Anne Mor­gan, an Amer­i­can Hero

How a rich New York so­cialite found her call­ing in war re­lief

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Corinna Lothar

The United States was fi­nally in “the war to end all wars.” France had been rav­aged since the sum­mer of 1914. Vil­lages and towns were oblit­er­ated. Women and chil­dren went hun­gry and home­less as the armies wres­tled in fu­tile com­bat in mud, blood and in­de­scrib­able filth and dis­ease. The Bri­tish lost 20,000 dead in a sin­gle day at the Bat­tle of the Somme.

“Somme,” said a grim Ger­man of­fi­cer at the end of the bat­tle. “The whole history of the world can­not con­tain a more ghastly word.”

But when the Amer­i­can dough­boys got to France in the sum­mer of 1917, thou­sands of Amer­i­cans were al­ready there, as vol­un­teer sol­diers, nurses, am­bu­lance driv­ers and avi­a­tors, in­clud­ing the cel­e­brated Lafayette Es­cadrille. Among them was a rich so­cialite, Anne Tracy Mor­gan, youngest child of the Wall Street baron John Pier­pont Mor­gan. Alan Gove­nar and Mary Niles Maack re­count in their lav­ishly il­lus­trated bi­og­ra­phy, “Anne Mor­gan: Pho­tog­ra­phy, Phi­lan­thropy and Ad­vo­cacy,” that as a lit­tle girl Miss Mor­gan told her fa­ther that when she grew up she would be “some­thing bet­ter than a rich fool.” Some­thing very much bet­ter she turned out to be.

A New Yorker pro­file in 1927 de­scribed her as some­one whose “en­trance seems to quicken the air of the room . . . her en­er­getic pres­ence charges the at­mos­phere like an elec­tri­cal dis­tur­bance. . . She knows what she wants done and is con­cerned only with re­sults.” She was tall with a com­mand­ing pres­ence and bright dark eyes. She raised money for re­lief in the ball­rooms of New York, and she went to the Western front to taste Ger­man shot and shell to make sure the money would be well spent.

Miss Mor­gan — she never mar­ried — is far bet­ter known in France than in the United States, though The New York Times in­cluded her in a list of the 12 great­est Amer­i­can women in 1922. She cred­ited El­iz­a­beth (“Bessie”) Mar­bury, a high-so­ci­ety the­atri­cal agent, as nur­tur­ing her sense of so­cial obli­ga­tion. She was a found­ing mem­ber of the Colony Club, the first pri­vate so­cial club for women in New York City, which, re­flect­ing the era, ad­mit­ted no blacks or Jews and few Catholics. But she marched with union work­ers dur­ing the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fac­tory strike in 1909, and joined the suf­fragettes work­ing to win the vote for women.

She sailed to Europe with her par­ents when she was a four-year-old, and fell in love with France. She later ac­com­pa­nied her fa­ther to Europe, and spent sum­mers in France, join­ing Bessie Mar­bury and her com­pan­ion, ac­tress and in­te­rior de­signer Elsie de Wolfe, at their Villa Tri­anon in Ver­sailles. The three be­came the “Ver­sailles Tri­umvi­rate.”

When the war broke out in 1914, Anne and Elsie de Wolfe of­fered the villa to the French for a con­va­les­cent home for wounded sol­diers. She re­turned to New York to raise money for French war re­lief and be­came the trea­surer of the Amer­i­can Fund for French Wounded. She even­tu­ally vis­ited the bat­tle­fields at Ver­dun and the Somme re­gion to make sure the hos­pi­tals got the money she raised.

She sailed to France again when Amer­ica went to war, to­gether with Anne Mur­ray Dike, a Cana­dian doc­tor, and eight women vol­un­teers to care for the wounded and to be­gin their re­lief work in earnest. They were sent to the ru­ined vil­lage of Blean­court north­east of Paris, which had been lib­er­ated af­ter three years of Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion and de­struc­tion. They or­ga­nized a com­mu­nity cen­ter for 25 re­gional vil­lages, plant­ing trees, seed­ing the land, restor­ing the bat­tered houses, even open­ing a dairy. This was the phe­nom­e­non of the Amer­i­can vol­un­teer that had so im­pressed Alexis de Toc­queville when he vis­ited Amer­ica 85 years ear­lier.

Fol­low­ing the Ger­man of­fen­sive in March 1918, the women used their re­lief trucks to evac­u­ate civil­ians, feed refugees and care for the wounded. Bat­tle­fields were not so or­ga­nized for re­lief as they are now. With Dr. Dike, she founded the Amer­i­can Com­mit­tee for Dev­as­tated France to pro­vide hous­ing, food, cloth­ing, and child care, and stayed be­hind af­ter the armistice in Novem­ber to es­tab­lish schools, li­braries, public health cen­ters and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams. Once more, she raised the money to pay for it.

A year later she bought the heav­ily dam­aged 17th-cen­tury Blean­court chateau as a place to call home, and she and Dr. Dike re­stored it as a mu­seum of French-Amer­i­can history, to thank France for sup­port­ing the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion. She gave the chateau and mu­seum and its beautiful gar­den to the town. Af­ter years of ren­o­va­tions, the Na­tional Mu­seum of Franco-Amer­i­can Co-op­er­a­tion will re­open next Sun­day. The mu­seum has an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of paint­ings by French artists work­ing in Amer­ica and Amer­i­can painters in France.

Anne Mor­gan con­tin­ued to raise money for French re­lief, per­suad­ing her rich friends to rent their man­sions to movie pro­duc­ers and give half the money to re­lieve civil­ian suf­fer­ing in France, and even per­suaded the two box­ers fight­ing for the light­weight cham­pi­onship in 1921 to send part of their purses to France. She bought the ring­side seats and auc­tioned them to the rich and fa­mous and sent the pro­ceeds to French re­lief.

Vol­un­teer duty called again with the out­break of World War II, and she was back to France to set up re­lief sta­tions for refugees. She and a small group of vol­un­teers kept calm and car­ried on un­der bomb­ing and be­fore the ad­vanc­ing Ger­man army. She barely es­caped cap­ture, and sub­se­quently per­suaded Ger­man au­thor­i­ties that her work evac­u­at­ing and feed­ing refugees was in their in­ter­ests, too. She was even­tu­ally forced home for good, and died in New York in 1952 at age 78, at the end of an ex­tra­or­di­nary life well lived.

REPRINTED FROM ‘ANNE MOR­GAN: PHO­TOG­RA­PHY, PHI­LAN­THROPY & AD­VO­CACY’

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LINAS GARSYS

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