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Elisina Tyler and Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss, April 7, 1942

Hotel Richemond


7 April 1942

Dearest Mildred and Robert,

Before I leave Geneva for a few weeks to be spent at Ste. Claire, I want to send you both my most loving thoughts and remembrance. The gift that was transmitted me through Mlle MalyeThérèse Malye (1866–1951), Mildred Barnes Bliss’s Parisian secretary. took a very long time on the way, but it reached me at last safely. It has been applied to one of the colonies of refugee children from Dunkerque, established at the Château de la Guette,Beginning in 1939, the Château de la Guette in Villeneuve-Saint-Denis in Seine-et-Marne, a property of the Rothschild family, was used as a refugee children’s center run by the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants). near Clermont-Ferrand. The persons in charge of this group are personally known to me. I have faith in their capacity and willingness to do all that is best for the children and reports are sent to me regularly. So, dearest Milrobs, I hope you will feel some comfort in the knowledge that your kind and generous help is doing good where it was sorely needed.

You may have heard from Royall that I was unable to get a permit to cross the demarcation line from the occupied zone, until the very end of June 1941. I was deprived of all direct means of communication with Royall and Bill for over seven months and the skies were darkened over my head, during all that time on more counts than one. I heard that Royall had waited for eighteen days at Lyons [sic] in April and met the train every day hoping to see me arrive. That hurt a good deal! But I struggled on all through last winter and last spring, hoping that the steps I was taking for the protection of Antigny and its contents were effective, and strengthened by the belief that Royall was well, that he was satisfied with his position and his work and that the keystone over my head would hold.

When the permit came at last, unexpectedly, on June 28 and I saw Royall again on the station platform at Lyons [sic], his appearance was a stunning blow. I have never seen him so low in health, so wan, so utterly done. I determined that I would never take such heavy chances and that he and I must never again be parted by a pitiless barrier. Since June 1940 I have always seen to it, step by step as circumstances charged according to public events, that everything was in order, in case I were called away to any new destination, in this world or the next. I have been very fortunate in having faithful dependants near me and people whom I could trust, to undertake the necessary supervision in case of an unforeseen emergency. I had left very ample and detailed directions in safe hands, even when the hope of getting leave to absent myself for a limited time seemed likely to be endlessly deferred. Therefore I was ready to follow my heart’s dictate, and at the end of the three weeks which the permit allowed me, I was able, with a clear conscience, to abide by my resolve and stay with Royall. We spent two and a half months in Auvergne in a remote, quiet place, and little by little I had the deep joy of seeing Royall come back to something like his normal self. I prevailed upon him to have recourse to a very excellent specialist who turned out to be in every respect suited to his needs. He came back to Geneva and resumed his work with zest. He has done admirable work since. I then felt that it was my duty to go to Ste. Claire, where no one had set foot for 27 months and the master’s eye was needed. I disposed of the furniture of Ste. Claire and eventually of the house itself and the greater part of the land. I kept a goodsized house on the property, and transferred to it all we would need to make it a comfortable home, since Antigny was out of our reach owing to the circumstances. In October last, I fell and sprained an ankle badly. This accident was my salvation, as it prevented me from moving about and overtiring myself when, as it turned out, my health was in more dangerous condition than I suspected. I traveled to Geneva on November 8th and fell seriously ill with an attack of uremia, the very evening of my arrival. Should this have happened at Hyères I should not have had a chance of recovery as nothing that was needful would have been available for me. I found every cure and every comfort here, and by degree I came to read more clearly in my mind. The strain of the occupation, all the anxiety and the constant watchfulness I had to exercise in our remote community where all the authority that was left fell to my care, and then the long months of complete solitude last winter, circumstances that made every simple decision a delicate matter and a difficult problem to solve, had eaten into my nature and coloured my whole way of being. I read most of the day when the temperature outside was -25° centigrade for over three months, without means of transportation, I was practically snow-bound all the time. The memoirs and records I had by me all referred to one period in history and I came to live among shadows, to think of events long past as if they possessed a reality, to live a shadowy life of my own parallel to the grim realities that surrounded me. The shock I had when I saw Royall again, as I have described him, dispelled the fog and roused me to action and decisions which concerned him and his well-being. But when we parted once more, the atmosphere of strange aloofness from the life of the real world closed round me once more, especially at Ste. Claire where the stillness and silence that pervaded everything seemed so cruel a comment on the scenes that memory painted for me. The echo of those long weeks of suffering while Edith faded out of life and the anxieties and grief that followed for me, came back upon me. There was no chance of escape for me, through the outlet of activity. Deep moral stagnation had overtaken the country we knew once when every fibre was alive in it. This dreadful sense of uselessness and frustration has been the bitterest, the most destructive poison. Waiting, waiting, waiting, while health, hope, energy, confidence are whittled away and death seemed to creep stealthily around, marking young and old for his prey. During my convalescence (I was ill for two months in Geneva), I had leisure and wit enough to consider the situation. I went back to Ste. Claire with Royall for Christmas and I stayed on till the middle of February. Then I came back here because I was losing weight for lack of nourishment—ten kilos in a few weeks—I have been picking up fast since my return. And now I know that if I can give the best that is still in me to help build up something on which a hope for the future can rest, and break the curse of discouragement that lies like a spell over everything, I can live really again. And this brings me to the resolve I have taken, to turn to you and Robert and ask for help.

