The American Fund for French Wounded

The photo above was taken in Boston, Massachusetts, during the First World War.  A press snipe on the back provides some information:

Boston committee, American Fund for French Wounded 4

This is a typical load of supplies sent weekly by the American Fund for French Wounded, 304-306 Boylston Street to the French military hospitals.

Boston committee, American Fund for French Wounded 3

The men seem to be in good spirits:

Boston committee, American Fund for French Wounded 5

 

The American Fund for French Wounded was formed in December 1915 by American women living in France.  Women in the United States were recruited to join the organization as volunteers.  According to Wikipedia:

The original work of the AFFW was confined to sending supplies to emergency hospitals in France and later expanded to re-establishing the destroyed communities of the region.  The AFFW ran a women’s volunteer motor corps out of Paris that carried supplies to hospitals throughout France and created temporary depots in small villages.  Drivers usually performed their own maintenance work.  Volunteers in the Civilian Committee lived in or near villages in northern France, making structural repairs, replanting fields, and delivering provisions and supplies.

The organization’s American headquarters were located in New York City with additional chapters, called committees, in cities throughout the United States.  The Yale Archives website says there were “some 60 chapters,” while the New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts website says there were “committees in eighty United States municipalities.”

Once supplies arrived in France, they were warehoused at the Paris Depot.  The entrance can be seen in the photo below from the National Archives:

Entrance to the American Fund for French Wounded, Paris Depot (1918) 1
165-WGZ-2L-2: Entrance to the American Fund for French Wounded, Paris Depot, 1918

The next photo, taken in September 1918, shows a group of AFFW drivers in their uniforms.  With the war almost over, this group was attached to the Service de Santé of the French Government.

Drivers of the American Fund for French Wounded 1 crop 1
Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer.  A.F.F.W. Drivers. […] Miss Roger, Miss Hughes, Miss Robeson, Miss Caspari, Mrs. Crean, Miss Kennerly, Miss Wilde and Miss Washburn.  France, 1918.  September.  https://www.loc.gov/item/2017682324/.  [Cropped for use on this website.]

 

The uniform of a volunteer named Lucy Kennedy Shaffer is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The most famous AFFW volunteer may be the modernist writer and art collector Gertrude Stein.  Beginning in 1916, she and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, delivered supplies to hospitals in the south of France in a Ford van they called “Auntie.”

~~~

I knew nothing about the AFFW when I bought the photo taken in Boston.  Looking at it now, I wonder where those boxes of supplies ended up and whether they brought comfort to people who were suffering.  I’m also amazed at the logistics of such an effort and, perhaps more than anything, I’m impressed by the dedication of all the women who made it happen.

Boston committee, American Fund for French Wounded 2 small
A high-resolution scan of this photo can be opened in a separate tab here.

 

38 thoughts on “The American Fund for French Wounded

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  1. A wonderful photograph. I’m touched by the history behind it and the women who worked so hard. They look determined to help in their crisp uniforms with their smart canine companion in the front row. I love the photograph itself as well. The details in period photos are so fascinating. The ironwork on the second floor railing is beautiful craftsmanship. And those horses are enormous! I was going to say how very strong they must be for such a load but on closer inspection I think there’s probably at least one more pair of them outside of the picture frame to help pull it all. A really wonderful find, thank you for sharing ☺️

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    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re right that there must be another pair of horses to the left of the frame. I had reached the same conclusion. Such a large wagon! It occurred to me that the wagon might have been made in the 19th century, but I know nothing about wagon construction. At any rate, it seems almost antiquated in the late 1910s. Of course, horses were used extensively by the armies during the war (sadly).

      The ironwork is very nice. Did you notice the fellow in the window? I only noticed him after I shared the photo!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m surprised that none of my readers (so far) have heard of the AFFW. I hadn’t, but I thought others might have. It goes to show that stories like this need to be told and retold.

      That poor Frenchman had to maintain his dignity while surrounded by all those strong women! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  2. From your text: “Drivers usually performed their own maintenance work. Volunteers in the Civilian Committee lived in or near villages in northern France, making structural repairs, replanting fields, and delivering provisions and supplies.” I would conclude that these women were very resourceful and competent at managing support for the war effort while soldiers were on the battlefield. I’m guessing there might even be fewer wars if women were in charge. Nice pictures, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of this organization, or their work. I’m a little surprised that I don’t remember anything about it from my reading of/about Stein and Toklas. It seems as though there would have been at least some mention of a Ford van named ‘Auntie’ in their bios, but perhaps I never found a good one.

    I don’t think it means a thing, but I was interested to see the boxes hadn’t been loaded sequentially. They probably were initially numbered in the warehouse, but as long as they were checked off at the wagon, that would have been enough organization. It’s a great series of photos. I wonder if the dog was a mascot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wondered about the numbers on the boxes as well, and I think your supposition about the loading must be correct. It’s a shame that the snipe on the photo doesn’t provide more information about who packed the boxes or what they contained. It doesn’t even say who took the photo.

      I read that Gertrude Stein wrote about the AFFW in one of her books, but I don’t remember which one off hand. The website that I linked her name to is the one where I found the reference to “Auntie.” It has a lot of good information about her. On her Wikipedia page, I was surprised to read that she studied medicine at Johns Hopkins for four years and then abandoned it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great picture and post, as always. Out of curiosity, I did a Google street view of the address, and didn’t see those buildings. Then I wondered if the photo was taken somewhere other than at the address in the label on the back, so I Googled some more. But sure enough, it seems that H. G. Laffee was a millinery shop located at 300 Boylston. So I guess those buildings are gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you, Matt! I did the same thing you did, trying to find the location of the photo today. But I didn’t have any more luck than you did. In the photo, the address of the H.G. Laffee shop is 77, not 300, so this may have been a branch, rather than the main store. But I didn’t find any record online of an H.G. Laffee shop at that address on any street. Frustrating!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I saw that “77” and wondered if it referred to something other than the address. because it would be quite a coincidence. I decided to leave that question to a researcher who is more resourceful than I am.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Another great post, Brad! Isn’t it wonderful, how women, working together, find niches to fill and ways to serve in times of extreme need when social norms otherwise kept them out? It seems the AFFW was a precursor to the WAVES and similar women’s service groups during WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, Becky. Many American women couldn’t vote yet, but they had other kinds of power and they understood how to leverage it. After I published this post, I continued looking for information about the AFFW and learned that the treasurer of the civilian and refugee branch of the organization was Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan. She also worked on the ground in France. But many of the volunteers came from middle-class backgrounds.

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