Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The living present : the work of French women in war time online

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subdue the militant anarchist and predatory Apache.
This was Mile. Javal's idea, and has solved a problem
for many an anxious officer.


She said to me with a shrug: "My brother and I
are now run by our servants. I have quite lost con-
trol. Our home is like a bachelor apartment. After
the war is over I must turn them all out and get a
new staff."

And this is but one of the minor problems for men
and women the Great War has bred.


Magic lanterns and cinemas are also among the
presents sent to the eclope depots in the War Zone;
some of which, by the way, are charmingly situated.
I visited one just outside of a town which by a miracle
had escaped the attention of the enemy during the
retreat after the Battle of the Marne. The buildings
of the depot have been built in the open fields but
heavily ambushed by fine old trees. Near by is a river
picturesquely winding and darkly shaded. Here I saw
a number of eclopes fishing as calmly as if the roar
of the guns that came down the wind from Verdun
were but the precursor of an evening storm.

In the large refectory men were writing home;
reading not only books but the daily and weekly news-
papers with which the depots are generously supplied
by the editors of France. Others were exercising in
a gymnasium or playing games with that childish ab-
sorption that seems to be as natural to a soldier at the
Front when off duty as the desire for a bath or a
limbering of the muscles when he leaves the trenches.


Another of Mile. Javal's ideas was to send to the
War Zone automobiles completely equipped with a
dental apparatus in charge of a competent dentist.
These automobiles travel from depot to depot and even
give their services to hospitals where there are no
dental installations.

Other automobiles have a surgeon and the equip-
ment for immediate facial operations; and there are
migratory pedicures, masseurs, and barbers. So
heavy has been the subscription, so persistent and in-
telligent the work of all connected with this great
ceuvre, so increasingly fertile the amazing brain of
Mile. Javal, that practically nothing is now wanted to
make these Depots d'ficlopes perfect instruments for
saving men for the army by the hundred thousand. 1
once heard the estimate of the army's indebtedness
placed as high as a million and a half.

The work of M. Frederic Masson must not be ig-
nored, and Madame Balli assisted him for a short
time, until compelled to concentrate on her other work ;
but it is not comparable in scope to that of Mile. Java!.
Hers is unprecedented, one of the greatest achieve-
ments of France behind the lines, and of any woman
at any time.


MADAME VfiRONE, one of the leading law-
yers and feminists of Paris, told me that with-
out the help of the women France could not have re-
mained in the field six months. This is no doubt true.
Probably it has been true of every war that France
has ever waged. Nor has French history ever been
reluctant to admit its many debts to the sex it admires,
without idealization perhaps, but certainly in more
ways than one. As far back as the reign of Louis
XI memoirs pay their tribute to the value of the
French woman both in peace and in war. This war
has been one of the greatest incentives to women in
all the belligerent countries that has so far occurred
in the history of the world, and the outcome is a
problem that the men of France, at least, are already
revolving in their vigilant brains.

On the other hand the inept have just managed to
exist. Madame Verone took me one day to a restau-
rant on Montmartre. It had been one of the largest
cabarets of that famous quarter, and at five or six
tables running its entire length I saw seven hundred
men and women eating a substantial dejeuner of veal



swimming in spinach, dry puree of potatoes, salad,
apples, cheese, and coffee. For this they paid ten
cents (fifty centimes) each, the considerable deficit
being made up by the ladies who had founded the
ceuvre and run it since the beginning of the war.

Nearly all of these people escaping charity by sa
narrow a margin had been second-rate actors and
scene shifters, or artists of both sexes the men be-
ing either too old or otherwise ineligible for the army.
This was their only square meal during twenty-four
hours. They made at home such coffee as they could
afford, and went without dinner more often than not.
The daughter of the founder of this very necessary
charity, a handsome strongly built girl, told me that
she had waited on her table without a day's rest for
eighteen months.

I am frank to say that I could not eat the veal and
spinach, and confined myself to the potatoes and bread.
But no doubt real hunger is a radical cure for fastidi-

Later in the day Madame Verone took me to the
once famous Abbaye, now a workroom for the dress-
ers of dolls, a revived industry which has given em-
ployment to hundreds of women. Some of the wildest
revels of Paris had taken place in the restaurant now
incongruously lined with rows of dolls dressed in
every national costume of Allied Europe. They sat
sedately against the walls, Montenegrins, Serbians,
Russians, Italians, Sicilians, Roumanians, Poilus,
Alsatians, Tommies,* a strange medley, correctly but
*No doubt there are now little Uncle Sams.


cheaply dressed. At little tables, mute records of dis-
reputable nights, sat women stitching, and outside the
streets of Montmartre were as silent as the grave.


