Rebuilding France 1917-1924: Lewiston exhibit

Women Rebuilding France 1917-1924

This historic exhibit is currently featured in the USM LAC Atrium Gallery, on Westminister Street, in Lewiston.

It’s a Centennial Exhibition to remember World War I, from the Franco-American Museum Château de Blérancourt, in Picardy, France.

Women Rebuilding France after World War I

A physician helping French children is one image among the exhibits now featured in the USM LAC Atrium Gallery in Lewiston.

An overview about how Anne Morgan, the youngest daughter of financier J.P. Morgan, led a humanitarian restoration in France, after World War I, was the subject of “Women Rebuilding France 1917-1924”, currently an exhibit at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC).  Elaine (néeL’Heureux) Leary, of Auburn, is the curator of the exhibit, on display in the LAC Atrium Gallery. On Tuesday evening, September 13, 2017, she presented a lecture on the exhibit on behalf of the Franco-American Museum, Château de Blérancourt.  This presentation was hosted by the USM LAC Franco-American Collection, and the Board of the special collection and archives, located on the campus.

Following is an overview of Ms. Leary’s presentation:

Elaine (née L'Heureux") Leary

Elaine (née L’Heureux) Leary of Auburn, is the curator of the American Women Rebuilding France 1917-1924 at USM LAC in Lewiston.

World War I was into its third horrific year in 1917, with fighting continuing in Europe, including much of France. In 1917, the United States entered the “War to End All Wars”.

This is the Centennial Remembrance of the entry of the American Expeditionary Force in France, during World War I.

An awareness about the horrendous battles fought during this war are documented in memorials, as well as in dramas, like the play and the movie “War Horse“.  These dramas provide another perspective about the horror of World War I.

Although the War itself is chronicled, not as much has been told about the affects of the devastation “to end all wars”, and how the civilian population suffered.

One rescue effort was led by women who went to France to aid, not only the soldiers, but the innocent victims of the ravaged French nation.

Women were motivated to provide assistance via the American Field Service and the American Red Cross.

Who were these women?

Postcard announcement

American Women Rebuilding France 1917-1924, remembering the Centennial anniversary of America’s entry into World War I and the humanitarian aid to the French people, led by Anne Morgan.

They were among the early organized groups to launch a “women’s movement”, by changing the role of women from the tradition of wife and house-maker, to social leaders.

In fact, the industrial revolution, where women workers were needed to provide labor, along with the women’s suffrage (1919 right to vote) and World War I humanitarian aid efforts, were the roots of the modern women’s movement.

An outstanding leader of this progressive movement was Anne Morgan. Born July 25, 1873, she was the daughter JP Morgan. Her work in France, particularly in the Picardy region, was well known, because of her remarkable help to the French people. Nevertheless, this history is largely unknown to the American public. She mirrored her father in appearance and temperament, said Leary. She was athletic and high spirited. Her early years growing up in the family home on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, was located across the street from the New York Public Library and what later became the Morgan Library. Her education was provided by home tutors.  She accompanied her family during their frequent travels abroad and stayed with them at Cragston, the family’s mansion on the Hudson River, near Highland Falls. Throughout her life, Anne demonstrated leadership, an aptitude for business, finance and entrepreneurial skills.

Although Anne’s wealth and position put her at the top of society, she was inspired to redefine the role, and leadership of women and to support their place in a bigger social vision.  As a matter of fact, many independent women who lived in the post World War I years, were attracted to France.

In 1902, when she was 29 years old, Anne went to Chicago to study the settlement houses, built by the Jane Addams’ organization. There, she concluded that one must be on location with the people who you want to help, for the purpose of understanding their needs.

When she saw the need to help rebuild France, she instinctively knew how “being there” was essential to the success of her leadership efforts.

Anne Morgan and her group of friends helped to rebuild France on behalf of the traumatized war torn people, who were unable to do it all alone. They rose above their self-interest and soared to a new level of aid, that has become a hallmark of American philanthropy.

Information about this interesting exhibit is available by contacting Elaine (née L’Heureux) Leary at and check the website at

The USM LAC Atrium Gallery is open to the public.


Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.