J.J. Jusserand’s Long Voyage

French Ambassador to the United States J.J. Jusserand was no stranger to America. Since 1902, he served as France’s envoy in Washington, D.C., and by 1914 was dean of the diplomatic corps.

French Ambassador to the United States Jean-Jules Jusserand
Harris & Ewing, via Wikimedia Commons

When war broke out that August, Jusserand and his wife Elise were on home leave in Paris where they socialized with their friends Ambassador Myron T. Herrick and his wife, Carolyn.

On August 3, the Jusserands left Paris for Boulogne, where they had passage aboard the La France. They left much of their luggage in the safekeeping of the Herricks and the U.S. Embassy in Paris, unable to accommodate all of it in the automobiles procured for their hastily-arranged voyage. Half-way to Boulogne, the Jusserands learned that La France would not sail as planned. Instead, they motored to Le Havre, where the French Navy advised them to take a boat to England. Once in the United Kingdom, the Jusserands and two of their household staff obtained passage aboard the St. Louis with assistance from U.S. Ambassador in London Walter Hines Page. Because Jusserand was considered ‘dangerous cargo’ at sea, his party traveled under false names in a second class cabin designed for only two people. Finally, on August 22, three weeks after they departed Paris, the Jusserands landed on U.S. soil.

Read Jusserand’s August 1914 report to French Minister of Foreign Affairs Théophile Delcassé here.

Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives, Guerre 1914-1918 Etats-Unis, août-octobre 1914, Vol. 489.

Long Hours, Hurried Meals: Staffing Embassy Paris

The duties of U.S. Embassy Paris multiplied exponentially in the first half of August 1914. In addition to representation of U.S. Government interests to the Government of France, the Embassy had to evacuate, shelter, feed, and issue emergency passports and identity papers for stranded U.S. citizens, as well as caretake and represent the interests of German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war and civilians interned in France. The ground floor of the chancellery was converted from the military and naval attaché offices to those charged with caretaking German and Austro-Hungarian interests as well as the “Fund Distributing Committee,” while the first floor housed all operations related to assisting U.S. citizens. On August 13, Ambassador Myron T. Herrick cabled the Department of State and requested clerks fluent in English and French to help alleviate the workload.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris in 1914, located at 5, rue de Chaillot
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

In the meantime, the Embassy relied on volunteers from the U.S. expatriate community to staunch the gap. Yet, despite the additional assistance supplied by volunteers like Eric Fisher Wood and Herbert Hazeltine, the Embassy struggled to keep up. Staff, volunteers, and Herrick reported for work at 5, rue de Chaillot before 9am each day, including Sundays, and did not leave until after midnight. According to Wood, “meals are hurriedly swallowed at odd moments and at irregular hours.”1

The work was stressful and fatiguing. Some fell ill, including Herrick and his wife, Carolyn. Others were unable to cope with the stress; on August 22 Herrick notified the Department of State that one of the embassy clerks was granted a leave of absence because the gentleman was believed to have become temporarily unhinged.

  1. Eric Fisher Woods, The Notebook of an Attaché: Seven Months in the War Zone, (New York: The Century Co., 1915), 22. Project Gutenberg. 

Waging Neutrality

Ideologically, the period of U.S. neutrality in World War I was not an easy one for Ambassador Walter Hines Page. An ardent Anglophile, Page viewed German militarism as the main cause of war. In a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson in October 1914, Page described the war as “a world-clash of systems of government, a struggling to the extermination of English civilization or of Prussian military autocracy.”1 Although he maintained official neutrality, Page wrote Wilson, Colonel Edward M. House, as well as family and friends, endless letters extolling the virtues of the British and the failings of the Germans. He considered himself to be “waging neutrality,” outwardly presenting a neutral face and at the same time putting pressure on his contacts in Washington behind the scenes to shift them toward more unambiguous support of the Allied cause.

The administration of maritime commerce during wartime was one of the main sources of conflict between Page and the Department of State. The Declaration of London concerning the Laws of Naval War, first proposed in 1909, attempted to establish uniform practices regarding blockades, contraband, and maritime commerce more generally during a time of war. Although ten countries signed the declaration (including Germany, Britain, and the United States) none of the signatories officially ratified the treaty. During the war’s early years, Washington insisted that the belligerent powers, especially Great Britain, abide by the Declaration of London. The British government objected, arguing that a blockade of Germany was necessary. Wilson urged the Department of State to continue its efforts to enforce the Declaration of London throughout 1915, pushing for a harder line than Page thought necessary or advantageous. This became one of the first conflicts between Page and Wilson over how to engage with the Allies during wartime.

  1. Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 371. 

