The Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt

BLÉRANCOURT AND ITS CHATEAU

In the summer of the year 593, the armies of Austrasia and Burgundy, led by Brunehaut, the mother of Childebert, marched northwards from Soissons to give battle to the Neustrian army of Fredégonde, the warlike queen of Chilpéric.

The Neustrians, massed in the villages which now are known as Quierzy and Brétigny, surprised the Austrasian sentinels posted on the heights at Saint-Paul-aux-Bois and, advancing before dawn under the cover of branches held before them to conceal their number, Frédégonde's soldiers encircled the army of her rival and put it to rout on the plains surrounding the present-day village of Blérancourt.

The victorious Neustrians pursued the fleeing enemy to Soissons and on to Reims, blazing an early trail of pillage and ruin along the lonely hillsides of the Chemin des Dames, a trail which has widened with the years.

Thirty thousand of Brunehaut's men-at-arms fell, according to Saint Denis, on that far-off day when Frank fought Frank on the fields of Blérancourt at the whim of a woman, while the proud Empire of Clovis was falling to decay, the Merovingian power declining and a disguised revolution in the Franco-Gallic government paving the way for the rise of Pépin of Héristal and for the triumphs, later, of Charles Martel, the Miltiades of modern Europe.

Time, through the centuries, has brought countless wars, each more deadly than its predecessor, to this quiet little village in the west of the Aisne. Every square foot of the two thousand acres within its boundaries has been fought for time and again and there is hardly a stone in the massive walls of its humble dwellings which has not borne the brunt of harquebusade, cannon ball or explosive shell.

The last war, like all the others, brought ruin and terror and tears to Blérancourt. But it brought also a star-dotted flag and a spirit of service. And from these has arisen a vision of peace.

In primitive times the village of Blérancourt, or Blarencurtis was held in fief by the Sieurs of Pierrefonds. Later it came under the sterner sway of the Seigneurs of Coucy who, from their towers, high above the plain, ruled it until the middle of the thirteenth century. Gilbert de Fontaine, in 1250, became the first Seigneur of Blericurtum and his successors held the domaine until 1415 when Charles de Lanvin became its liege lord. In 1547 Francis the First authorized the villagers to hold two fairs annually and a free market each Monday. Such has been done regularly, wars permitting, until this day.

What small material glory this simple village has known came to it in the early seventeenth century when Bernard Potier, the descendant of a Paris furrier who had risen to power at court, celebrated his meteoric rise to wealth and fame by erecting, in 1612, a superb and costly chateau on his preferred estate, that of Blérancourt. Designed by Solomon de Brosse before his Luxembourg in Paris and richly furnished with treasures collected by the duke in his travels to the Indies, the chateau was famous throughout the land.

Henry the Fourth and Marie de Medicis visited their favourite here and legend says the spot known now as the Pont de la Reine has been so called since the queen descended from her carriage there.

During the minority of Louis the Fourteenth Blérancourt was the prey of roving bands of lawless mercenaries and the chateau suffered at their hands. Its glory went out with the Revolution. In 1793 it was confiscated, sold and put to the pick. All that survived was the moat, two mutilated pavilions and two monumental gates one of which still haughtily flaunts the time-battered griffon of the Gesvres.

Henry F. Francis, A Village With a Vision, Paris: Les Amis de Blérancourt, 1924, pp 1-2


Louis Potier de Gesvres had served as Secretary of State to both Henri III and Henri IV. In 1608 the latter presented him with a gift of land to the north of Paris: Blérancourt. The site was already occupied by battlements, which would be torn down before Louis Potier would give the domain to his youngest son, Bernard. Over the next seven years, the young man would build himself a new château, an undertaking completed in 1619. Bernard Potier's wife, née Charlotte de Vieuxpont, was a précieuse, up-to-date on the latest fashions in art and architecture. Her tastes ----plus her father-in-law's connections at the Court--- prompted her to recruit the elite of the profession: the architect would be no less than Salomon de Brosse, assisted by Charles du Ry; for interior decoration and garden façade pediment, the sculptor Barthélémy Tremblay, assisted in the design of his stuccos by painter Martin Fréminet, (who might also have painted the ceiling in the same salon). Tremblay and Fréminet had already contributed towards the decoration of no less than the château of Fontainebleau, whereas Salomon de Brosse, shortly after Blérancourt, would design the Palace of Luxembourg for Catherine de Médicis. It would have been difficult to find more prestigious artists. The construction of the château, in any case, was accompanied by the landscaping of vast grounds graced by flower beds, water basins, walkways, and by the planting of vegetable gardens, orchards, etc.

The Potier family's Paris address was along the fashionable new Place Royale (today, Place des Vosges), where, during the 1630s, the eminent architect, François Mansart, "arranged" their private, red-brick mansion. It is likely that, during the same period, Mansart had his hand in things at Blérancourt, as Charlotte de Vieuxpont financed improvements there up until her death in 1645. In any case, given the quality of work being done at Blérancourt, one can imagine the lavishness of... what has entirely disappeared today.

In fact Bernard Potier died without direct descendants in 1661. The domain was handed down from niece to nephew. But Potier's inheritors lost interest in Blérancourt, an uninhabited secondary residence, not to mention the fact they were unable to manage their money. The château was therefore sold in 1782. Meanwhile, its beautiful furniture had long since found new owners, the silverware had been melted down and the buildings had suffered from long neglect.

In 1792, during the Revolution, the domain was decreed part of the national estate and put on the market as 42 lots, plus the fish in the ponds. But it was not until 1796 that the château found a taker, an entrepreneur who demolished most of the buildings ---already damaged by pillage--- for salvage. The various parcels of what had been the park were put to seed and all the water basins were done away with.

The remaining buildings wasted away during the 19th century and the advent of World War I did not improve matters. The area ---the Aisne --- was 90% destroyed and Blérancourt, mostly under less-than-benevolent German rule, was twice swept by the changing tides of the battlefront.

Véronique Wiesinger, "The Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt: an Overall View," Antiques Magazine, Fall 1991

On May 18, 1917, the Civil Section embarked at New York for Bordeaux. It was comprised of Mrs. Anne Murray Dike, Miss Anne Morgan, Misses Allen, Dolan, Duer, Stevenson, Blagden and Wright. It arrived at the section of the front between the Oise and the Aisne rivers in June. The general in chief, Pétain, installed them in the village of Blérancourt. Nineteen American women would work there, in order to allow those who remained to reconstruct their lives, their villages. Their headquarters was located in the ruins of the old château of the Ducs de Gesvres whose family emblem, the griffin, became that of the Committee.

BLÉRANCOURT IN JUNE 1917

A number of events conspired to bring Anne Morgan to Blérancourt in the early summer of 1917. On both sides of the front, the generals had decided that merciless, total warfare would bring the enemy to its knees. The technique was rapidly developed: "soften" up the adversaries with a rain of artillery shells and/or gas, and then send the troops "over the top" to take what was left of the opposing trenches. This method produced unsatisfactory military results, provoked determined resistance and resulted in incredible losses of human life. But it was difficult to stop such a "machine" once it had got started. Generals replaced generals, but the logic remained the same: in 1916, the battles of Verdun and the Somme were bloodbaths.Now, in early 1917, a new slaughter was in the works: the Chemin des Dames.

General Joffre's plan for a decisive attack was carried forward by his replacement, General Nivelle. The Germans had anticipated a French move and, in March, pulled back from their strongholds overlooking the Aisne River to the new, highly-fortified positions of the Hindenburg line... where they waited.

