FRENCH HEROES LAFAYETTE MEMORIAL FUND, Inc.
The American people’s gratitude to France is actually quite extraordinary and noble since we can consider it as one of history’s great surprises. It has been nearly two and a half centuries since France recognized the independence of the United States and concluded a treaty of friendship with it. Since that time, both peoples have profoundly evolved, however the memory of the Franco-American fraternity remains as vivid today as if the events took place yesterday.
Our memory spontaneously evokes the combat initiated by this young nation in the fight against imperialism and Nazism that twice, during the First and Second World Wars tore Europe apart. However, military assistance and the sacrifices made by its soldiers were only part of the aid provided by the Americans. One day, the full history of the charity that the United States has provided to France should be written and some are already working on this endeavor. As part of this honorable story a chapter must be devoted to the work of the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund, which acted in the memory of General Marquis de Lafayette; French and American hero. In the castle that was Lafayette’s birthplace in Chavaniac, it established and organized an orphanage for the care of war orphans (from the First World War) and then an establishment for children with impaired health.
Origins and purpose of the association
Among the major American relief organizations that, from the beginning of World War One, were founded in the United States in order to provide material support and moral encouragement to the allied populations affected by the war, the FHLMF is one of the most significant in terms of the resources dedicated and the results obtained.
Its debut, initially quite modest, back in April 1916 was the result of the perseverance of its founders, Mrs. Beatrice Chanler, wife of W.A. Chanler (large fortune in the eastern United States) who had been a Representative from New York in the Fifty-sixth Congress as well as a member of the New York State Assembly in 1897 and Mr. J.C. Moffat.
Before America’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies, Mrs. Chanler did some publicity for France by reuniting in a book, opinions about France from various representatives of the American intellectual class. This book For France was edited by her and the profit from its sale went directly to the relief fund for the organization that she was already managing (known as the French Heroes Fund and was responsible for the Lafayette Kits).
J.C. Moffat, who had Scottish origins was a writer and a talent organizer. He had from the beginning of the war devoted all his energy to the Allied cause. Discharged in 1914, he moved to the United States where he immediately established the Committee of Mercy with the intent of providing aid to war victims. Given the immensity of the task, and in order to avoid the duplication and scattering of the relief efforts, Mr. Moffat had the idea of grouping already existing relief organizations under the National Allied Relief Committee. He also managed to gather the financial capabilities needed to meet such expectations by organizing huge charity events including three bazaars opened in New York and Chicago which raised $1.5 million (a considerable sum for the time).
Among the charitable endeavors belonging to the National Allied Relief Committee and founded in April of 1916 was the French Heroes Fund, which was shortly after renamed the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund; further specifying with this new name its involvement on the French territory. This project was placed under the patronage of the historic General Lafayette.
The various components of the FHLMF: Their spirit and their purpose
The Musée du Souvenir at Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette:
At the beginning the FHLMF only planned to bring its collaboration to the work undertaken by Miss Thomson with the organization Vie Féminine, an initiative that aimed to create work for unemployed women and workshops for discharged French soldiers. But that didn’t seem to be enough in the eyes of our American friends. Meanwhile, with news that the castle which was Lafayette’s birthplace in Chavaniac (Haute-Loire) was for sale, the charity’s committee decided to purchase it from its owner Gaston Pourcet Sahune Dumottier de Lafayette.
The purchase of the castle offered the unique opportunity to create a museum capable of contributing to repaying America’s debt to Lafayette by perpetuating the memory of this French and American hero; enabling the creation in France of another Mount Vernon. A first collection brought together the accounts relating to Lafayette and the Revolutionary War, while a second collection consisted of all the memories of the Great War of 1914. This museum provided a concrete expression of the Franco-American friendship that united these countries’ two great ancestors: LaFayette and Washington.
However, the complete installation of the museum was not possible before the end of the conflict when peace was restored. However, unwilling to wait any longer for the achievement of the practical aspects of this museum, the association decided to help the children of French soldiers that were killed in combat.
Orphanage and School in Chavaniac:
The FHLMF’s idea in creating this school in 1917, was to make young French orphans active and capable, with a broad and solid general education.
As a committee dedicated to the allied countries, the FHLMF quickly added to the French group of orphans, young exiles from Poland, and then from Russia and Italy.
While the first idea was the combination of an orphanage with a school, the observation of the precarious and deficient health of many of the orphans who were also war victims, encouraged and justified the creation of a specialized center in Chavaniac.
By October 1918, the FHLMF founded the Lafayette Preventorium which welcomed sick and weak children in one of its outbuildings. Under the direction of physicians and nurses, for the most part American, assisted by French teachers, the preventorium quickly cared for and educated more than fifty underprivileged children.
The Lafayette estate was filled with children since 1918, but before others came, it welcomed many Parisians.
When in early 1918, the German army decided to bombard Paris, the committee decided to send a large number of Parisian children to the castle. For a month, Mrs. Chanler remained in Paris and organized the transfer of these children to Chavaniac. However, being unable to accommodate all of the children seeking refuge outside of Paris, new shelters were created in Siaugues, Loudes, and Saint George d’Aurac; villages that belonged to the former territory of the Lafayette family. Then, as this organization was still insufficient, a large number of children, whose care was fully supported by the association, were assigned to other existing establishments. They included the Couvent de la Visitation in Le Puy-en-Velay, and the Château de Chadrac (which depended on the hospices of the city of Le Puy-en-Velay. They were leased or generously made available to the association. The children’s care and education lasted well beyond the end of the hostilities. Some later attended the school in Chavaniac.