Ten thousand French children have been taken through the Swiss Red Cross and received in this hospitable country. Fifty thousand more will be taken care of during the current year. The children stay three months and go back afterwards to their own family in France. Of course, only children who are relatively healthy can be sent into Swiss families who out of human kindness offer to accept the care of them. But a considerable proportion of the children are in a condition of health that would make it highly desirable to have exact records made to serve as a basis for the supervision required when they go back to their own homes. The great obstacle has always been, up to the present the high cost of radiographic plates and their bulkiness which limits their use to an infinitesimal proportion of patients threatened or afflicted with tubercular infection. The cry throughout France is the terrible increase of the disease, especially among children. I have had three separate appeals made to me from official administrative quarters, asking if anything could be done. But how can one meet a need that is spread throughout France, where abnormal conditions of life are the general rule? By the merest accident the answer has come to me.

A huge step forward can now be made by providing the means for securing clear and rapid radiograph picturesSee Elisina Tyler, “Introduction à la Connaissance de la Méthode de Radio Photographie,” Fondation Edith Wharton, in the Edith Wharton Collection, Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale Collection of American Literature, YCAL MSS 42, box 63, folder 1789. of the lungs of the children before they return to France. Manoel de Arbreu’sManuel (Manoel) Dias de Abreu (1894–1962), a Brazilian physician and scientist and the inventor of “abreugraphy,” a rapid radiography of the lungs for the screening of tuberculosis. recently invented apparatus is capable of doing this on a hitherto undreamt-of scale, taking some 200 radiographs per hour. Thanks to it, each returning child might become the nucleus of a prophylactic organization, aiming at preserving the healthy through the timely detection of suspects. The radiographic records of these 50.000 children would help to deal with the sources of danger, and would bring about a great increase in conscientiousness of the problem, and promote obligatory disinfection of homes and garments: a duty which is almost wholly neglected at present. A campaign on these lines centering on the preservation of children’s lives, will give a strong impetus to the cause of national health registration, which is a matter of prime urgency in France to-day.

I am enclosing herewith an account of the apparatus recently invented by Manoel de Arbreu, which has been amply tested and approved by the highest medical authorities in Switzerland. Professor Bickel,Georges Bickel (1895–1982), a Swiss physician and professor at the University Medical Polyclinic of Geneva between 1929 and 1946. who is as you probably know a man of great eminence in the world of science, has agreed to making the “Polyclinic” or Dispensary which he directs here in Geneva the centre of the undertaking on which I have been at work as a project. France would welcome as a God-send a well-organized initiative enabling the services of the several departments to proceed on sure ground in the detection and prevention of tuberculosis.

The organization would be set on the following lines:

1. Registration and classification of the children sent from France into Switzerland. The new apparatus in question makes this possible, owing to the speed and scientific precision of the results obtained and the size of the plate produced.

2. The records would be transmitted to the Department Health authorities of the place of origin of each child. The necessary inquiries into the condition of the family would be followed up with the object of extending to the members of the family, round the nucleus of the child, the attention and supervision that is necessary to ensure the detection and timely care of suspect cases.

3. Convoys of suspected cases could be organized eventually and dealt with according to needs. It has been suggested that certain Swiss Sanatoria might be devoted to the care of French children in need of treatment, while food, fuel and medicines are unavailable in France.

It is useless to attempt to create a centre for this initiative in France under the present circumstances: Films, chemicals, electric power, paper for records and even the means of transmission and communication are lacking. But with the basic graphic record in hand, the subsidiary steps can be taken by the Health Services of each Prefecture.