General Nivelle was replaced by General Pétain on May 16th.The mutinies began on the 17th, affecting 68 out of 112 divisions and reaching their high point during the first week of June: they were rarely violent, but rather cases of insubordination, refusal to obey orders, overall demoralization.

Meanwhile, international news was troubling. To the east, in Russia, a revolution was in progress. The Czar abdicated on March 15th and a provisional government took power. To the west, on April 6th, the United States finally joined the Allies, but virtually without an army. Official estimates were that it would take two years to bring American soldiers to the front.

From April 16-29, General Nivelle went ahead with his attack. It was a failure. Over a quarter million men were lost. The French Army had had enough. When were the Americans going to come to relieve them?

General Pétain's major concern was raising the morale of his troops and he applied a new policy: there would be increased leaves, better food, less heavy drinking... and he would bring some American volunteers to rebuild the fabric of civilian life in the newly-liberated "devastated regions" of the Aisne.

This was where discontent was the greatest as it was where the battle of the Chemin des Dames had been fought. Blérancourt was located slightly to the west, in the wasteland which the Germans had left behind in their pull-back to the Hindenburg Line.

Evelyne Diebolt et Jean-Pierre Laurant, Anne Morgan, une Américaine en Soissonnais (1917-1952), de l'Aisne dévastée à l'action sociale, AMSAM Soissons 1990, p 49

 

AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS

United States neutrality enabled an elite of American men to become heavily involved in volunteer efforts in a field where their French peers were absent, due to their overwhelming preoccupation with war affairs. Diplomats, like Robert Bacon, Myron T. Herrick and William Sharp, financiers like Henry H. Harjes and Ridgeley Carter, business-men like Percy Peixotto and John J. Hoff, or professionals such as Whitney Warren and Edmund Gros, threw themselves body and soul into humanitarian enterprises, the expression, of course, of their Christian idealism, but also the application of a "female" perspective on life, medico-social action being essentially the generalization of what women practice in their role as mothers. Thus, while such men organized and directed this movement with efficiency and with all the power at their disposal, they would be opening the way for future social recognition of "women's work."

The first step towards this recognition was made when the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of these same men became involved. In France, they would find fertile ground for their activities, plus a certain freedom of action generally accorded, out of courtesy, to a foreigner. Although under the Third Republic, wartime France easily reverted to ancient feudal reflexes where it is the custom of women of high rank to practice charity. The newcomers, not loathe to being assimilated to the rank of their French women "cousins," were to demonstrate not only charity, but willpower. Ironic commentary on this subject, justifiably ridiculizing the dilettantism of some of these volunteers, unfortunately tends to pass over a more serious problem: the underlying existential void represented by lack of opportunity for any woman seeking meaningful activity outside well-defined limits. The visiting dames américaines had come from the first generation of women to have benefited from higher education. With the war, they would be able to put their intellectual and financial abilities to good use with the full support of society on both sides of the Atlantic.

Once care for the wounded had been organized, the volunteers turned towards the essential needs of refugees and the work of social reconstruction. In fact, refugees sometimes poured in from the north and the east even before the wounded. More than ten thousand Belgians were brought into the Cirque de Paris. The Secours National fed the crowds. While the children went to nearby schools, young neighborhood girls came to take the toddlers out for walks in the Garden of Luxembourg. Thirty thousand French families offered to take in the children of the evacuated families.

American women participated in these efforts. In November 1914, for example, the celebrated author Edith Wharton and her friends founded the "American Refugee Hostels" which came to the aid of new arrivals, while taking care of some 4,000 refugees on a permanent basis. The American hostels were established in several locations in greater Paris and included a restaurant, workshop, clothing distribution center, school and library. The Committee also ran three houses where rooms were rented at very low prices.

The fate of the refugees was a dramatic illustration of the way that war had shaken society. Beyond the devastated regions, all of France was affected. Representatives of "all the national groups and social forces" formed a "Committee of National Assistance." Soup and mass meals were dished out at a rate of 76,000 portions per day. Cafeteria meals for childcare centers and schools were organized. The establishment of workshops---ouvroirs---enabled women to live from their work. Hundreds of thousands of garments were sewn, innumerable sweaters and socks were knitted. In the first six months of the war, 616 of these ouvroirs were set up in Paris, many of them established by American women, like the wife of Rev. Watson, whose clothing workshop was located on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

In April 1916, upon demand of the Belgian Government, Edith Wharton founded the Oeuvre des Enfants des Flandres ("Action Committee for the Children of Flanders"). There were already too many orphans, widows, blind and handicapped among the victims of the war. A far-away America was moved and a steady flow of contributions was sent to Franco-American and American organizations set up to help: the Phare de France, the American Society for the Relief of French War Orphans, etc.

Amidst this vast medico-social enterprise, the activities of American volunteers did not particularly stand out from those of their French colleagues: everyone was faced with the same terrible human suffering. But after April 1917, when the United States finally entered the war, the particularly American qualities of volunteer work began to appear in France. While some activities were militarized---that is made more streamlined and efficient---under the direction of the American Red Cross, new social services accompanied the arrival of the American troops. In the same spirit as Mrs. Reid's Foyer and Trinity Hall, leisure centers were organized such as the Soldiers and Sailor's Club," to provide healthy alternatives to Paris' notorious "temptations." Cantines and libraries were set up for the soldiers. But above all, this new wave of American volunteers in France brought the extraordinary example of the American Committee for Devastated France, the "CARD".

Alan Albright, "American Volunteerism in France," in The Americans of the Legion of Honor, Véronique Wiesinger, editor, Paris: RMN, 1993, pp 125-126

 

The American Fund for French Wounded

The year 1917 has brought to the American Fund for French Wounded greater responsibilities---greater privileges for doing a noble work among the people who have borne the burden of the world's battle for existence.

Unflagging devotion and unbounded generosity of the women in America has enabled the American Fund in France to carry on these responsibilities.

It has become a watch-word---the "Personal work of the American Fund for French Wounded." This is the keynote of our success---the raison d'être for our existence. We in France are the agents for thousands of American women whose gifts we deliver with a personal word. Does this not count in this blood-stained country and maelstrom of combatting forces. Indeed yes! The friends that have been won by the personal effort of the American Fund for French Wounded; the Entente that has been created by the bond between the "Giver in the United States" and the "Recipient in a lonely village of France," is worth far more than time and money bestowed upon this effort---a hundred times over.

Our activities have broadened since last year through the exigencies of war. We came to care for the wounded only, but after the wholesale evacuation last year of Noyon, Chauny, Ham, Nesle, etc., when poor helpless victims of German bondage were driven from their lands, we had to think of the mother, the wife, the baby of the soldier. As these unfortunates fled from their homes the American Fund stood ready with practical help and a woman's sympathy. Vestiaires were started; little children were given medical attention, and from this grew the Department of Dispensaries which now form part of our Hospital work. In many of our country Depots where one finds a miniature "Alcazar," supplies are found for hospital and refugee alike. To this is added a modern Dispensary where a cheerful American nurse with willing helpers holds regular clinics for hundreds of little ones and their mothers, wounded or physically undermined by three years of war, privation: perhaps mal-treatment and constant suffering.

Thus the American Fund for French Wounded shows a different financial report this year, and the increased demands for "Emergencies" and "Dispensaries" may grow as time goes on; and in order that the reputation won for the American Fund for French Wounded (that no Emergency knock is unheard at its door) may continue to be deserved. The war seems fiercer than ever as the year advances, and we ask the whole-hearted cooperation of those generous contributors who have made of your work a monument of personal messages to the people of France from the women of America.

