"Who knows?" Piatt Andrew wrote Isabella Stewart Gardner from shipboard on Christmas night of 1914, "we may spend the winter carting the groceries from Paris to Neuilly." He had volunteered to drive an ambulance for the American Hospital in France, but beyond that his prospects were utterly uncertain. Yet within months he was to organize and direct an ambulance service that would serve virtually the entire French army until after America's entry into World War I.
While the Battle of the Marne ground to a stalemate that fall, Piatt Andrew was embroiled in his first congressional campaign, seeking to unseat a fellow Republican (and nephew of "Mrs. Jack"), August Peabody Gardner, as representative for Essex County in Massachusetts. Although he enlivened his vote-getting activities by resorting to a hydroplane (a sensation in those days) to tour the North Shore from Swampscott to Newburyport, he took a severe drubbing at the hands of the "Gardner machine" in the primary election on September 21, 1914. And so the forty-one-year-old bachelor, ex-Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, ex-director of the United States Mint, and ex-professor of economics at Harvard, was free to close his house in Gloucester and go off to war.
"I am relying on you, " Andrew wrote Robert Bacon, "to find me work with the American Hospital in Paris." Bacon, who had served Pierpont Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft in a succession of key positions, was president of the hospital. Luckily, he owed Andrew a favor for having employed his son, Robert Low Bacon, as personal assistant in the Treasury Department during the Taft administration. But there was no vacancy in the management hierarchy of the hospital, and the best Bacon could suggest was a job in its motor pool as a volunteer driver.
In early 1915, Andrew --- a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, who had studied abroad in France and Germany, who had been the treasurer of the American Red Cross and its representative at the International Congress of 1912 ----would assume the humble role of an ambulance driver.
Six weeks as an ambulance driver in Dunkerque and environs early in 1915 gave Andrew his first whiffs of cordite, as well as practical knowledge of the problems of vehicle maintenance, spare parts, and ambulance design (the adapted Model-T Ford turned out to be by far the most suitable), and posed the question of a wider role for him. Meanwhile the Transport Committee continued to administer the service, not lead it - proving helpless in the face of the major obstacle to the expansion of the service. The French Army authorities remained adamant - --no volunteers of any sort to be permitted near the front lines.[...]
Returning to Neuilly that March, Andrew faced Bacon with the crucial proposal. He, Andrew, could overcome this obstacle, provided Bacon backed him against any objections by the Transport Committee or by any of the doctors. Bacon rose to the occasion by creating a new position and according it a resonant title. Henceforth, Andrew could call himself "Inspector General of the American Ambulance Field Service." The term "field service" was artfully designed to distinguish its activities from those of the hospital itself - and survives to this day in the acronym by which one of the leading student exchange programs in the world acknowledges its martial origins.
Andrew Gray, "The Birth of the American Field Service", in Laurels, vol 59, n°1, New York: American Society of the French Legion of Honor, 1988, pp 12-14.
Abram Piatt Andrew then took his case directly to the French Army.
When Doc arrived in France he found the American Hospital had a detachment of ambulances to do evacuation work, and some cars back of the front in Belgium. The French had no idea of allowing neutrals any closer. But Andrew saw something that no one at that time could visualize. He saw Americans sharing hardships, danger, mixing with the soldiers at the front. He knew what a link that would be between America and France. He would not be rebuffed, and found his way to French Headquarters, where he had a friend, Gabriel Puaux. He pleaded with him of the great morale effect of having these Americans at the front and finally got permission to go to Commandant de Montravel, then stationed in the east. Here again he had to use the force of his argument that he wasn't interested simply in getting a few more men to the front, but that its importance lay in that it would attract more and more American youths to come to France. He won his point, and the Service aux Armées de l'Ambulance Américaine became a reality.
'Doc' Andrew had prompted the French Army to open the doors of their Transportation Service to a wide array of foreign "sanitary sections", not only those detached from the American Ambulance, but Harjes' group and Norton's corps among many others. The American units were classified SSU("Section Sanitaire USA"), the British: SSA ("Section Sanitaire Anglaise.")
In honor of Andrew's initiative and of the pioneer work of the American Ambulance sections, the first four SSU numbers designated the Field Service units. The Harjes Formation was given numbers 5 and, later, 11. Norton's corps were numbered 6 & 7. Subsequent Field Service units were assigned numbers 8, 9, 10, 12, etc...
The new organization meant that all the foreign Sanitary Sections would serve directly with French combat units, as part of the Automobile Service's evacuation system for wounded soldiers.
Henceforth, there were two organizations governing the Ambulance's new"sanitary sections":
1. The Field Service, still anchored legally and financially to the American Ambulance, still headquartered at the Lycée Pasteur ---with branches in the United States--- responsible for furnishing and coordinating men and materiel.
2. The French Army Transportation Service, which assigned officers to all the SSU units, furnishing supplies and overseeing operations.
"Going to France in December 1914, he secured from the French Army authorization for American volunteer ambulance units to serve with the French divisions at the front, and with American volunteers as drivers, and with cars purchased from American donations, he built up an organization known as the American Field Service."
"Treasure House of the Unusual and of War Mementos is Red Roof", inNorth Shore Breeze, Oct. 6, 1922.