A few days later I was introduced to a case of
panurgy that would have been almost extreme in any
but a Frenchwoman.

Madame Camille Lyon took me to call on Madame
Pertat, one of the most successful doctors in Paris.
I found both her history and her personality highly
interesting, and her experience no doubt will be a
severe shock to many Americans who flatter them-
selves that we alone of all women possess the price-
less gift of driving initiative.

Madame Pertat was born in a provincial town, of
a good family, and received the usual education with
all the little accomplishments that were thought neces-
sary for a young girl of the comfortable bourgeoisie.
She confessed to me naively that she had coquetted a
good deal. As her brother was a doctor and brought
his friends to the house it was natural that she should
marry into the same profession ; and as she continued
to meet many doctors and was a young woman of
much mental curiosity and a keen intelligence it was
also natural that she should grow more and more
deeply interested in the science of medicine and take
part in the learned discussions at her table.

One day her husband, after a warm argument with


her on the new treatment of an old disease, asked her
why she did not study medicine. She had ample leis-
ure, no children, and, he added gallantly, a mind to do
it justice.

The suggestion horrified her, as it would have hor-
rified her large family connection and circle of friends
in that provincial town where standards are as slowly
undermined as the cliffs of France by the action of the

Shortly afterward they moved to Paris, where her
husband, being a man of first-rate ability and many
friends, soon built up a lucrative practice.

Being childless, full of life, and fond of variety,
they spent far more money than was common to their
class, saving practically nothing. They had a hand-
some apartment with the usual number of servants;
Madame Pertat's life was made up of a round of
dressmakers, bridge, calls during the daytime, and
companioning her husband at night to any one of the
more brilliant restaurants where there was dancing.
Sometimes they dined early and went to the opera or
the play.

Suddenly the really serious mind of this woman
revolted. She told me that she said to her husband :
"This is abominable. I cannot stand this life. I shall
study medicine, which, after all, is the only thing that
really interests me."

She immediately entered upon the ten years' course,
which included four years as an interne. France has
now so far progressed that she talks of including the


degree of baccalaureate in the regular school course of
women, lest they should wish to study for a profession
later; but at that time Madame Pertat's course in
medicine was long drawn out, owing to the necessity
of reading for this degree.

She was also obliged to interrupt her triumphal
progress in order to bring her first and only child
into the world; but finally graduated with the highest
honors, being one of the few women of France who
have received the diploma to practice.

To practice, however, was the least of her inten-
tions, now that she had a child to occupy her mind
and time. Then, abruptly, peace ended and war came.
Men disappeared from their usual haunts like mist.
It was as if the towns turned over and emptied their
men on to the ancient battlefields, where, generation
after generation, war rages on the same historic spots
but re-naming its battles for the benefit of chronicler
and student.

M. le Docteur Pertat was mobilized with the rest.
Madame's bank account was very slim. Then once
more she proved that she was a woman of energy
and decision. Without any formalities she stepped
into her husband's practice as a matter of course. On
the second day of the war she ordered out his run-
about and called on every patient on his immediate
list, except those that would expect attention in his
office during the usual hours of consultation.

Her success was immediate. She lost none of her
husband's patients and gained many more, for every


doctor of military age had been called out. Of course
her record in the hospitals was well known, not only
to the profession but to many of Dr. Pertat's patients.
Her income, in spite of the war, is larger than it
ever was before.

She told me that when the war was over she should
resign in her husband's favor as far as her general
practice was concerned, but should have a private
practice of her own, specializing in skin diseases and
facial blemishes. She could never be idle again, and
if it had not been for the brooding shadow of war and
her constant anxiety for her husband, she should look
back upon those two years of hard medical practice and
usefulness as the most satisfactory of her life.

She is still a young woman, with vivid yellow hair
elaborately dressed, and it was evident that she had
none of the classic professional woman's scorn of
raiment. Her apartment is full of old carved furni-
ture and objets d'art, for she had always been a col-
lector. Her most conspicuous treasure is a rare and
valuable Russian censer of chased silver. This was on
the Germans' list of valuables when they were sure
of entering Paris in September, 1914. Through their
spies they knew the location of every work of art in
the most artistic city in the world.