The day may come when our own men will perhaps be found within the walls of the French hospitals. For three years the American Fund for French Wounded has ministered to the wants of their brethren in this land of France; now may come the chance of smoothing the brow of our own kin whose fate brings him to a cot in a far away French hospital. Should that hour arrive, the treasury of this Society may have to double its columns and no mother will begrudge the added contribution she may send us for the coming year, in hope that one day her boy may share the benefits which our intimacy with the French will bring to him in his hour of suffering.

Isabel Stevens Lathrop, Annual Report of the Paris Depot, AFFW, December 31, 1917

The first idea of this final effort was conceived by Mrs. A. Murray Dike, in the course of a trip to French front in 1916. She brought back from this, besides the idea, a plan for a "social house" for the devastated regions, established, on her demand, by a French architect, M. Aubertin. She found, upon her return to the United States, the ardent concourse of part of the Board Members of the American Fund for French Wounded, Miss Anne Morgan, Elizabeth Scarborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Misses Stillwell, Lovett and Moulton, who were the founders of the Civilian Section. They would also encounter strong resistance both in New York and in the service in France directed by Mrs. B.G.Lathrop.

André Tardieu, Devant l'obstacle, Paris: Emile Paul, 1928; p 126 fn

.

THE AMERICAN COMMITTEE FOR DEVASTATED FRANCE

Under the leadership of Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike, the Civilian Section of the American Fund for French Wounded became the American Committee for Devastated France, known by its French acronym, the CARD (Comité Américain pour les Régions Dévastées).

The CARD probably owes its vocation to André Tardieu. At the beginning of the war, Tardieu was an interpreter at General Headquarters of the French Army. In April 1917, he set sail for Washington as one of two High Commissioners charged with representing French interests. His responsibilities included coordinating American humanitarian and material assistance with French needs. Ten years after the war, Tardieu wrote:

All the philanthropic and social endeavors which have honored wartime owed their success to the association of wills around clearly defined common goals. If, among these endeavors, the American Committee for Devastated France so perfectly attained its objectives, it was [...] first of all because it was modest. While great businessmen, dreaming of bringing all our ruins back to life, took the boat back home without having succeeded, this patient group, which limited its ambitions to reconstituting the social fibre of a few of our destroyed villages, was able to establish with France the most total, most durable of collaborations.

André Tardieu, Devant l'obstacle, Paris: Emil Paul, 1928, p.90

Many Americans said "Let us reconstruct a city." But with a city more or less well reconstructed, what would have been the gain for the rebuilding of society? In order to create life, to establish it, root it, the reconstitution of the environment must be pursued through other means: in depth and not superficially; intensively rather than extensively.

And that exactly is what Anglo-Saxons call "social work." Social work: a generous, flexible expression, whose very flexibility makes all projects possible and signifies the correcting of the relations between the individual and his environment, the environment and the individual. Certainly the founders of the system had not at all foreseen the outrageous distress of the devastated regions of France and their methods could therefore not be applied exactly as such. But ordinary life had taught them that in the great masses of humanity, crushed under modern life, it is the individual that is the victim. Society only takes care of him when he is in crisis: insane, there is the asylum; criminal, prison. In his normal development, preventive assistance is unknown to him. This assistance --- social work---aims to give just that to him. [...]

The first awakening of these notions dates from the day that Arnold Toynbee and seven of his Oxford companions moved into the poor neighborhoods of London in order to become aware of the needs there and share them. The idea of prevention through presence, which inspired the English group of 1883, also inspired the American group of 1919. This idea has already long been given its due recognition in the Anglo-Saxon countries. After London's Toynbee Hall came Chicago's Hull House and the Pittsburgh Survey, ---and finally the National Conference of Social Work, which created a permanent link between all the American groups attached to the social betterment of the individual, the family, the workplace. Countless writings have popularized the aspirations, efforts, successes of these organizations.

ibid, pp 197-199

Ten years after the war, here is how the CARD told their own story:

One summer morning in 1917, after the tide of history's greatest war had swept back after flooding an eighth of France with the blood of two million men and drenching the rest with tears, a company of French poilu marched through Blérancourt and ran up the Tri-color at the Chateau gate and with it the Stars and Stripes. And ten American women passed beneath the massive arch to take possession of the ruined masterpiece of de Brosse and set up in it a moral stronghold built of clapboard and tar paper but buttressed with understanding and faith.

Those ten women, moved by the sufferings of the civilian populations which trod the shell-raked roads or cowered hopelessly in the stone piles which had been their homes, had asked permission to go to their aid and the valiant band of workers, headed by Mrs. A. M. Dike and Miss Anne Morgan, had been assigned to supervise some thirty smouldering villages behind the lines held by the Third French Army Corps. The ruined chateau of Blérancourt had been turned over to them for their headquarters.

For nearly three years the invader had held the Aisne and the villagers had lived under the yoke of the German taskmaster. Then had come the allied effort which had, breathlessly and foot by foot, pushed back the Teuton power to Reims and Saint-Quentin. And then, straggling back over the mire-clogged gun trails of Seine-et-Oise, had come the people of the Aisne, men and women, the bent and wrinkled veteran of the flight of 1870, recognizing the signs of struggle in field and tree and the baby-in-arms, born in exile, pale and puny---all going home.

The world knows what they found in the place of their homes and farms --- shambles and tortured fields deep with shells and the bleached bones of what little livestock had not been carried off. All life and the means of life were lacking. The helper's task was elementary in those days. Four walls and food were the first needs; then medicine, clothing and tools. These were supplied and the work grew. Farms were restocked, trees planted, shops opened, schools, clinics and hospitals equipped. Life came back, slowly and timidly, and then Death swept over the budding land once more.

In the sunny days of early March, 1918, heads bent together on the re-made streets of Blérancourt over the whispered word that all was not well at the front. The firing was getting nearer, people said, and the bent ploughmen in the levelled fields often checked their borrowed oxen to listen and to wonder privately si ça vaut la peine. Louder and louder grew the sound of the guns and lower and lower the hopes of the land. On March 27 the peril was so near that orders came to evacuate. Blérancourt never will forget those tragic days and nights of flight when, under a lurid sky veiled with smoke and gas, it flew to the little haven of refuge under the flag which floated from its wrecked chateau and, at the cool direction of the Committee workers, its people took their places in the cars which were to carry them to safety. For more than a week the women who directed this work did not take off their clothes. The drivers, pioneers in the service of the Motor Corps, the fame of which now has spread throughout the region, slept in their cars beside the roads while reinforcements clattered forward toward the ever-widening line of fire.

With everything that could be saved, snatched literally from under the German guns, the American women, piloting their woeful company of refugees, moved back to Vic-sur-Aisne. There they set up nursing and supply stations and opened classes for the children. But still that relentless line of fire approached. Thrusting down on the line from Montdidier to Soissons, the Germans were carrying all before them and over the roads to the west sped the French ambulances with their pitiful freight and, wearily trudging, the silent stragglers, coming back from the battlefront, blood-stained and spent.

Now in the Aisne there were farmers without farms and in the interior of France there were farms without farmers, their owners and workers having been mobilized. Food production was vital. The Committee rented abandoned farms, equipped and manned them. The object was not only to provide work and raise food for the moment but, in addition, to help the refugees to acquire seeds and livestock with which they could rehabilitate themselves when the tide of war should roll back again. A group of eight American women having farming knowledge came from the United States to assist in this work.