The Washington-Lafayette scholarships and boarding school:
After having completed their secondary education and while awaiting the required age for their internship in the United States, the young students benefited from the Washington-Lafayette scholarships created by the association in order to complete the students’ education. Received and cared for at the Washington-Lafayette boarding school located in Passy (Paris neighborhood), the curriculum, largely inspired by American methods, provide a complete education (academic, moral, physical, linguistic) and prepared them for the entrance exams for large national schools. The organizing committee was run from the United States by Mr. Pierpont Morgan.
The FHLMF, however, did not only limit its action to helping orphans and sick children. Indeed, with the creation of the Emergency Committee and the Vestiaire, it contributed assistance to refugees and support to prisoners returning from abroad as well as help to many individuals in distress by financially supporting the many charities dedicated to these initiatives.
The organization of the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund
To distribute its effort efficiently in France, the FHLMF had to have considerable funds. The success of these initiatives relied primarily on the organization set up by Mr. Moffat, chairman of the committee in New York. Located near Fifth Avenue, the committee’s offices had nearly one hundred employees in charge of managing the contributions from more than 150,000 donors.
The collected funds were sent to Paris, where the FHLMF had its headquarters on Marbeuf Street. The Paris committee managed the association’s endeavors. Each branch of the organization was managed by a its own committee. Paul Painlevé, Leon Bourgeois, both former ministers, V.R. Berry (President of the American Chamber of Commerce) and J.R. Carter (Vice President of the Morgan bank) presided over some of these committees.
The honorary members of this association included the following people: Clemenceau, Briand, Herriot, Barthou, Painlevé, Lyautey, Anatole France, etc.
G. Clemenceau was the organization’s honorary president and it could count on the support of General Pershing, who was one of its directors.
The evolution of the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund.
, Mr. Moffat said that upon the return to peace, America would end its war relief work within the span of eighteen months. To continue the work initiated by the FHLMF, the American association, Memorial Lafayette Inc., chaired by J. Moffat was created in 1921 and had complete ownership of Lafayette’s former estate in Chavaniac. Its administration was entrusted to Mrs. Le Verrier. In the early years, each institution (school, preventorium, castle) had a separate administration.
Rapidly much work became necessary. From 1920 to 1925
the castle was restored, new rooms were finished, including an apartment for the Moffats. The most modern amenities for the time were installed (running water, electricity, telephone, central heating).
In parallel to the work of enhancing Lafayette’s birthplace, including the creation of a park, the preventorium was constructed one kilometer from the castle. A swimming pool, tennis courts and sports fields were built, providing the preventorium and school an infrastructure that was unique in France.
the elementary school was replaced replaced by a junior high school. In 1931
the college was incorporated into the preventorium which began functioning independently and in 1937
the association Lafayette Preventorium Inc. was created. Over one hundred educators, doctors and craftsmen were employed by this institution that had five hundred beds.
The castle, owned by Memorial Lafayette, continued to operate with funds raised mainly in the United States.
, J. Moffat left Europe and did not return until 1946. During the Second World War the preventorium continued its activity under very difficult conditions. The classrooms and dormitories were installed in the castle so that it wouldn’t be requisitioned by the Nazis. Many Jewish children were secretly hidden in the castle.
From 1950 to 1966
, the preventorium was still considered as providing remarkable medical care. The staffing varied significantly with the reduction of cases of primary infections. At the end of 1966 the preventorium was transformed into a bronchology center and was renamed Centre Lafayette.
the Lafayette Preventorium became a Centre d’Assistance Sociale Spécialisé (CASS) whose direction was provided by staff at the Education Nationale. In 1993
, the CASS evolved towards the statute of an association (ACASS) which definitively marked the end of the link with Memorial Lafayette. In 2007
the association merged with l’APEP 43 (Association des Pupilles de l’Enseignement Public – délégation Haute-Loire) and became the Institut Thérapeutique Educatif et Pédagogique (ITEP). In 2008
the DASS decided to close the ITEP which was restructured in several centers across the department.
, after the death of J. Moffat, buried with his wife on the grounds of Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette, the association Memorial Lafayette Inc. obtained the status of an association under French law and continued under the direction of administrators from the Haute-Loire. In 1974
, with funding from the Rotary, renovations were undertaken in the castle and the old museum was transformed en into a museum about Lafayette called Historial. In 1989
the Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette and its grounds were listed in the Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments. In the 1990s
, after many financial difficulties, the Memorial engaged in a new developmental path. Thanks to the assistance of the government of the Haute-Loire and the sponsorship of Merck Sharp Chemical Co., a new museum replaced the Historial. In 2009
, an agreement with the association Memorial Lafayette put Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette under the ownership and management of the government of the Haute-Loire.
"Lafayette here we are ..."
25,000 French, Russian, Italian and Polish children: war orphans or children in poor health, were welcomed, cared for and educated at Château de Chavaniac-Lafayette from 1917 to the end of the 1960s. The charitable work accomplished by Mrs. Chanler and continued by Mr. Moffat demonstrated the recognition of the American people and expressed their affection and gratitude toward those who had been so efficiently helped and did more than simply pay an historical debt. Memorial Lafayette, by assuming such a large responsibility with unfailing will, reminds us of the slogan given in 1783 by Washington to his troops: "America and France United forever."
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Departmental Archives - Haute-Loire (Lafayette Memorial Fund)
H. Donnet - Chavaniac Lafayette, le Manoir des deux Mondes - Edition le cherche midi.