War Relief Efforts of Kitty Herrick

Carolyn “Kitty” Herrick, wife of the U.S. Ambassador to France, quickly immersed herself in war relief work. In August 1914, she considered joining other American women volunteers serving as nurses at the front lines, such as Isadora Duncan. Her husband, however, urged her to reconsider. Instead, Kitty remained in Paris and played several important roles in medical aid and war relief efforts. She was instrumental in planning the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris, alongside the wives of Herman Harjes and George Carroll.

Minutes from the first American Women’s Committee meeting, called by Carolyn Herrick on August 6, 1914. View the full document.
Archives of the American Hospital in Paris

Kitty also helped raise funds for the newly-established American Relief Clearing House, liaising with her friend Madame Jusserand, wife of French Ambassador to the United States Jean-Jules Jusserand, who directed relief work for France in the United States from the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Her strenuous duties and war relief activities took a toll on Kitty’s health, and she fell ill for a time that fall before returning to work. Parisians called her “The American Angel” for her efforts.

Wartime Duties

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the duties of Ambassador Walter Hines Page and the embassy shifted dramatically. The conflict caused thousands of U.S. citizens, tourists as well as permanent residents, to flee Continental Europe. These refugees required financial assistance and help booking passage back to the United States. Page worked with friend and businessman Herbert C. Hoover, who lived in London at the time, to establish the American Residents’ Committee (ARC), an organization charged with aiding fellow Americans.1 A reported 45,000 Americans sailed from England for the United States in the first few weeks of the war.2 By the first weeks of September, the embassy and the ARC had assisted a total of 60,000 people.3

Ambassador Walter Hines Page & Embassy London Staff

The U.S. Embassy took over operation of belligerent countries’ embassies that fall. The day after Britain declared war, Page formally took over the German Embassy. Eventually Page and his staff oversaw the Austrian, German, and Turkish embassies. Their responsibilities thus expanded beyond American citizens to include assistance to Germans and Austrians living in London. The embassy provided support to German women whose husbands had been interned in England, set up a soup kitchen at the Austrian embassy, and served as a point of communication with the German government.4 Embassy staff also helped families find the whereabouts of soldiers missing in action or taken as prisoners of war. Page was asked to perform a similar function for German POWs held in the United Kingdom.5

Page and the embassy staff quickly adapted to their new situation. Yet the weight of war was nonetheless heavy on the spirit. On September 22, 1914, Page wrote to his friend Colonel Edward M. House:

We are settling down to a routine of double work and to an oppression of gloom. Dead men, dead men, maimed men, the dull gray dread of what may happen next, the impossibility of changing the subject, the monotony of gloom, the consequent dimness of ideals, the overworking of the emotions and the heavy bondage of thought—the days go swiftly: that’s one blessing.6

Little of this routine, day-to-day work would change until the United States entered the war in 1917.

  1. See John Milton Cooper, Walter Hines Page: The Southerner as American, 1855-1918, The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 282; and Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 304. 

  2. “ANOTHER BIG CROWD OF REFUGEES SAILS,” New York Times, August 30, 1914. 

  3. Cooper, Walter Hines Page, 282. 

  4. “UNCLE SAM, RESTAURATEUR,” New York Times, October 7, 1914. 

  5. See Correspondence between His Majesty’s Government and the United States Ambassador Respecting the Treatment of German Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians in the United Kingdom. (London: H.M. Stationery Off., Harrison and Sons, Printers, 1915). 

  6. Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, 1:328. 

Assistant Secretary of War Breckenridge Brings Gold

U.S. Ambassador to Germany James Gerard described in his memoirs the steps the Embassy was taking to care for Americans who were living in Berlin after the declaration of war in the summer of 1914. Gerard wrote that,

“Almost the instant that war was declared, I cabled to our government suggesting that a ship should be sent over with gold because, of course, with gold, no matter what the country, necessaries can always be bought. Rumours of the dispatch of the Tennessee and other ships from America, reached Berlin and a great number of the more ignorant of the Americans got to believe that these ships were being sent over to take Americans home. One morning an American woman spoke to me and said she would consent to go home on one of these ships provided she was given a state-room with a bath and Walker-Gordon milk for her children, while another woman of German extraction used to sit for hours in a corner of the ballroom, occasionally exclaiming aloud with much feeling, ‘O God, will them ships never come?’”1

Ambassador Gerard Saying Goodbye to the Americans Leaving on a Special Train, August 1914.

On August 23, 1914, Assistant Secretary of War Henry C. Breckenridge, who sailed to Europe on the Tennessee, arrived in Berlin with gold and U.S. army officers.