Madame Pertat is one of the twenty-five women
doctors in Paris. All are flourishing. When the doc-
tors return for leave of absence etiquette forbids
them to visit their old patients while their brothers are
still at the Front ; and the same rule applies to doctors


who are stationed in Paris but are in Government
service. The women are having a magnificent inning,
and whether they will be as magnanimous as Madame
Pertat and take a back seat when the men return
remains to be seen, ^he point is, however, that they
are but another example of the advantage of technical
training combined with courage and energy.


On the other hand, I heard of many women who,
thrown suddenly out of work, or upon their own
resources, developed their little accomplishments and
earned a bare living. One daughter of an avocat, who
had just managed to keep and educate his large fam-
ily and was promptly mobilized, left the Beaux Arts
where she had studied for several years, and after
some floundering turned her knowledge of designing
to the practical art of dress. She goes from house
to house designing and cutting out gowns for women
no longer able to afford dressmakers but still anxious
to please. She hopes in time to be employed in one
of the great dressmakers' establishments, having re-
nounced all thought of being an artist in a more
grandiose sense. Meanwhile she keeps the family
from starving while her mother and sisters do the
housework. Her brothers are in the military colleges
and will be called out in due course if the war con-
tinues long enough to absorb all the youth of France.

Mile. E., the woman who told me her story, was


suffering from the effects of the war herself. I
climbed five flights to talk to her, and found her in a
pleasant little apartment looking out over the roofs
and trees of Passy. Formerly she had taken a certain
number of American girls to board and finish off in
the politest tongue in Europe. The few American
girls in Paris to-day (barring the anachronisms that
paint and plume for the Ritz Hotel) are working with
the American Ambulance, the American Fund for
French Wounded, or Le Bien-fitre du Blesse, and she
sits in her high flat alone.

But she too has adapted herself, and kept her little
home. She illuminates for a Bible house, and paints
exquisite Christmas and Easter cards. Of course she
had saved something, for she was the frugal type and
restaurants and the cabaret could have no call for

But alas! said she, there were the taxes, and ever
more taxes. And who could say how long the war
would last? I cheerfully suggested that we might
have entered upon one of those war cycles so familiar
in history and that the world might not know peace
again for thirty years. Although the French are very
optimistic about the duration of this war (and, no
doubt prompted by hope, I am myself) she agreed
with me, and reiterated that one must not relax effort
for a moment.

Of course she has her filleul (godson) at the Front,
a poor poilu who has no family ; and when he goes out
the captain finds her another. She knits him socks


and vests, and sends him such little luxuries as he asks
for, always tobacco, and often chocolate.

The French bourgeoisie or French women of any
<:lass for that matter do not take kindly to clubs.
For this reason their organizations limped somewhat
in the earlier days and only their natural financial
genius, combined with the national practice of econ-
omy, enabled them to develop that orderly team work
.so natural to the Englishwoman. Mile. E. told me
"with a wry face that she detested the new clubs formed
for knitting and sewing and rolling bandages. "It is
only old maids like myself," she added, "who go
regularly. After marriage French women hate to
leave their homes. Of course they go daily to the
ouvroirs, where they have their imperative duties, but
they don't like it. I shall belong to no club when the
war is over and my American girls have returned to

MADAME PIERRE GOUJON is another young
Frenchwoman who led not only a life of ease
and careless happiness up to the Great War, but also,
and from childhood, an uncommonly interesting one,
owing to the kind fate that made her the daughter of
the famous Joseph Reinach.

M. Reinach, it is hardly worth while to state even
for the benefit of American readers, is one of the fore-
most "Intellectuals" of France. Born to great wealth,
he determined in his early youth to live a life of active
usefulness, and began his career as private secretary
to Gambetta. His life of that remarkable Gascon is
the standard work. He was conspicuously instru-
mental in securing justice for Dreyfus, championing
him in a fashion that would have wrecked the public
career of a man less endowed with courage and per-
sonality: twin gifts that have carried him through the
stormy seas of public life in France.

His history of the Dreyfus case in seven volumes
is accepted as an authoritative however partisan re-
port of one of the momentous crises in the French



Republic. He also has written on alcoholism and
election reforms, and he has been for many years
a Member of the Chamber of Deputies, standing for
democracy and humanitarianism.

On a memorable night in Paris, in June, 1916, it
was my good fortune to sit next to Monsieur Reinach
at a dinner given by Mr. Whitney Warren to the
American newspaper men in Paris, an equal number
of French journalists, and several "Intellectuals"
more or less connected with the press. The scene was
the private banquet room of the Hotel de Crillon, a
fine old palace on the Place de la Concorde; and in
that ornate red and gold room where we dined so
cheerfully, grim despots had crowded not so many
years before to watch from its long windows the
executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

I was the only woman, a whim of Mr. Warren's,
and possibly that is the reason I found this dinner in
the historic chamber above a dark and quiet Paris
the most interesting I ever attended ! Perhaps it was
because I sat at the head of the room between Mon-
sieur Reinach and Monsieur Hanotaux; perhaps
merely because of the evening's climax.