Your road map shows Vic as a speck but it was a big black spot on the war maps in April of 1918. Generals came and went in its cobbled streets, war correspondents wrote dispatches on its café tables and the thin black wires of the military telegraph flashed its name across the world. For Vic was the railroad terminus to which troop trains were rushing reinforcements to the threatened front. From the north came the Tipperary-chanting Tommies of the Third British Corps, from the south the swarthy sons of Italy and from anywhere and everywhere the blue-clad poilus of France and Colonials of every hue---all to be thrown against that bulging line of flame which menaced France again. Haggard and tense, their uniforms stiff with trench mud, staggering from lack of sleep or wincing from the sting of wounds, those patient, silent thousands needed care. The Committee was asked to help them. It set up rest houses, canteens and dispensaries at which troops were lined up night and day. Time was short; helpers few. No records were kept. No one wanted records. Those men wanted soup, coffee, a place to sleep, bandages, medicine, cigarettes and smiles to think of in the dark.

Through April and May the work of human salvage went on to the tune of nesting thrushes and the undertone of distant guns. More and more tasks and responsibilities came to the Americans. A farming colony of refugees was added to the ever-growing colony of children at Coyolles, a supply depot was opened in Paris, an agreement for the despatch to France of an affiliated medical unit was signed with the American Women's Hospital and a thousand other developments planned. And then, when no one dreamed it was possible, the horror came again.

On the night of May 29 when the German Berthas began to concentrate on the lines before Vic, the Commandant Major of the Zone asked the Committee to evacuate that village and also Ambleny, a little community nearby

Under enemy fire the sturdy American motor trucks, driven by American and English college girl volunteers, chugged along behind the retreating armies. Fontenoy, Villers-Cotterets, Morte-Fontaine, Coeuvres and Largny were thus emptied of their civilians and the Committee fell back to Coyolles to find on the morrow that the Germans were still only six kilometers away. All the members of the little colony of children were taken to Paris and from there sent to Beaumont-le-Roger, well out of harm's way, and the Committee's field workers, set down to the task of caring for the hordes of civilians and soldiers who needed its help. A dressing station for wounded was set up in the chateau cellar, more canteens, fixed and mobile, were organized to administer to the soldiers who thronged every avenue of approach to the front. The rolling canteens, manned by two girls, would take a given route, stop at an advanced center, light a fire and begin to serve the long lines of troops.

For six months the Committee workers were as homeless as the refugees themselves. Like nomads they lived upon the roads, sleeping in their cars or in whatever barracks offered, trailing the battered boxes of fiches, the presence of which made a hut a "headquarters," from Feigneux to Jaignes and a dozen other villages while the war went on and the services of the Committee adapted themselves to the needs of the moment. But each succeeding moment brought greater needs and the work grew to met them. In Paris refugee women were put to cutting and making clothes and thousands of garments were turned out monthly and sent to the field. The days passed to a constant refrain of "More!". More clothes were wanted, more tools, more stores of all kinds, more canteens, more foyers, more dressings, more chocolate and, oh, how many more cigarettes! There was not a civilian doctor left in the length and breadth of the Aisne. More dispensaries were opened. The most vital problem was that of food and its transportation. The Committee got it and carried it---17,000 pounds on one occasion being rushed out and distributed it within two days.

The children of the Aisne, who had lived under alien rule for years during which time they had suffered innumerable deprivations, were in great need of help. The colony set up at Beaumont-le-Roger with French assistance was not enough. Another was begun at Boullay-Thierry in the Eure-et-Loir where an old chateau had been obtained through the government. Here classes were organized by Committee teachers. Kindergarten, domestic science for girls and manual training classes for boys were instituted for the youngsters who were thus prepared for life in the land for which their fathers fought.

In July, 1918, American troops arrived in the sector between Crouy-sur-Ourcq and Viels-Maisons where American Committee canteens were stationed. The doughboys of five different American divisions became daily customers. In one case a Division detrained from box cars in a town where the A. C. canteen was able to serve men who had had nothing to eat for three days. This particular canteen, it may be said, dispensed its cheer to 45,000 men in one week. On Independence Day there were great festivities in the village of Changis in which the French joined with enthusiasm. On July 14, the same sort of festivities were repeated in honor of the French national holiday. The Americans joined with zest. The poilus had sung the Madelon, the doughboys had replied with The Long Trail and the ice-cream ---the pièce de résistance--- was just being dished out when orders arrived summoning the men of two American machine gun battalions to headquarters whence they rushed out to the front. Those gunners had helped make history at Château-Thierry. Their departure and the dramatic conclusion of the fête long will remain in the memories of all who took part in it.

Two days afterwards, when the great Franco-American offensive which was to pave the way for the final victory was being launched, the canteen unit was asked to give its services at the dressing stations at the front.

At the same time the commanding officer of an American division asked the Committee to take care of its piled up wounded. More than 5,000 wounded soldiers, French and American, were cared for in the drive of July 17. Refreshment was given to 40,000 soldiers and cigarettes to more than double that number.

Henceforth the activities of the Committee become divided into field work and interior work. The field work comprised the various posts for war service including road-side canteens for troops, fixed canteens of the hospital service designated by the Medical Inspector General of the Army, and civilian posts for the relief of refugees in the Aisne. As the army advanced the Committee moved up its posts of succour to care for the needs of both the troops and the refugees who followed on their heels in the hope of reaching their fields in time to reap what of their crops might be left standing.

At the time of the retreat the refugees had left smiling fields. They returned to find them sown deep with death-dealing grenades and other explosives which made it impossible to use mowing machines. They set to the tedious task of cutting the crops with scythes. It was a country of unburied dead, of flies, of poisoned wells and impure food. Into this maelstrom of advancing armies, of ammunition convoys, of disorder and devastation, thousands of refugees poured. Community life was destroyed. The Committee set out to restore it.

But the frantic Allied offensive which, yard by yard, was redeeming the smoking soil of the land was maintained at the bitter cost of thousands of lives. The wounded, more numerous than ever, had to be cared for as well as the troops pressing breathlessly forward. Social reconstruction was second still to the military field service. For upon the success of the forward drive depended everything. The spectre of another retreat was haunting the thoughts of all. The Committee canteens moved forward behind the advancing line, serving and cheering men for whom the civilised world was praying.

By October the Allied armies had made great strides towards the frontier and the Vic-sur-Aisne headquarters had been reoccupied by the Committee. From then on until February of 1919, when the old headquarters at Blérancourt were triumphantly occupied, the regular field work of the organization was carried on and developed and, at the same time, the groundwork was being laid for the campaign of material and moral reconstruction which was to remake the lives and fortunes of the utterly destitute thousands of the Aisne.

Not a vestige remained of the work done by the Committee in 1917. Of all the ravaged departments of France, the Aisne had suffered, perhaps, most. Of its 841 communes, 814 were in ruins. Of its 1,840,000 acres of land, 1,750,000 had been laid waste. More than a quarter of a million head of live stock had been carried off; 106,000 houses and roughly 2,000 factories had been wrecked. Half of the 6,000 miles of road in the department had been obliterated and not a quarter of a mile of railroad line remained intact. The task facing the government was stupendous for conditions in the Aisne were repeated wherever war had passed.

Supported by comprehending friends throughout America and aided by the zealous co-operation of the authorities in France, the Committee has been enabled, during the last five years, to carry to completion a programme of social reconstruction which has changed the material and moral outlook of an entire region in the Aisne. It is proud of having given practical expression to the firm friendship of America but its achievements could not have been realized but for the all-resisting courage of those thousands of dauntless sufferers before whose amazing patience and perseverance its pride becomes humility.

