Anne Morgan "War: Rebuilding Devastated France, 1917–1924"

The Morgan Library & Museum

poster for Anne Morgan "War: Rebuilding Devastated France, 1917–1924"

This event has ended.

This exhibition brings to life the extraordinary work undertaken by a small team of American women volunteers who left comfortable lives in the United States to devote themselves to relief work in France during and after World War I. Their dynamic leader was Anne Morgan (1873–1952), a daughter of the financier Pierpont Morgan. As she rallied potential volunteers and donors on speaking tours across the United States, Morgan harnessed the power of documentary photography to foster a humanitarian response to the plight of French refugees.

With haunting views of ruined French towns, portraits of refugees, and tableaux of American volunteers at work, the exhibition explores not only the human cost of war but also the potency of photographic propaganda and the influence of women's activism. The show traces the fieldwork of the American Committee for Devastated France, the volunteer civilian relief organization that Morgan created with her friend Anne Murray Dike (1879–1929). Morgan, with her commanding presence and social prominence, took the lead in fund-raising efforts, while Dike, trained as a physician, organized activities in the field.

Works on view are drawn from two major collections: fifty photographs and a montage of silent films are on loan from the Franco-American Museum, Château de Blérancourt, France, a national museum housed in the seventeenth-century château that served as the base of operations for the American Committee. Photograph albums, personal letters, sound recordings, and archival documents are drawn from the papers of Anne Morgan at the Morgan.

When the first American volunteers arrived in northeastern France in 1917, they witnessed destruction on an astonishing scale. Several years of war had decimated the French countryside. "You can travel in a motor going forward in a straight line for fifteen hours and see nothing but ruins," Anne Murray Dike explained in 1919. People had lost nearly everything—not only their homes and livelihoods but a whole generation of young men.

The committee commissioned photographs of the devastation in Picardy as well as the committee's activities. Full-page images ran in American newspapers, exhibitions were mounted, and sets of prints were sold for three dollars a dozen. The photographs conveyed to Americans the enormous need for relief in the form of monetary support, donations in kind, and volunteerism.

Images such as Mme. Compagnon: "They shall not pass" captured the craggy faces of exhausted refugees—twice evacuated during the German occupation—after they had made their way back to their ruined villages, determined to resume life on their home soil.

As early as 1914, Anne Morgan had recognized the fund-raising potential of film, hosting the first New York screening of the Chicago Tribune's groundbreaking war newsreels. Over the next few years, millions of Americans crowded into theaters to watch similar footage, a portion of the box office proceeds often benefiting organizations such as the Red Cross. When Morgan's own relief committee launched operations in France in 1917, the moving image became a central tool in its publicity campaign. While the earliest films were produced in cooperation with the French army's well-established cinema unit, the American Committee later formed its own dedicated filmmaking team.



from September 03, 2010 to November 21, 2010


Anne Morgan et al.

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