The USS Tennessee
Photo: Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center

Gerard reported that Breckenridge “took over our relief organisation in so far as it applied to the repatriation of Americans, housing it in rooms hired in a nearby hotel, the Kaiserhoff. This commission: was composed of Majors J. A. Ryan, J. H. Ford and G. W. Martin and Captains Miller and Fenton, but the relief committee and the banking office were still continued in the Embassy ballroom.”2

Working at the Embassy at the outbreak of the War

  1. James Gerard, My Four Years in Germany, (George H. Doran Company, New York: 1917), 148. 

  2. Ibid., 153. 

Assuming Control of Embassies of Belligerent Countries

On August 5, 1914, the day after Britain declared war, Ambassador Walter Hines Page formally took over the Germany Embassy in London. Page described his visit to the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky, that afternoon in a letter to President Wilson. The ambassador, Page wrote, “came down in his pajamas, a crazy man. I feared he might literally go mad. He is of the anti-war party and he had done his best and utterly failed. This interview was one of the most pathetic experiences of my life. The poor man had not slept for several nights.”1 It was common practice in times of conflict for neutral nations to formally take over the operation of the embassies of belligerent parties. A few days after meeting the German ambassador, Page would assume control of the Austrian Embassy, and in November 1914 he would also take over the Turkish Embassy.

German Ambassador to the United Kingdom Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

U.S. diplomatic staff oversaw the day-to-day operations of the embassies of these belligerent countries, ensuring communication between citizens living abroad and their home countries as well as providing financial assistance and other forms of aid. Under the guidance of U.S. embassy staff, a restaurant was opened with funds left by the Austrian government to provide meals free of charge to Austrian and Hungarian citizens living in London.2 U.S. administration of these embassies continued until the United States formally declared war in April 1917.

  1. Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 306. 

  2. “Uncle Sam, Restaurateur,” New York Times, October 7, 1914. 

Return from Vacation Summer 1914: Brand Whitlock in Belgium

When news of the assassination the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand reached Brand Whitlock at his villa in Bois-Fleuri, he rushed back to Brussels.
"Everyone’s Diplomat," U.S. Minister to Belgium Brand Whitlock
U.S. National Archives

Once war broke out, the most pressing duty in the early days was to care for the thousands of panicked and stranded U.S. citizens in Brussels and throughout Belgium now wishing to return to the United States. In an August 2, 1914 letter, Whitlock described the scene at the U.S. Embassy:

“It has been a day of exciting and terrible rumors, to which, however, we pay little attention, for we have been kept busy every minute by the Americans, of all sorts and conditions, who are pouring into Brussels from all over the Continent, in panic, demanding to know how they are to get home, many of them utterly helpless, so frightened are they: in many instances the women are calmer, braver than the men.”1

In addition to aiding stranded U.S. citizens, as representative of a neutral country, Whitlock took over embassy operations and the diplomatic affairs of several belligerent countries, including Britain, Germany, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, and Japan. Thus, U.S. diplomats in Belgium became everyone’s diplomats, working on behalf of citizens of each of these countries, many of whom were stranded and far from the protection of their own governments.

Whitlock’s visions of peace and quiet were shattered. According to one of Whitlock’s biographers, however, “writing was unimportant to Whitlock when human lives and dignity were in jeopardy, and he was once more the practical politician and dedicated humanist rather than the man of letters.”2 Torn from the peaceful solitude of his writing desk, Whitlock quickly rose to the challenges of wartime diplomacy.

  1. Brand Whitlock and Allan Nevins, The Letters and Journal of Brand Whitlock (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1936) Retrieved from http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Whitlock/bwTC.html. 

  2. David D. Anderson, Brand Whitlock (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968), 84. 

Britain Enters the War

On August 4, 1914, the United Kingdom officially declared war on Germany. In London, Ambassador Walter Hines Page sent a telegram to the U.S. Department of State notifying them that he had “received at this moment, 1.40 a.m., August 5, a note from the Foreign Office dated August 4 informing me that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany.” 1 Page now represented a neutral government in the midst of a continent at war.

The Grand Smash

On August 2, 1914, Ambassador Walter Hines Page wrote, “The Grand Smash is come. Last night the German Ambassador at St. Petersburg handed the Russian Government a declaration of war. To-day the German Government asked the United States to take its diplomatic and consular business in Russia in hand. [Myron T.] Herrick, our Ambassador in Paris, has already taken the German interests there.”1 However, even as the European Continent became besieged, Page immediately wondered what the United States could do to aid the Allied effort. The same day he wrote the above memo, Page wrote to President Woodrow Wilson suggesting that when the time came for a European peace, the United States could play an important role, given that “[o]urs is the only great Government in the world that is not in some way entangled…. Events here alone seem to me likely to make your [Wilson’s] Administration historic. Let’s watch closely for chances to serve.”2 Two days after Page wrote to Wilson, the British government would declare war against Germany, forever changing Page’s life as ambassador to the United Kingdom.

View the full document here.
Reel 60, Woodrow Wilson Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

  1. Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 301. 

  2. Letter from Page to Wilson, August 2, 1914, Reel 60, Woodrow Wilson Papers (MSS46029), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.