In 1919 the Committee's work was evolving from the primitive stage of war relief into a definite form of social service looking to permanent results. It no longer was necessary to provide for wide distribution of material aid to individuals but it was imperative that community life as a whole, entirely disrupted by the war, should be directed along the lines which best could solve the pressing social problems of the moment and, also, provide the trail along which a vanished civilization could return. The Committee programme settled into five broad divisions relating to Public Health, Social Service, Agricultural Syndicates, Construction, Libraries. This programme took account of national and departmental conditions and movements in France. It recognized the fundamental fact that whatever the French could be helped to see and do themselves was thereby given a guarantee for the future.

First in importance came the work for Public Health with its emphasis on child hygiene, maternity care and education, and district nursing. Growing gradually, this branch of the Committee's work developed into an extended, efficient organization, the details of which would require a volume to depict.

Its work for babies, by which it cut the rate of infant mortality in its region from 87 to 35 per thousand; its clinics and dispensaries, its ambulance service and above all, its capable visiting nurses carrying aid and comfort to 129 towns and villages, have become part and parcel of the community life. They will remain so. As the Association de l'Hygiene Sociale de l'Aisne, endowed by the Committee and subsidized by the French, the organization built up by the Americans will endure. A modern hospital and nurses' training school are to be founded and built to spread the work in France.

The Social Service work of the Committee likewise will not cease with the withdrawal of the American organization from the Aisne. This work consisted principally of the establishment of Foyers, or Social Centers, in the ruined villages. Built attractively in the form of one-story barracks, made gay with cretonne, window boxes, open fires in winter and bowers in summer, these foyers are the centers of community life to which, after the work of the day is done, the farmer comes for a game of cards, his wife to sew and chat. Most of these Foyers have been turned over to the municipalities, or to local committees.

In June, 1920, the gates of the Grand Palais in Paris opened to a visiting troop of American Boy Scouts who had been invited by the Committee to give a demonstration in France. Profiting by the public interest thus aroused and, assisted by the Boy Scout organization in America, the Committee founded a scout camp school at Francport in the Forest of Compiegne. The boys were drawn from the devastated regions where youth had suffered during the long years of war.

This camp proved epoch-making in the history of Scouting in France. It was the means of uniting scattered scout organizations which had been working independently. Since then the Committee has bought and presented the Chateau of Cappy, at Verberie, Oise, as a permanent camp.

The organization of playgrounds where the neglected children of the region were taught to play --- something which the older ones had forgotten and the younger never had known--- and the construction of a tennis club at Reims are other activities which will have lasting results.

The Committee's agricultural work was based, from the very beginning, on the conviction that co-operation would provide the only solution to the stupendous problem of restoring the land to cultivation. Consequently it sought to form agricultural syndicates. These were not entirely unknown before the war. About a dozen existed in the Aisne in 1913 but, in face of the strong individualism of the Northern farmer, they did not thrive. To-day there are more than 335 such associations in the department and the influence which it brought to bear towards this result is, perhaps, the greatest contribution the Committee has made.

For the use of the syndicates thus formed, the Committee provided tractors, threshers and other machines. It stocked farms, provided seed and lent money with or without interest. It thus aided directly in the reclamation of thousands of acres of French soil and on the wide stretches of reclaimed land around Anizy, Coucy and Vic will arise each year, as time goes on, a waving memento of the American Committee.

At Blérancourt, in March, 1919, the first Co-operative Group Building Society was constituted as an attempt to co-ordinate the efforts at rebuilding homes, farms and shops. All the merit for this idea belongs to the Perceptor of the Region with whom the Committee worked for its development.

Long before, a Construction workshop had been set up by the Committee at Blérancourt to make temporary repairs and furniture. This enterprise met the need and became an indispensable part of local activity.

After food, shelter and the means of work, the Aisne's greatest need, perhaps, was for books. What a day it was for the mentally-starved and prematurely old children of the region when Robinson Crusoe and Old John Silver arrived in Blérancourt in water-tight cases from the United States, and Joan of Arc and Bécassine from Paris! From these and the simple story house grew reading rooms, travelling libraries which toured the distant villages, and a model library in Soissons organized on the newest technical lines. So successful was this work that the Paris city government asked the Committee to co-operate in establishing a library of the same sort in Paris. This was done with the result that the International Congress of Librarians, held in Paris in 1923, urged the City to reorganize its public libraries on the Committee's model. Undoubtedly, this all has given an impetus to library work in France. A new profession has been opened to French women in the library field and, working with the French and with the American Library Association, the Committee has instituted in Paris a library training school to equip those upon whom the future of the public library in France will rest.

In 1922 and 1923 four Good Will Delegations of American women came to France under the auspices of the American Committee and as the elected envoys of their fellow citizens. By tireless campaigns in the United States they had raised money needed to ensure the permanence of the results achieved by the Committee. They came to take account of those results and of the problems confronting France rising from her ruins. Returning to their homes in forty cities, they carried back an understanding appreciation of those problems and, by their reports, promoted common knowledge and friendly relationship.

And now, retreating once more---this time before the onward march of Peace---the Committee has withdrawn from the Aisne. But at Blérancourt, the war-scarred village of the centuries which first sheltered and inspired it, it has set up a shrine to the spirit of international fellowship which thrived there during seven years and brought to this tortured corner of France the vision of a day when wars shall cease.

Henry W. Francis, A Village with a Vision, Blérancourt: Les Amis de Blérancourt, 1924

 

After the CARD

The work of the CARD was first carried on by the AHSA, the "Aisne Association for Social Hygiene." And then came the war and the CASC.

The American Friends of France (AFF) was the support committee in the United States for the Comité Américain de Secours Civil (CASC) for which funds were raised and volunteer personnel recruited. At its head was Anne Morgan (1873-1952), the daughter of the famous banker J.P. Morgan. Anne Morgan was already known in France for her work accomplished during the First World War, especially through the American Committee for Devastated France (CARD) which was the greatest of successes. The role of the CARD was to reinstall families in the devastated regions, help them meet their own needs and at the same time to create a socio-medical service which would link prevention and education. In 1924, the CARD was replaced by the Association d'Hygiène Sociale de l'Aisne since for Anne Morgan, healing the wounds of the present was not enough, if one was not at the same time preparing for the future.

An unusual person, possessed of an iron will, Anne Morgan was able to mobilize the "veterans" of the CARD by spring of 1939. With her rich past experience, she showed great efficiency in organizing this new committee. On October 25th, not long after the declaration of war against Germany, the statutes under the Law of 1901 governing Non-Governmental Organizations, were submitted. The rapidity of this ACTION is to be noted, since it took her only a few days to obtain all the military and administrative authorizations necessary to do so.

Her goal was to help the French help themselves. The medical-social personnel (visiting nurses, doctors, social workers) were mainly French, the chauffeurs and administrative workers mostly American. The personnel was essentially female. Anne Morgan encouraged their professional qualification (one of her pet causes). Each center was composed of a medical-social service, a school cafeteria, a shelter, a sewing workshop. It drew on the know-how of the men and women available: crafts or tradespeople, workers or even, in one case, a former employee of the Bouglionne Circus.

As she had done with the CARD, Anne Morgan did not neglect the news coverage of her actions which so facilitated fundraising in the United States. A great photographer, Thérèse Bonney, was part of her group and was present at all important events. Many articles written by a liaison driver, Gilberte Bonfont, followed the development of the centers, as well as the exodus. The impact of radio broadcasts was not forgotten either, be it Anne Morgan herself, the ambulance driver Samuel Pierce or Sally Bird broadcasting live from Paris.

