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An Eventful Decade Captured in Photographs

Posted On September 21, 2017 | 15:51 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (December 2014)

 

The American Distributing Service at 62 rue de Richelieu, Paris, and one of its storerooms.

Between 1912 and 1919, Robert Woods Bliss served as First Secretary and, later, as Counselor of the American Embassy in Paris. During this period, he kept an annotated album of photographs depicting various social and political events. The album begins in 1913 with images of elegant garden parties and country estates but abruptly segues into the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 with images of French troops in uniform and badly damaged buildings. These photographs provide a graphic narrative of this eventful decade. They also document the philanthropy that the Blisses engaged in during the war years. The Blisses were instrumental in establishing the American Distributing Service, the first American organization for hospital aid in France which supplied hospitals with whatever they needed free of cost, and several photographs show the Service’s storerooms and personnel.

The Blisses also generously supported the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly and established a convalescence home at Mormant, both of which are seen in the photograph album. They funded the purchase of an entire fleet of ambulances for the American Field Service, and this fleet of vehicles is captured in one of the images. The photographs further document that during the war years the Blisses toured battlefields and visited sanatoriums and refugee centers throughout France, despite the often dangerous conditions. Fittingly, the 98-page album concludes with 58 photographs of the arrival of General Pershing and the July 1919 Allied Powers victory parade in Paris.

Allied Powers victory parade in Paris, July 1919. Allied Powers victory parade in Paris, July 1919.

This photograph album is at the Harvard University Archives (HUGFP 76.74, Box 4) and is part of the Bliss Papers, a collection that Dumbarton Oaks gave to Harvard in 1982. This year the entire album was scanned at the request of the U.S. Department of State as part of its centennial observation of the beginning of the First World War. Using photographs and other documents, the department’s Office of the Historian and the U.S. Embassy in France undertook a study of the role of the U.S. diplomatic corps stationed in France during 1914–1918. The Dumbarton Oaks Archives has a copy of the scanned album pages, and they are also available on-line through the Harvard University Library page delivery service.

Robert Woods Bliss seen at various events, 1913. Robert Woods Bliss seen at various events, 1913.

Bombed buildings at Sommesous, September 12, 1914. Bombed buildings at Sommesous, September 12, 1914.

Supply and distribution depot, Dinard, and American Field Service ambulance fleet. Supply and distribution depot, Dinard, and American Field Service ambulance fleet.

Robert Woods Bliss inspecting battlefields, Boyeffles. Robert Woods Bliss inspecting battlefields, Boyeffles.