unknown in French military hospitals ; so we were spoiled and all the much so as our medical condition required more care. After the hell of the front lines, this was paradise!

M. Lasserre,in 1914-1989, Soixante-Quinzième Anniversaire du Lycée Pasteur, Lycée Pasteur, private edition Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1989

  Ambulance slideshow

Organizing the American Ambulance.

C. Bentley Mott, Myron T. Herrick, Friend of France, New York: Doubleday, 1929. Chapter XIX.

"Every American in Paris seemed especially interested in the hospital. He or she not only worked, subscribed, or did both, but stirred up friends at home, starting that wonder flow of funds which never ceased."

Notes and quotations from the official records of the Board of Governors of the American Hospital and the Ambulance Committee, from August 1914 to April 1915, and from the Samuel B. Watson Collection at the Hoover Institute.

Harvey Cushing. From a Surgeon's Journal, 1915-1918. Boston: Little, Brown, 1936.

"The converted Lycée Pasteur, now the Ambulance Americaine, is not far from the Porte Maillot, and as we approached it along the Boulevard d'Inkermann it was immediately recognizable: the handsome school building with its courtyard full of Ford motor ambulances, over which a bevy of uniformed drivers, youngsters from home, for the most part-were tinkering, some freshly arrived chasses being newly assembled. A row of patients and nurses waved a welcome from the upper terraces; Blake and others of the permanent staff, most of them in khaki, greeted us below."

Abbé Félix Klein. The Diary of a French Chaplain. Chicago: McClurg, 1915

"It's really beautiful, a ward for the wounded, with its snow-white beds; its glass tables; its great bays full of light, its spotless floors and walls; with its rolling shelves of dressings, remedies, disinfectants; with its nurses, both eager and calm; always smiling and yet so serious, watching over everything flying noiselessly from place to place; and, lastly, with its patients well combed and washed; newly-shaved, easy, rested, some dozing, others entertained by some light reading, or smiling from afar at a visitor.

"But what suffering and endurance is hidden beneath these quiet looks, and at the cost of what strength of mind they can be kept up, only betrayed here and there by a stifled moan or the involuntary contraction of features which the least movement causes, a passer-by, even with the softest of hearts, could not guess, if he had not had the sad privilege of being present at the time of wound-dressing."

Nicole Fouché, Le mouvement perpétuel, histoire de l'Hôpital américain de Paris 1906-1989, Toulouse: Erès, 1992

"En temps de guerre, les hôpitaux militaires sont presque toujours installés dans des locaux scolaires ou dans des bâtiments religieux. A Neuilly même, dès que la mobilisation fut connue, le "Comité des dames françaises" obtint, de la municipalité et des ministres de la Guerre et de l'Instruction publique, l'autorisation d'installer un hôpital dans les locaux de l'école maternelle et dans ceux de l'école de filles de l'avenue du Roule. Chez les religieuses de Saint-Thomas-de-Villeneuve, un hôpital dépendant de la Croix-Rouge fut créé. Il fonctionna à partir du 1er septembre 1914. Dès novembre, une annexe fut ouverte à l'asile San-Fernando, 121, boulevard Bineau. De tous ces hôpitaux, l'Ambulance américaine est le plus important. Il faut dire que les locaux du lycée Pasteur, boulevard d'Inkermann à Neuilly, sont à proprement parler monumentaux.

"L'idée de construire un lycée de garçons à Neuilly remonte à 1893. Elle fut plusieurs fois abandonnée. Entre 1907 et 1912, un projet très ambitieux fut élaboré et discuté entre l'Etat, le département et la ville. Le 28 juin 1912, le conseil municipal de Neuilly choisit le nom du célèbre biologiste français pour le futur lycée, et, le 6 juillet 1912, la première pierre fut posée. La construction de cette immense bâtisse dura deux ans. Tout devait être terminé pour la rentrée scolaire de l'automne 1914. En fait, aucun élève ne foulera le sol du lycée avant 1919, car les locaux, qui n'étaient pas encore achevés, passèrent, dès août 1914, aux mains des architectes américains qui les transformèrent immédiatement en hôpital. Ils y installèrent des salles d'opération, de radiographie, un laboratoire, des étuves, des chambres d'isolement, des salles communes, des chambres individuelles, une cuisine, une lingerie... Tout fut agencé selon les derniers perfectionnements de la science et de la technique médicales. Deux cent cinquante lits furent vite disponibles. Par la suite, leur nombre passa à six cents."

James R. Judd. With the American Ambulance in France. Honolulu, 1919.

"Going up the Champs Elysées, past the Arc de Triomphe and along the Avenue des Grandes Armées one comes to the Porte Maillot. Passing through this gate one enters the suburb of Neuilly and is now officially out of Paris. As the taxi drivers can claim an extra rate of fare after passing through the gate, we used to pay off the driver at the gate, walk through and take another taxi to drive to the Ambulance. That was in the early days. Later on we learned to economize by going on the tram or metro for 30 centimes.

"At the beginning of the war a splendid new school building, the Lycée Pasteur, was reaching completion. The Board of Governors of the American Hospital in Paris offered to the French government to maintain a hospital for the care of wounded soldiers for the duration of the war, and this building was assigned to them. It should not be forgotten that in the war of 1870 the Americans of Paris organized and maintained an American ambulance which rendered valuable service.

"By completing the equipment and installing the necessary hospital furniture, it was found that the Lycée Pasteur lended itself admirably for the purpose of a hospital. The construction of the building with plenty of windows, splendid lighting and ventilation rendered it an ideal hospital building, and it is doubtful if among the 4,000 or more war hospitals in France, there is a finer institution. There are accommodations for 600 patients in round numbers with large wards and small wards for officers and special cases. A number of the wards are maintained by contributions from different cities and states, and this fact is designated by names over the doorways----New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Virginia, Rhode Island and others are there. We hope there will be a "Hawaii Ward" some day."