Nothing seemed to resist Anne Morgan. As she herself wrote: "I think I don't need to tell you that I am quite obstinate and I am shooting for the stars, since I know what I want and will not give up until I have it!" The "boss," as she was called, made things move forward wherever she was.

The Center at Blérancourt . Anne Morgan's interest in this region of the Aisne was not new. After the dissolution of the CARD in 1924, she founded the Association d'Hygiène Sociale de l'Aisne and the present Museum. Known to local authorities, the work taken up again at Blérancourt was but the continuation of work begun before.

While CASC headquarters were located in Paris, its leaders met especially at Blérancourt. The work to be accomplished was divided into four categories: a health service carried out by certified nurses, a youth program (games, gymnastics, manual work and films), sewing workshops and a transportation service. In March 1940, a soldiers' recreation center was opened in Autreville, near Chauny, "an antidote against boredom and discouragement."

The Center at Bellac. The forced evacuation of many inhabitants of Strasbourg and the border communities of the Lower Rhine to the Upper Vienne and Dordogne took place extremely quickly. Upon demand of the Ministry of Public Health, Anne Morgan set up a large center at Bellac, near Limoges, where, during a period of eight days, 25,000 refugees would be dispersed among 63 communities which were little prepared for such an influx. The center was directed by Dr. Thomas-Domela, who found herself at the head of French nurses, mostly of Alsatian origin (and consequently able to converse in Alsatian dialect). The center's mission was to rehouse and assist the refugees, give them medical care, increase health visits and at the same time distribute clothing and blankets on a large scale. A social center was opened which included a cafeteria, a meeting place, a true "Alsatian Home" and a sewing-workshop. From March 1940 on, medical-social aid was also extended to the inhabitants of Limousin.

The Center at Revin. Convinced that the invasion of France would take place the same way as during preceding conflicts, Anne Morgan asked to be able to take care of border communities in the Ardennes able to be evacuated. The cantons of Fumay, Givet and Monthermé were thus taken in hand by the CASC. Medical-social services, school health programs and sewing-workshops were set up while visiting nurses prepared for the evacuation of the entire population. However, it was difficult to plan for events as evidenced by a report of a meeting held in Givet on February 27, 1940, which concludes with the following remark: "At the moment of evacuation, as the conditions under which it will be accomplished cannot be foreseen, be prepared for all eventualities... and work things out as best you can."

Upon the announcement of the invasion of Belgium, May 10, 1940, the members of the CASC left their different positions to meet at midnight in Givet. Anne Morgan, at almost 67 years of age, was present along with Thérèse Boney, Eva Dahlgren, Rose Dolan, Adélaïde Massey and the entire French staff. During the days and nights which followed and with the help of eight ambulance drivers from the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the CASC would transport the population of the cantons it served, despite bombings, at the same time setting up aid stations and mobile cafeterias for the flood of refugees.

CASC teams accompanied these residents of the Ardennes to Vendée and the Deux-Sèvres region; the people of the Aisne, to Mayenne. CASC headquarters was first set up in the château of Gérinet near Blois, then moved to the premises of the Morgan Bank at Sainte-Néomaye, near Niort. There flight ended and, on June 23, this is where the German troops caught up with them.

Anne Morgan remained in France until December 1940 ---as long as it took to prepare the centers to function under the Occupation. CASC efforts were concentrated at Blérancourt especially, where the Entreaide de l'Aisne was set up and put into the hands of a French woman, Mademoiselle Féraud. Only three American women remained behind: Rose Dolan, Eva Dahlgren and Ophelia Tilley, who rejoined the American Red Cross in the unoccupied zone.

The CASC reappeared at the Liberation, following the Allied troops. While the latter were aware of the terrible needs of the populations, their mission was to carry out vast military operations, and so they were more preoccupied with the front. The war raged for several months on French soil where, if the combats were less long than in 1914-1918, they were also more widespread (in 74 départements as compared to 13 in 1914-1918). The ruin left behind by the bombings was enormous. Rose Dolan, Eva Dahlgren and Adélaïde Massey were the first to return with the American Red Cross in the summer of 1944. On October 1, the CASC, still supported financially by the American Friends of France, now a member of the Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, became an associate member of the American Relief for France which encompassed all American aid. CASC activities were extended. To the Aisne was added the Manche (with large distributions of food and clothing to the disaster victims of Saint-Lô and Coutances) and the Calvados region, where a center was created at Vire along the same lines as those followed at Blérancourt and Bellac.

Anne Morgan returned to France in the month of June 1945, accompanied by numerous volunteers and 9 tons of materiel of all sorts. The CASC continued to finance its different centers up until the early 1950s, during which time their management was handed over to other authorities: to the Rural Social Service of the Agricultural Mutual of Bellac, to the Committee for Social Action of the canton of Vic-sur-Aisne, to the Franco-American Association of Vire, to the Anne Morgan Medico-Social Association of Soissons ---social centers being, according to Anne Morgan, the best means to incite the population to help itself.

Sylvie Péharpré, "American Humanitarian Aid in France in World War II," Petit Journal for the Summer Exhibit at Blérancourt, June 1994

The AMSAM, then, is today's incarnation of the CARD. It's headquarters may be found at 31 Rue Anne Morgan in Soissons. In Blérancourt, the local office is on Rue Anne Murray Dike.

 

THE MUSEUM OF FRANCO-AMERICAN COOPERATION

During her relentless efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to save a region which she cared so much for, Anne Morgan became enamoured of Blérancourt and, once the war was over, hoped to turn it into a place where all forms of Franco-American cooperation and friendship would be celebrated.

In August of 1919, Anne Morgan purchased, one after another, the two parcels of land which contained the château ruins, terrace and moats. Nothing remained of course of the former grounds, which she would try to buy back, piece by piece, part of which, interestingly enough, does not belong to the current domain. This is because Miss Morgan would give the whole to the Town of Blérancourt which would pass it on to the State, minus a portion kept for itself. (It might be noted that for five years now, the logic of Anne Morgan's efforts has again been applied, this time by the National Museum Administration, whose purchases amount to 2/5ths of the present domain.)

Anne Morgan laid out walkways, installed a fountain at the back of the terrace, thus recreating the longitudinal perspective of the domain. She marked the end of this perspective with a stone bench decorated with griffins --- the CARD's emblem, borrowed from the coat of arms of the Potier family---- at the point where, of old, a bridge led to the orchards (now the site of the municipal soccer field).

At the same time, Anne Morgan began the progressive restoration of the buildings. First, between 1920 and 1923, came the two corner pavilions, culminating with the establishment, in the right-hand corner pavilion, of a little museum to house the souvenirs of volunteer American organizations of the War (that same year, 1923, marking the founding of a group --- the Friends of Blérancourt --- to promote the continuance of Anne Morgan's work), and with the installation, in the lefthand one, of Miss Morgan's living quarters, whose salon subsists today. In 1925, both pavilions, along with the archway, were granted Historical Monument status.

After that, Anne Morgan and the other founding member of the museum, her faithful friend Anne Murray Dike, undertook the more difficult task of restoring the left wing of the old château. At that time, facing those ruins in the place now occupied by the Florence Gould pavilion, there was but a flower-covered tumulus and the domain itself was still limited to the terrace. While the work progressed satisfactorily, Mrs Dike died in 1929 and regretfully did not live to see the inauguration the following year of the new wing of the museum, which she had initiated: it housed the souvenirs of Franco-American relations of the 18th century. In 1930 also, Anne Morgan bought several parcels of land on the immediate periphery of the château, notably the future arboretum and the lawn in front.

