The Alliance Française de Philadelphie Presents "American Women Rebuilding France"

Gabrielle Lantieri, for GPA -- The images shown at “American Women Rebuilding France 1917-1924,” a photo exhibition hosted by the Alliance Française de Philadelphie (AFP) in their Land Title Building headquarters (1420 Walnut St.), portrayed a post-WWI France unknown to many Americans.

On loan from the Anne Morgan Archives of the Franco-American Museum, these powerful and stunning portraits captured women and children living in devastation and ruins. The documentary photograph project was sponsored by the American Committee for Devastated France, based in the surrounding communities of the Château de Blérancourt in France from 1917 to 1924. The Franco-American Museum is located in Château de Blérancourt, the same grounds where philanthropist Anne Morgan based her work.

The female volunteers featured in these photographs were a part of the American Committee for Devastated France, founded by Morgan. The impact of this organization, which was run completely by women, was beyond profound. Morgan, along with Anne Murray Dyke, created an array of services ranging from the founding of construction companies to rebuild families’ homes, to daycare services for children.

American women volunteers had to be 25 years of age, able to drive a car, and speak French in order to be eligible for the committee. According to the exhibit, these qualifications were “the embodiment of the modern woman.” These images sought to convey to Americans the level of support needed in the reconstruction of France. The most emotionally moving of these images come in the form of portraits, particularly those of children playing in ruins with the sadness of war on their faces.

After the photo exhibit’s opening reception, Miles Morgan, the nephew of Anne, spoke about his memories of his aunt. Miles Morgan described her as a “different woman” with “a lot of grit.” Anne Morgan is not a figure often spoken about in feminist history, he noted in his talk, but she remains a prominent feminist figure in France. Anne Morgan was a strong, outspoken woman. When asked about marriage, she responded, “I will not marry like these rich fools.”

Before her time in France, she focused her efforts on advancing the rights of female, immigrant factory workers in New York City. Although she was a woman of strong convictions, she did not become involved with the politics of her work. She was not interested in the suffrage movement and felt that women’s right to vote would, “Come anyway and people should be educated first.”

While traveling in France, she saw the devastation of war for the first time and the amount of suffering it had caused. Her initiatives ultimately resulted in the resettlement of 5,000 families that had been displaced by the war.

At the end of Miles Morgan’s talk, he provided the audience with an anecdote about his uncle, Anne Morgan’s brother. After an invasion near Anne Morgan work site, a reporter went to his uncle’s Wall Street office and claimed that Anne had been taken captive by the Germans. When asked to comment, her brother simple replied, “God help the German soldiers.”

AFP’s upcoming events feature a Vietnamese dinner celebrating the year of Vietnam in France and immersion courses focusing on French conversation with reviews of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. For more information, visit the AFP website.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Française de Philadelphie.