American Hospital of Paris
Find out how the American Hospital of Paris created and ran the American Ambulance Hospital.
Since its inception, the American Hospital of Paris has always played a unique role in French-American relations.
World War I is no exception to the rule.
On August 3, 1914, immediately after France entered the war, the Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris offered the hospital’s facilities to the French authorities, and was asked to open a very large stateof- the-art military hospital in the buildings of the future Lycée Pasteur:
« The Ambulance of the American Hospital of Paris, Wounded Section.»
Until April 6, 1917, when the United States officially entered the war, the American Ambulance Hospital, which was entirely financed by the generosity of American donors, became the epicenter of the efforts of thousands of volunteers.
For three years, the teams of doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers at the American Ambulance Hospital operated, cared for and transported hundreds of thousands of injured victims.
Summary of the exhibition
Before the U.S. entry in WW1, from 1914 to 1917, thousands of Americans came to France to serve a cause they called humanity. Many worked as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and social workers. Others joined to fight in the French Foreign Legion or fly for the Lafayette Escadrille. They stood up for France in its moment of deep need, bringing clothes, medicine, ambulances and airplanes, but most of all, helping hands. Their work had manifold effects, from shifting American opinion away from neutrality to seeding an enduring legacy of American generosity abroad.
In Flanders Fields
"To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."
The American Colony of Paris – estimated between 30,000 and 100,000 expatriates and seasonal residents – was served by such institutions as the JP Morgan bank, the American Chamber of Commerce, the American Club and Holy Trinity Church. Among them, the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine was founded in 1906. Before it opened, Americans who fell ill were left to fend for themselves, often alone in hotels. The hospital would become the epicenter of American volunteer efforts during the war.
As soon as the war broke out in August 1914, Myron T. Herrick offered the American Hospital to French authorities to treat any wounded. General Fèvrier asked the hospital board instead to take on the larger Lycée Pasteur building nearby and turn it into a military hospital, or ambulance. Herrick estimated they would have to raise $400,000 to get it up and running. A Women’s Committee got to work raising money immediately.
Myron T. Herrick
General Pershing later declared: “Mr. Herrick was our first volunteer.”
When Herrick returned to the States in November 1914, his friends at the hospital wrote: “You have placed in our hands the opportunity of really serving humanity; and the consciousness that we are rendering service is the best gift that life has ever given us. From our hearts we thank you for all you have done.”
Robert Bacon and his wife Martha also were key to organizing and fundraising for the hospital. Bacon, former ambassador to France, cabled a friend in August 1914: "France is fighting? I’ll be right there!” He became known as the “godfather” of the ambulance corps for his work bringing it together.
“Our souls were harrowed by tales and sights never to be forgotten---hundreds abandoned without food and drink for days in half-ruined churches or schools, or again lying on straw in shunted cars which could not be sent forward on account of the railway being used by ammunition and troop trains.”
--Dr. Edmund Gros, a founder of the AHP and organizer of the first ambulance corps, on the Meaux mission
The American Ambulance Field Service, which later became the American Field Service still in robust operation today, carried some 400,000 wounded soldiers to hospital care during the war. More than 2,500 volunteer drivers came from 48 American universities, led by Harvard and Yale, to offer their help. It was terribly dangerous – 151 drivers were killed – but badly needed. Dr. Cushing wrote about a British officer he treated who had been left by the side of a train track, with 500 others, with no food, water or cover, for over a week.
“We carried wounded, we carried those gone mad from shellshock, we carried the dying, even the dead. Among the thousands of wounded in our cars were some Germans, and they received from us and in the French dressing stations and field hospitals the same care as the others.”
-- driver W.P. Clyde Jr.
The AHP medical team – Dr. A.J. Magnin, Dr. Edmund Gros, Dr. C.W. DuBouchet – began working at the new American Ambulance Hospital, soon joined by volunteers such as Dr. Joseph Blake, a renowned physician from New York’s Presbyterian Hospital who happened to be in Paris when the war broke out. Other doctors arrived from the States in November 1914.
In January 1915, U.S. medical schools began a series of rotations at the American Ambulance Hospital. The Lakeside Hospital Unit from Western Reserve University in Ohio, led by Dr. George Crile, was first. Crile and his chief anesthetist, Agatha Hodgins, had developed a formula for nitrous-oxide gas that put a patient to sleep, but not into shock. Doctors came from around Europe to see it demonstrated in surgery on wounded soldiers.
Harvard Dr. Harvey Cushing noted that all the team members advanced their medical knowledge and techniques by working on the war injured. Known as “the father of neurosurgery,”
Cushing was pleased to try a giant magnet designed to pull shrapnel bits out of tissue, including the brain. He also worked to repair nerve damage caused by artillery.
“In this place, unquestionably the best of the four or five hundred auxiliary hospitals in Paris, there is a most amazing aggregation of talent […] serving with whole-souled devotion – it all is a most creditable thing for American enthusiasm and prompt action to have put through,” he wrote.
Relive our launch event
Opening speech by Marshall I. Wais, Chairman, AHP Board of Governors
Speech by Dr. Robert Sigal, Chief Executive Officer of the American Hospital of Paris
Speech by Uzra Zeya, Chargée d’Affaires at the American Embassy in Paris
Speech by Jean-Christophe Fromantin, Deputy Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine
Speech by John Crawford, Vice-Chairman, AHP Board of Governors:
“History of the American Hospital of Paris during World War I”
* invitation or registration required
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