Overnight Growth: Serving as Everyone’s Embassy
The Germans neared Paris by early September 1914 and the sense of crisis grew. On September 2, U.S. Ambassador to France Myron T. Herrick visited French President Raymond Poincaré at the Elysée Palace as the Government of France prepared to remove its seat to the safety of Bordeaux. Poincaré recalled that Herrick “arrived strongly moved, his face decomposed under his jolly crown of curly hair.” 1 Herrick informed the French President of his intent to remain in Paris—pending, of course, the government’s approval.
French President Raymond Poincaré
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
At 10:50pm that evening, the diplomatic corps departed for Bordeaux. The Herricks went to the Gare d’Orsay to see the 11-carriage-long diplomatic train off.2 The trip, normally a 10-11 hour jaunt, was a slow slog, according to British Ambassador to France Sir Francis Bertie, who was on the train in one of the three first-class compartments reserved for the British Diplomatic Service. Bertie wrote Herrick that though the trip had “many long stops,” it was “not uncomfortable.”3
One man’s assessment of “not uncomfortable” was another man’s terror. Long after the diplomatic train arrived in Bordeaux after lunchtime on September 3, The Times reported,
“Terrible stories were told of Excellencies sitting five a-side, and fighting with third secretaries at wayside refreshment rooms for a scrap of something to eat.”4
Herrick dispatched John Work Garrett to Bordeaux to represent U.S., German, and Austro-Hungarian interests to the Government of France.
The United States was now responsible for the interests of eight countries in Paris (the United States, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Japan, Serbia, Guatemala, and Nicaragua). Parisians warmly embraced the U.S. diplomatic corps for its decision to remain behind when most other diplomats moved to Bordeaux. Herrick maintained an aura of calm that blanketed the capital’s population. Embassy attaché Eric Fisher Wood wrote that Herrick’s picture “is in all the newspapers and shop windows, and even the most humble member of the Embassy shines by reflected glory.”5
For further information on the role of U.S. diplomats in France in 1914, visit U.S. Embassy France’s World War I Centenary page.
On August 25, 1914, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan notified Ambassador to France Myron T. Herrick that his successor, William Graves Sharp, would sail for France the following day. Bryan confided that President Woodrow Wilson wished for Herrick to remain in charge in Paris for the time being, given the extraneous circumstances, and that Sharp not assume charge until the strain of the German threat to Paris passed.1
Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan instructs Myron T. Herrick to remain in Paris
Telegram from Secretary of State (Washington DC) to Herrick (Paris), August 25, 1914. Copy from file 123 H 43, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.
Herrick acquiesced. However, he asked to make public in France the Department’s instructions to minimize any misunderstandings of his role—or that of Sharp.
Herrick asks the Department for permission to publicize the reasons for his retention in Paris amidst unusual circumstances
Telegram from Herrick (Paris) to Secretary of State (Washington DC), August 27, 1914. Copy from file 123 H 43, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.
On August 28, Bryan informed Herrick that,
“In view of the unusual conditions in which the embassy is placed at the present time, the President desires you to remain until you receive further instructions and that Mr. Sharp has been asked to proceed to Paris but will not immediately assume the duties of ambassador.”2
Getting Around Paris: U.S. Diplomats Ride in Diverse Styles
One of the many ways war impacted daily life for all in Paris, including those within the U.S. diplomatic community, was transportation—or lack of it. The Paris Métro closed at 7:30pm to comply with the 8pm curfew imposed in the first days of August 1914. Taxis, much in demand, became scarce and prohibitively expensive while private automobiles were requisitioned by the French military. Those working at the U.S. Embassy at 5, rue de Chaillot thus grew creative in how they travelled around the city.
Paris Metro, 1914
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr
Ambassador Myron T. Herrick asked U.S. automobile owners in Paris to donate their cars for official Embassy service. Instead of these vehicles’ enfoldment into the French military, they were pressed into diplomatic duty and enabled U.S. diplomats and volunteers to be an effective force from the first days of crisis, an accomplishment of which Herrick was very proud.
Other solutions were also employed. Embassy attaché Eric Fisher Wood hired a fiacre to get around the city. His driver, Paul, and an old horse, Grisette, supplied Wood with a one-horsepower transportation option. Wood wrote that Paul,
“Considers it a great honor to drive for a member of an Embassy and always sits up very straight on his box, for to come and go on missions concerning ‘les affaires des Etats-Unis’ has imbued him with a great sense of dignity and importance. When waiting in front of the Embassy among the limousines he maintains a rigid and dignified position and insists that Grisette, for her part, shall hold up her head and stand on all four feet. Each noon Paul drives [Herbert] Hazeltine1 and myself down the nearly deserted Champs-Elysées for lunch at the Café Royal. We must make an absurd spectacle with so much dignity on the box and a total lack of it behind, for Hazeltine and I, relaxing from the strenuous work of the morning, lounge in the seat with our feet far out in front, as we discuss with great vehemence affairs connected with our Embassy work.”2
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.