Introduction

An exhibition from the Franco-American Museum, Château de Blérancourt, Picardy, France, with testimonials from letters in the Anne Morgan archives at the Morgan Library and Museum.

In 1917, a small team of women, appalled by news of wartime destruction, left comfortable lives at home to volunteer in the devastated regions of France. Their dynamic leader was Anne Morgan (1873–1952), wealthy daughter of the late financier Pierpont Morgan. She was already well known for her public opposition to social injustice – notably the mistreatment of immigrant garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory – but it was in war-scarred France that she found her life’s passion. As she rallied potential volunteers and donors on speaking tours across the United States, Morgan employed documentary photography to foster a humanitarian response to the plight of French refugees.

The photographs and silent films were commissioned by the American Committee for Devastated France, the volunteer civilian relief organization that Morgan founded with her friend Anne Murray Dike (1879–1929). Full-page images ran in American newspapers, sets of prints were sold for three dollars a dozen, and films were screened in movie houses throughout the United States. These haunting views of ruined French towns, portraits of refugee families and children, and tableaux of American volunteers at work illustrate not only the human cost of war but also the potency of photographic propaganda.

The images exhibited here are modern silver prints of vintage photographs.

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Florence Gould Foundation and the American Friends of Blérancourt.

Volunteers at the Blérancourt gateway

Philippe Pétain, the French army’s commander-in-chief, arranged for the new volunteer committee to establish headquarters in the seventeenth century Château de Blérancourt – less than forty miles from the front. The women lived in barracks, worked long hours, and enjoyed intense camaraderie. “Anne says the life here is much like college,” wrote volunteer Marion Bartol, “without the concentrated brain effort.”

“Life over here is strenuous in the extreme, and I can assure you there is very little real rest or holiday except in the enormous spiritual uplift of the whole work.”
Anne Morgan, 1917

Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike

Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike met in 1916 and organized the Civilian Division of the American Fund for French Wounded, which they reorganized in 1918 as an independent organization, the American Committee for Devastated France. Morgan, with her commanding presence and social prominence, took the lead in fund-raising efforts, while Dike, trained as a physician, organized work in the field.

“The twenty-four hours are so filled up there is little time for sleep. . . . I never had such a desire and such a reason for making good in my life.”
Anne Morgan, 1918