"THIS is not a house; it is a passion!" In some such phrase as this a visitor at "Red Roof," Eastern Point, East Gloucester, exclaimed when once going through the home of Congressman A. Piatt Andrew. The phrase does aptly fit the place, for everywhere you may turn there is a surprise; but the surprise always is one that adds to the interest and to the comfort of the place. Instinctively anyone would sense that "Red Roof" is a man's home, and that a man's hand guided its course, for everywhere there is the souvenir or the trophy or the memento that to man's heart carries infinite appeal. And there are ingenious creature comforts, too.
Another protégé --- no, a friend --- was the magnetically handsome, aquiline-featured Harvard economist Piatt Andrew of the dark and searching eyes, who was to rise and fall so rapidly in President Taft's Treasury Department and personal favor. Soon after it opened, Doc was introduced to Mrs. Gardner at Fenway Court by their mutual friend Cecilia Beaux, the interesting and very definite portrait artist from Philadelphia who, like Piatt, was a recent discoverer of Eastern Point. Bachelor Andrew in 1903 was just occupying his strangely dark and Gothic cottage "Red Roof," honeycombed with secret rooms, hidden passages, bedchamber peepholes and unexpected mirrors, and hosting such favored Harvard "ec" students as Franklin D. Roosevelt. His neighbor, Joanna Davidge, the cultured and precisely precious proprietress of Miss Davidge's Classes for young ladies in New York, was moving into hers, with her Mama.
"Bo" soon bought land beyond Joanna (both were ten years older than Doc, who was thirty-three years younger than Isabella) and moved into her "Green Alley" (for the allées she had cut through the underbrush) with its nearby studio in 1906. That was the year Bo's irresistible friend, Caroline Sinkler, the Enchantress of Philadelphia, bought her cottage on the other side of "Red Roof." To the Carolina manor born, Carrie had worn and surrounded herself with Southern lavender since the winter day in 1896 when her betrothed, the architect John Stewardson, drowned while skating on the Schuylkill, and would forever mourn with enchanting grace.
And that was the same spring, 1906, that the soft-faced interior decorator with the hatpin wit, Henry Davis Sleeper, met Piatt Andrew, same age, same nonmarital status, and was invited down to "Red Roof" for the first time. Within three years Harry had bought the lot next over from the Lavender Lady on the other side ---and moved with his Mama into the dramatically promising core of his great house-museum, "Beauport."
Mrs. Gardner was invited down in September of 1907 by Piatt Andrew, or her first visit to this acronymic little community-within-a-community of masters and misses on the magic Gloucester Harbor shore of Eastern Point, self-styled "Dabsville" by the stylists of self.
On returning to her Brookline estate, "Y" (as soon she would be to all in her relation to Andrew) wrote "A" (as he would be to her) a rushing, gushing note: "In a few hours, what a change! The land change does not make one into something rich & strange --- alas! Your village is Fogland with the sea's white arms about you all. Don't let outsiders crawl in --- only me! For I care. I love its rich, strange people, so faraway . . . ."
Perhaps the strongest bond linking the group at Eastern Point to Mrs. Gardner was the gift for self-dramatization which often found expression in costume parties. "I was made to wear a robe of a Roman emperor, with jewelled filet, and seated on a throne of red velvet," Piatt Andrew reported on one such occasion. "Mrs. Gardner sat opposite on a less imposing throne of purple with a large Y in gold. The air of the studio was heavy with incense and tuberoses; the table was gorgeous with old rose damask and wreathes of fruit."
Thank you for the words "I treasure our friendship & want it to last."---Indeed it must & shall for it is real, I believe. I have so much to thank you for. My greatest pleasures---Red Roof means joy to me--- & I count on you always.
Louise Hall Tharp. Mrs. Jack. A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Boston: Little Brown. 1965.
A. Piatt Andrew was not a new friend, for he and Mrs. Gardner had met in 1903. The close friendship between them, however, was just now to develop. On April 15, 1903, Andrew had written to his parents: "Today has been a gala day for me! Today the Board of Overseers confirmed the votes of President and Fellows and I was made assistant professor of economics for five years. I think I am about the youngest professor in the University! . . ." The university was Harvard. Andrew was thirty.
"Today I had another delightful experience. Through Miss Beaux's ingenious machinations, I was invited by Mrs. Jack Gardner to visit her new Fenway Court with Miss Beaux and Miss Irwin (Dean of Radcliffe) and Harry Drinker" --- who was Miss Beaux's nephew. "We drove out there and were received at the entrance by Mrs. Gardner herself who showed us the wonderful place from top to bottom."
A. Piatt Andrew said he had "never seen any house in the world as beautiful ... from the dreamlike courtyard with its fountains and ancient statues, and its palms and orchids and exotic plants, to the shrine . . . with its magnificent old choir stalls and altar where Mrs. Gardner in royal manner, has services on Christmas and other holy days
Dear Mother and Father:
I have been turning things over in my mind lately and have about decided that I must go over to France for a few months. There are many reasons for -doing so, the possibility of, having even an infinitesimal part in one of the greatest events in all history --- the possibility of being of some service in the midst of so much distress --- the interest of witnessing some of the scenes in this greatest and gravest of spectacles --- and above all the chance of doing the little all that one can for France.
It is given to some men to exercise a profound influence for good in the world, and yet to remain almost unknown. It is their due, however, for record to be made of their great deeds and I therefore highly value this opportunity of placing upon record some of the services which Abram Piatt Andrew has rendered to the world.