A few days before the inauguration of the building in 1930, Anne Morgan handed the administration of the domain and collection over to the National Museums, but gave title to the Town of Blérancourt. Thus it was that the State continued on with the restoration of the buildings and from 1937 to 1938, succeeded in reconstructing the right wing, which would house collections on American humanitarian aid during World War I, transferred from the right-hand corner pavilion and considerably augmented by donations from numerous individuals, from the American Field Service, and from the Lafayette Flying Corps.

Véronique Wiesinger, "The Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt: an Overall View," Antiques Magazine, Fall 1991

Anne Morgan and Anne Vanderbilt contacted AFS about housing its collections at Blérancourt. It was suggested that, if AFS could finance a new building for its collections, then it would be most welcome. In fact, when the new pavilion, built over the northeast corner foundations of the old château, was inaugurated as the Pavilion of the American Volunteers, in September 1938, the French government had actually paid more than half the costs.

The Pavilion of American Volunteers of 1914-1918 was inaugurated at the Museum of Blérancourt on September 11, 1938.

The vision of a permanent home for our souvenirs, which first formed in the mind of Piatt Andrew as far back as 1917, and which he cherished through all the years between, did not become a reality without long effort. You all know something of the story: the unsuccessful attempt to find a suitable place in America; the eventual chance to have a place at Blérancourt, and the first intention of having a new wing added to the existing pavilion; the abandonment of this idea because of the wish of the French Government to have the new wing built, to house the souvenirs of other volunteer organizations; the unavoidable but disappointing postponement of 1937.

Bulletin of the American Field Service Association, no. 19, June 1939, p. 15

Lansing Warren (SSU70) was one of the several dozen AFS drivers present:

The Château possesses two fine gateways of the Renaissance period, the vestiges of the moat and the bridge at the main entrance, two very pretty pavilions, and one wing of the old château. The old wing contains the collections of souvenirs of French participation in the American War of Independence. The Field Service rooms are in a new building constructed as a pendant to the old wing, built in stone in a style of architecture conforming to the ensemble and making an extremely noble seat for the preservation of our war souvenirs.

[...]

The main entrance of the new wing leads directly into the main Field Service room. At the end of the room stands the memorial to Colonel Andrew. It consists of the pedestal, inscribed, on which stands the bust of Colonel Andrew, bare-headed, but in his Field Service coat. Above on each side are a series of three bas-reliefs, descriptive of the field service work at the front.

[...]

Descending the staircase to the room below every Field Service man who goes through the experience will get a thrill. In the center of the room stands a Field Service voiture! It is old Hunk o'Tin himself. The car, so far as can be learned, is the only Field Service ambulance now in existence. [...] It is the real thing, and in perfect condition.

[...]

The fête was in the main a Field service affair, favored by good weather, and the ceremonies were more stirring than is usual on occasions of the kind. [...] More than three thousand persons came into the lovely gardens of the chateau to witness the ceremonies. Among them were nearly the whole population of Blérancourt, who had beflagged their village with French and American colors. There were many notables of France and the United States and many prominent friends of the Field Service and the Lafayette Escadrille.

[...]

The Sixty-seventh French infantry regiment came to Blérancourt to take part. It was a striking fact that came to mind at the sight of these young lads of military age, marching and going through drill in a spirited way, that none of them were born when our cars were rolling on the French highways.

[...]

There was more than these young poilus and the display of flags to call the war to mind, for on the day when these ceremonies were held, thoughts of the possibility of that war being repeated were in everybody's mind. Reservists of France had been called out to man the Maginot Line in case the Czechoslovakian crisis should precipitate a call to arms. The newspapers were full of war scare, and many of the prominent persons who had expected to come to Blérancourt had been obliged to remain in Paris because of the tenseness of the international situation.

ibid, p. 4

The war put a damper on the museum, to say the least.

When war was declared in 1939, the project of the extension of the left and right walkways was under study. The project for the right wing ---corresponding exactly to the area of the extension carried out in 1989--- was well on its way as it had been approved in principle by the State. The declaration of war, however, stopped things in their tracks.

World War II, compounded by the death in 1946 of the museum's first curator, almost proved fatal for Blérancourt which, in the name of economy, was relegated to the status of administrative outpost of the Château of Compiègne, some forty kilometers distant and whose mission ----Second Empire---- had little to do with Blérancourt's specialty. The result was to send the museum into a period of hibernation from which it would not begin to emerge until the creation of the American Friends of Blérancourt in 1985. As Anne Morgan before, these new friends brought in money and incited the French Museum Administration to wake up this Sleeping Beauty of a museum. In the meantime, however, benign neglect had taken its toll on the collections, some of which had even been dispersed as far away as the United States, with some of the archives having practically been given away --- proving yet again that a museum can disappear, despite what is generally believed.

In the absence of partisans and believers in Blérancourt's mission, things ground slowly to a halt. With the exception of two ceremonies relating to the American Field Service ---an inauguration in 1962 of a memorial garden (preceded by a shipment of a great part of the AFS collection to New York in 1961) and the inauguration in 1969 of a bust to Stephen Galatti, (founder of the Service's post-war extension as international student exchanges)--- the Museum continued to slide into oblivion ... until 1981 and the arrival of Pierre Rosenberg as curator-in-chief.

It was he who succeeded in once again interesting Americans in a museum in which their compatriots had played such an important part. Thus it was that the American Friends of Blérancourt, founded in 1985, joined forces with the Amis de Blérancourt, henceforth the "French Friends" whose beginning hearkened back to a group of Americans: Anne Morgan, Anne Murray Dike and their friends, "les Amis" of 1923.

The infusion of new life into the museum was celebrated through the arrival of a whole new collection of artworks, the personal contribution of Pierre Rosenberg to the museum and perfectly coherent with its initial project, while at the same time adding a new dimension. When Anne Murray Dike had opened the museum, the effects of the historical cooperation between the two countries (especially during the Revolution) was well illustrated in the themes of artwork on display. Mutual cultural influences, on the other hand, were sorely lacking. Was it not in the 19th century that so many American artists came to study in France? Did not many French artists, in the century following, take refuge in an America in cultural effervescence? Pierre Rosenberg's contribution thus brought new depth to this aspect of the museum's mission.

Véronique Wiesinger, "The Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt: an Overall View," Antiques Magazine, Fall 1991

The refurbishing of the museum took over a year. The upstairs, including a new mezzanine, was given over to the exhibition of mostly American paintings belonging to the French national collections. The AFS collection, still featuring Hunk O'Tin, was settled in the foundation-level rooms of the old château. During early 1989, AFS Archives worked in close cooperation with Pierre Rosenberg and his curator, Véronique Wiesinger, restoring and returning materials which had previously been shipped to New York. Finally, on July 9, 1989, the "new" Florence Gould Pavilion was inaugurated. High officials included the French Minister of Culture and the new American ambassador for whom this was the first official act. AFS was represented by former AFS president (and driver) Arthur Howe. The summary catalog for the opening reflected new perspectives:

The opening of the Florence Gould Wing at the Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine marks the beginning of the overall reorganization of the museum initiated by Pierre Rosenberg and made possible by the Direction des Musées de France, the American Friends of Blérancourt and the Amis du Musée de Blérancourt. This reorganization should be seen as part of a more general scheme. Space in the museum will be distributed between the two main themes of the museum, art and history, in the following way.

Wing A, still being planned, will present the beginnings of the history of Franco-American relations from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century with special emphasis on the War of Independence, a period which is particularly well represented in the museum's collections.

