When Germany entered northern France early in World War I, they showed no mercy. The countryside was devastated, and women struggled to survive while the men were off fighting in the war. One way French women put food on the table is through their stitchery – detailed cross-stitch depictions of soldiers, flags, coats of arms, and other representations of the main Allied forces – that was sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France, with all the proceeds going back to the French women and their families.
Excerpts from a June 1916 letter from Mercy Richards Essig (Mrs. Norman Sturgis Essig), 1700 Locust Street, Philadelphia that accompanied some of these items paint a vivid picture of the women’s lives and their efforts at survival: “The women sit inside their houses under fire constantly, and embroider. When a shell is heard on its way they duck into the cellars until it bursts, and then come out again at once. The cellars are all marked—that is[,] the safe ones, with signs pointing to them and telling their capacity. The women who embroider are those whose men—sons, husbands, and fathers are at the front or wounded or killed . . .”
And that’s not all . . .
In 1914, Anne Morgan (daughter of John Pierpoint Morgan) spent a week visiting the Marne battlefields in France, and what she was so horrified by what she saw that she created the Committee for Devastated France (CARD) with offices in New York and chapters across the U.S., all dedicated to raising money to provide relief work in France. Activities of CARD were documented in the weekly bulletin called Under Two Flags. CARD offices were located in Château de Blérancourt that was later restored by Anne Morgan and turned into a museum dedicated to the friendship and cooperation between the France and the United States.
Today, The Engineer and I take a seat in the big chair in the sky and make our way to France where we will enjoy a current-day continuation of the rich, long-standing tradition of French and American women working together in friendship and caring. I can’t wait to call many women I already consider friend Sugar to their face and hug them in real – not digital – hugs. We will laugh together, and no doubt shed a few tears together as we attend the first major European exhibit of The 70273 Project in Lacaze, France on Sunday, June 25, 2017. You can read more about the exhibit and what hundreds of French volunteers did to commemorate another day when the United States and France worked together on the blog of my friend Katell Renon, who has worked tirelessly to coordinate the making and collection of the 55 quilts that will be included in the exhibit. Many have worked with great dedication to make this exhibit happen, and I will introduce you to them throughout the week, I am deeply honored and grateful like you wouldn’t believe to the women of France and to the Association France Patchwork for their dynamism, for their obvious deep feelings about the commemorations we undertake, and for the hospitality and kindness they have already extended. These women don’t dwell in the past, but they don’t forget it either, knowing that forgetting is the first paver in the road to allowing history to repeat itself – something that will not happen on our watch.
I’ve been brushing up on my French, and today I learned how to say “Pinch me”, something I expect I’ll be saying a lot to make sure this is really happening.
I’ll be posting from France here on the blog, on Facebook here and here and here, and on Instagram. I will also be taking lots of photos and gathering lots of stories that I will assemble in a catalogue of the exhibit when I get back to the States – a catalogue that will be available for sale to raise money to ship the quilts to their next destination and ultimately . . . eventually . . . here to Heartquarters for photographing for the book and preparation for The Great Gathering and Launch.
Places to find more information about the rich tradition of French and American women working together:
Many thanks to the Smithsonian Institute, to the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and these people for allowing me to use these images and for doing and sharing the research provided on their web site.