The cost of the present apparatus and the electric apparatus to work it with a proper safeguard for the operator is, all told, 20.000 Swiss Francs. This allows for a small margin over the actual cost, and would be required to fix up a reception-room sufficiently spacious to allow the assembling and lining up of patients, so that loss of time is avoided and the maximum yield is secured.

By a very ingenious device, individual cards corresponding to each radiograph are prepared simultaneously with the radiograph picture. The “Summary” I encloseThis “summary” card was not retained with the letter. herewith is a reliable and accurate statement of the immense value of the invention, extracted from the original book on Dr. Manoel de Abrau’s work.

If you can see your way to making a gift, I would propose that our CommitteeThe committee of the Oeuvre des Maisons Américaines de Convalescence, rest homes for tuberculosis patients established by Edith Wharton in the summer of 1916. The charity’s name was purposefully vague in order to avoid resistance from French authorities who feared the spread of tuberculosis in their own communities. of which you have been a member, dearest Mildred, since its foundation in 1916, transfer the apparatus to Dr. MistalOtto-Marcel Mistal, a Swiss physician who specialized in tuberculosis treatment and who was the author of La Tuberculose dans le monde (Lausanne: Librairie Payot, 1947). in charge of this branch of activity at the Policlinic at Geneva. Dr. Mistal has an expertise in Endoscopy and Pleurolysis. Both Dr. Miller and Dr. Baldwin could tell you how highly he is appreciated in medical circles internationally. He was for ten years Assistant Director and then Director of a Montana SanatoriumThe Montana Sanatorium is in the small village of Montana in the Swiss Valais. and he considers—as Professor BickelGeorges Bickel (1895–1982), a Swiss physician and professor at the University Medical Polyclinic of Geneva between 1929 and 1946. does too—that the introduction and application of the new apparatus would mark a turning-point in the history of tubercular prophylaxy.

I have been in touch for some time with two Regional Prefects in France, who would be glad to facilitate the smooth working of the plan I have outlined. They are both fully aware of the immense value of the service that could be rendered to France. A consignment of 800 Belgian children was recently held up at the eleventh hour. If later the children are sent, they and others from countries in the same dreadful state of want, could benefit equally by this merciful help, extended to them also through the operating plant at the polyclinic here in Geneva.

There are plenty of devoted trained helpers to carry out the preliminary part of the plan proposed, even on the generous scale required. The cost of operating would be undertaken by the Polyclinic. All these details have been talked over by Prof. Bickel,Georges Bickel (1895–1982), a Swiss physician and professor at the University Medical Polyclinic of Geneva between 1929 and 1946. Dr. MistalOtto-Marcel Mistal, a Swiss physician who specialized in tuberculosis treatment and who was the author of La Tuberculose dans le monde (Lausanne: Librairie Payot, 1947). and myself, and we are in complete agreement. I can take care of the personal contacts in France to spread the benefit as widely as possible.

I have just received an assurance from the Director of Marshal Pétain’sPhilippe Pétain (1856–1951) (Maréchal Pétain), a French general who became marshal of France and later chief of state of Vichy France, the collaborationist French state, between 1940 and 1944. Cabinet, that by reason of my activities in charity work during the Great War and after, it was the Marshal’s intention that I should be granted a specially favourable status. This assurance will give me the requested freedom of movement, to carry out my share of the work.

You will understand my own ardent wish to have a share in useful service at last, after the long weary months of leaden inaction that have almost crushed the spirit out of me!

One more word: Professor Bickel,Georges Bickel (1895–1982), a Swiss physician and professor at the University Medical Polyclinic of Geneva between 1929 and 1946. whose authority in every field is unchallenged, told me he was assured that the transfer of the funds would be facilitated by the National Bank of Switzerland, in view of the great importance of the work contemplated. The Treasury at home would not oppose a veto to the transfer.

If you are able to make this generous gift, if I have been able to make clear to you the lasting value and importance of undertaking this campaign of salvage, I beg you to cable your answer to Royall at Geneva where I hope to be by the time this reaches you.

I hope that I have made it clear that my request is for one sum, paid once, and implying no further obligation of any kind. The Polyclinic will assume all further operating charges.

Elisina sent me this to have typed. She is still at Ste Claire.


Dearest Mildred—This, sending this on this particular date,Tyler’s meaning is unclear. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and the Blisses were married on April 14, 1908. may seem fantastic. But we have our memories of the past, haven’t we, and our faith in the future. You are constantly in my thoughts. With fondest love—