In the new Florence Gould Wing, the history of Franco-American relations is continued, from the beginning of the 20th century to the Second World War, with particular emphasis on American humanitarian aid to France during the Great War. To this long historical development, which was the original theme of the museum, Pierre Rosenberg wished to add a parallel retracing of the history of a century and a half of artistic exchanges between France and America.

 

A Century and a Half of French and American Art History

At the present time, the tour of the Florence Gould Wing begins on the garden level, with rooms devoted to works of art on the ground floor and mezzanine. The core of the collection is composed of a selection of American works purchased by the French government from the 19th century until 1945. Thanks to the kind loans of the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée National d'Art Moderne and the Fonds National d'Art Contemporain (the descendant of the Bureau des Travaux d'Art created under the Third Republic), we are able to illustrate a brief history of French taste in American painting and sculpture. Naturally, the major works have not left the walls of their respective museums; hence the absence of the one Whistler, the one Homer, and the one Eakins in the national collections. For the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, for instance, are still displayed at the Centre Georges Pompidou. Nevertheless, the Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine will remain faithful to its goal of becoming the American Department of the National Museums and will try to fill these gaps, insofar as this is possible.

The idea of this kind of department is not a new one; back in 1922, the Musée du Luxembourg (then the museum of living artists), because of lack of space opened an annex at the Jeu de Paume for foreign art, in which American artists were of course well represented (in part from loans made by private collectors).

The origins of these purchases by the State are often easy to determine. Many of these American artists lived in France for several years (such as Cassatt, regretfully absent from our collections, Dannat, MacMonnies, etc.) and exhibited regularly, either at the annual Salons or in galleries (some of which, like the Galerie Georges Petit, had strong American contingents). There were also the Universal Expositions in Paris, where the French Beaux-Arts inspectors responsible for purchases could see the works of artists less well known in France (the American pavilion was regularly the largest foreign section in Paris until 1900). Finally, commissioners of the French section at Universal Expositions held in the United States sometimes took advantage of their visit to make new acquisitions (especially in 1939).

The absence of painters like Bierstadt and Church, and of sculptors like Powers and Rogers, in the French national collections of American art is explained by the fact that most of these acquisitions occurred after 1870, at which time the American colony in France began to thrive (in Paris, Brittany, and later around Monet in Giverny); priority was then given to the purchase of contemporary works executed in France, and often done in the French taste.

This American collection should therefore be appreciated for what it is now: not a faithful reflection of the entire history of American art, nor even of American art done in France (considering the absence of Cassatt, Whistler, Butler, Saint-Gaudens, Man Ray, etc.), but as a sketch of what the future collection will be, combining American works related historically to France with the other aspect of the collection: the works of French artists who worked in the United States.

This second aspect of the collection whose purpose is to put the first into perspective and to dispel the false, but widespread, notion according to which only American artists succumbed to the appeal of the transatlantic crossing (in the 19th century, anyway), is not very developed yet. The French state never had any particular purchasing policy in this respect, and it goes without saying that works made in the United States by French artists who settled there only rarely made their way to France: they are for the most part in American museums, unknown to the French public. The big names in modern art are also absent: the few American works by Gleizes, Picabia and Duchamp in French collections will stay in the Musée National d'Art Moderne. Be that as it may, nostalgia or gratitude towards their native country led certain artists less well known to make gifts to French museums, and loans of these and generous gifts, along with our recent purchases (sometimes made from heirs), form the core of the French collection, which we hope to expand in the near future.

Véronique Wiesinger, Petit Journal, July 1989

For the next four years, before moving on to become curator of the Museum of the Legion of Honor, Véronique Wiesinger, with the support of Pierre Rosenberg, helped consolidate the revived museum's infrastructure: library, archives, graphic arts room. She also organized a number of impressive summer exhibitions, complete with scholarly catalogs: Paris Bound, Americans in Art Schools, 1868-1918; American Drawings in the French National Collections from 1760 to 1945; Crossing Paths: 400 Years of Franco-Indian Relations; The Americans of the Legion of Honor, 1853-1947. At the same time, the historical collections relating to the American War for Independence were put in storage, until the pavilion housing them could be redone. Various evaluative studies were carried out. Then, at the end of 1993, a new chief curator replaced both Pierre Rosenberg and Véronique Wiesinger: Philippe Grunchec, formerly a curator at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1998, the museum was once again put under the direction of the National Museum at Compiègne, and Mr. Grunchec was replaced by the present curator, Anne Dopffer.

Meanwhile, the modern AFS world was beginning to rediscover "its" museum in France. A75th anniversary celebration of AFS's beginning was held at Blérancourt in 1990. A temporary exhibit of AFS in WWII was held in the summer of 1991. AFS-Vivre Sans Frontière regularly brought its host students to visit the museum at the end of their stay. An AFS signpost was installed with ceremony outside the entrance to the museum.

 

THE VILLAGE OF BLERANCOURT

The town of Blérancourt numbers about 1200 inhabitants. It was mostly destroyed during WWI and then rebuilt, often out of the original stone which bears the scars of bullets and shrapnel. Past the Town Hall, the Orphanage ---one of the Potiers de Gesvres family's good works--- still stands in excellent condition. Beyond, the church on the hill, also hard hit by the war, houses the remains of the Marquis and Marquise of Blérancourt in its crypt. In the shelter of its west wall, lies the tomb of Anne Murray Dike who, a Protestant, could not have been buried in the church cemetery, but whose grave here has the place of honor. The inscription on the stone over the tomb reads:

Citation to the Order of the Nation

Mrs. Anne Murray Dike, born in Edinborough, (Scotland), June 8, 1878, deceased in Paris February 8, 1929, an American citizen, founder of the civil section of the American Committee for French Wounded (1917), president of the American Committee for Devastated France (1918-1924), decorated with the Croix de Guerre (1918), chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur (1919) and officer of same (1924),

during the war, for fifteen months and most often under fire in one of the most beleaguered sections of the front, helped the civilian population and the armies; twice, during the pullback of the Allied troops, saw to the evacuation of women and children; met the needs of the hour through the distribution of food, clothing, materials, furniture, seeds, through the creation of dispensaries, dairies, cooperatives, children's camps, rolling cantines and ambulances, maintaining the morale of all at the height of her own soul's grandeur.

After the armistice, for six years, she presided over the renaissance of a territory of 170,000 acres, including two cities and 120 villages; fostered agricultural unions through which the breadth of the "red zone" was reduced by half; conceived of and brought into being the complete underpinnings of social life; medical consultations, dispensaries, nurseries, hospitals, cantonal health services, gathering places, professional courses, nursing and librarian schools, guaranteed the continued existence of these institutions by confiding their future to local collectivities which, today, continue her work.

She made France the total gift of her thought, heart and force, and merits a place of elite in the recognition of the country.

(Journal Officiel of February 20, 1929).

The monastery established by the Gesvres has long since disappeared, but the village is currently trying to restore the house of its illustrious Revolutionary, Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, who died on the guillotine at age 27.

Two streets lead from the Town Hall to the Town Square and the château: Rue Anne Morgan and Rue Anne Murray Dike. Where they meet, there is a public Salle des Fêtes, a gift of Anne Morgan.

On the Square there is a typical WWI monument to the dead. To the right, one can note the typical archery range of the area. (The Museum's archery collections, originally belonging to Count Bertier de Sauvigny, have long been transferred to new quarters in the château of Crépy-en-Valois). On the far end of the square is a monument to Anne Murray Dike, erected in the 1930s. To the right, before entering is the former Logis, called the Griffon while it operated as a country inn.