by Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH
It was 105 years ago, in the summer of 2018, when the American Women’s Hospitals Service (AWHS)–a program of AMWA—established their first hospital in France to provide medical care during the first world war. Situated first in France at the Village of Neufmoutiers, Seine et Marne, the hospital later moved to Luzancy and then Blerancourt.
In Luzancy, the hospital was set up in a 15th century chateau that had formerly been a school. Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy writes in her book Certain Samaritans, “The installation of the American Women’s Hospital No. 1, with village dispensaries and ambulance service, seemed heaven-sent at that critical time. Hundreds of people were sick, and the district was practically without medical supplies or physicians, except the two women doctors with the American Committee for Devastated France who were working in association with our corps…Calls came from every direction…The cars and ambulances of the American Women’s Hospitals were running day and night, and before the end of this epidemic we were caring for the sick in over a hundred villages.”
So imagine our awe, when on May 26 of this year, we found ourselves driving along the same meandering roads in Luzancy, catching glimpses of the waters of the Marne until we reached Rue du General Leclerc and the familiar arch which marked the former entrance to the Chateau. The crumbling façade of the walls seemed to peel back layers of another time, a witness to centuries of history.
Our group included AMWA past president Dr. Connie Newman, AMWA member Dr. Douglas Chin, and Dr. Amany Asfour (President-elect, Medical Women’s International Association) and Dr. Elizabeth Lichtenstein (Vice-President Central Europe, Medical Women’s International Association).
The Luzancy Chateau is now a residential school. And while we were unable to enter the premises, we were able to view the grounds from outside the gate, marvel at the stately architecture, and gaze at the same windows out from whom our AMWA colleagues once looked. In its past, the Chateau also served as a school for the arts,
Another stop on this trip was Blerancourt, a commune north of Luzancy where AWH Hospital #1 relocated after the war to work in collaboration with the American Committee of Devastated France, founded by philanthropist Anne Morgan, daughter of the American banker John Pierpont Morgan and Dr. Anne Murray Dike. Morgan had settled in Blerancourt in 1917 to provide aid to the civilian population during the war. AWH#1 moved to Blerancourt in February of 1919 and the two groups worked side by side until the spring of 1920.
Of the work at Blerancourt, Lovejoy writes, “The central hospital was always full, but the outlying work gradually decreased with the resumption of community life and the return of local physicians…For almost two years the American Committee for Devastated France and the American Women’s Hospitals worked together in the field, and the closing chapter of this story of cooperative service is touched upon in the following letter received from Miss Anne Morgan of the American Committee:
…[excerpt] Surely no two organizations ever worked for a given time, and came out of the period with such definite respect and admiration for each other as ours.”
Morgan bought the estate in 1919 and would later created a museum there. Today, the Franco-American Museum, Château de Blérancourt is devoted to the history of friendship and collaboration between the United States and France.
(Blerancourt is about 1.5 hour from Paris, France.)
Two other stops on our trip deserve mention.
First – the Museum of the Great War in Meaux, France, features one of the largest collections from the war, collected mainly by historian Jean-Pierre Verne over half a century. At the time of our visit was a special exhibition featuring the contribution of nurses during World War I. (Meaux is less than an hour from Paris, France.)
Second – the Hospices de Beaune, Hôtel-Dieu, a former almshouse from the Middle Ages serving the poor and disadvantaged. From the carefully designed “sick room” with two rows of beds and privacy drapes to the close proximity of rooms for worship and spiritual healing, Hôtel-Dieu presented an innovative model for healthcare far ahead of its time. The Hospices de Beaune is about 2.5 hours away from Geneva, Switzerland.
Our trip concluded with the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more about AMWA’s participation at the WHA as well as our international roundtable on gender medicine and visit to the World Trade Organization.
For those who might want to make this excursion, we recommend the itinerary below:
Paris to Blerancourt to visit the Franco-American Museum (1.5 hrs drive)
Blerancourt to Luzancy to see the Luzancy Chateau (1.25 hrs drive)
Stay overnight at Meaux to visit the Museum of the Great War
Meaux to Beaune to visit the Hospices de Beaune (3.1 hrs drive)
Beaune to Geneva (2.5 hrs drive)
Learn more about the history of AMWA at the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center. Learn more about the American Women’s Hospitals here. Watch AMWA’s film At Home and Over There: Women Physicians in World War I, view AMWA’s on-line exhibition on women physicians and World War I and host a visiting exhibit at your institution.