Although the rolling plains of France’s Hauts-de-France and Grand Est regions were once the sites of epic World War I battles, a resilient beauty has recaptured the landscape. One woman’s vision has made a lasting impact on the area’s restoration.
New York philanthropist Anne Morgan, daughter of eminent financier J. P. Morgan, was one figure whose remarkable efforts stood out. She was spurred to action by the destruction of the lovely Gallic villages laid waste by battle and was determined to assist with their recovery. A portrait of Anne, painted by Philip de László and pictured above, is displayed in honor of her tireless work rebuilding war-torn villages.
The French Revolution and World War I had ravaged the Château de Blérancourt, above, yet Anne Morgan purchased it to use as the base for her community repair efforts. She later restored and donated the structure to the French government. In 1931, it opened as a museum celebrating the enduring friendship between the United States and France.
Anne founded the American Committee for Devastated France and purchased the ruined seventeenth-century Château de Blérancourt in Aisne for its headquarters. Along with her dedicated corps of female volunteers, she traveled to different areas setting up makeshift hospitals and dispensaries, as well as handing out seeds, gardening tools—and hope for the future.
Anne continued her efforts after the war, creating libraries, agricultural cooperatives, and community centers to aid in the area’s renewal. Though Anne never sought any recognition for her good deeds, she was appreciated all the same, and the Franco-American Museum honors this remarkable woman and her commitment to the people and places of northern France.
Text Karen Callaway
Photography Jane Hope
To learn more about this rich Gallic history, see “The Renaissance of Northern France” on page 23 of the May/June 2018 issue.