Of course we talked of nothing but the war (one is
bored to death in Paris if any other subject comes up).
Only one speech was made, an impassioned torrent of
gratitude by Monsieur Hanotaux directed at our dis-
tinguished host, an equally impassioned "Friend of
France." I forget just when it was that a rumor
began to run around the room and electrify the atmos-


phere that a great naval engagement had taken place
in the North Sea; but it was just after coffee was
served that a boy from the office of Le Figaro entered
with a proof-sheet for Monsieur Reinach to correct
he contributes a daily column signed "Polybe."
Whether the messenger brought a note from the editor
or merely whispered his information, again I do not
know, but it was immediately after that Monsieur
Reinach told us that news had come through Switzer-
land of a great sea fight in which the Germans had
lost eight battleships.

"And as the news comes from Germany," he re-
marked dryly, "and as the Germans admit having lost
eight ships we may safely assume that they have lost
sixteen." And so it proved.

The following day in Paris was the gloomiest I
have ever experienced in any city, and was no doubt
one of the gloomiest in history. Not a word had come
from England. Germany had claimed uncontradicted
an overwhelming victory, with the pride of Britain
either at the bottom of the North Sea or hiding like
Churchill's rats in any hole that would shelter them
from further vengeance. People, both French and
American, who had so long been waiting for the
Somme drive to commence that they had almost re-
linquished hope went about shaking their heads and
muttering: "Won't the British even fight on the

I felt suicidal. Presupposing the continued omni-
potence of the British Navy, the Battle of the Marne


had settled the fate of Germany, but if that Navy had
proved another illusion the bottom had fallen out of
the world. Not only would Europe be done for, but
the United States of America might as well prepare to
black the boots of Germany.

When this war is over it is to be hoped that all the
censors will be taken out and hanged. In view of the
magnificent account of itself which Kitchener's Army
has given since that miserable day, to say nothing of
the fashion in which the British Navy lived up to its
best traditions in that Battle of Jutland, it seems noth-
ing short of criminal that the English censor should
have permitted the world to hold Great Britain in con-
tempt for twenty-four hours and sink poor France in
the slough of despond. However, he is used to abuse,
and presumably does not mind it.

On the following day he condescended to release
the truth. We all breathed again, and I kept one of
my interesting engagements with Madame Pierre


This beautiful young woman's husband was killed
during the first month of the war. Her brother was
reported missing at about the same time, and although
his wife has refused to go into mourning there is
little hope that he will ever be seen alive again or that
his body will be found. There was no room for doubt
in the case of Pierre Goujon.

Perhaps if the young officer had died in the natural


course of events his widow would have been over-
whelmed by her loss, although it is difficult to imag-
ine Madame Goujon a useless member of society at
any time. Her brilliant black eyes and her eager
nervous little face connote a mind as alert as Monsieur
Reinach's. As it was, she closed her own home she
has no children returned to the great hotel of her
father in the Pare Monceau, and plunged into work.

It is doubtful if at any period of the world's history
men have failed to accept (or demand) the services
of women in time of war, and this is particularly true
of France, where women have always counted as units
more than in any European state. Whether men have
heretofore accepted these invaluable services with
gratitude or as a matter-of-course is by the way.
Never before in the world's history have fighting na-
tions availed themselves of woman's co-operation in
as wholesale a fashion as now; and perhaps it is the
women who feel the gratitude.

Of course the first duty of every Frenchwoman in
those distracted days of August, 1914, was, as I have
mentioned before, to feed the poor women so sud-
denly thrown out of work or left penniless with large
families of children. Then came the refugees pour-
ing down from Belgium and the invaded districts of
France; and these had to be clothed as well as fed.

In common with other ladies of Paris, both French
and American, Madame Goujon established ouvroirs
after the retreat of the Germans, in order to give use-
ful occupation to as many of the destitute women as


possible. But when these were in running order she
joined the Baroness Lejeune (born a Princess Murat
and therefore of Napoleon's blood) in forming an
organization both permanent and on the grand scale.

The Baroness Lejeune also had lost her husband
early in the war. He had been detached from his
regiment and sent to the Belgian front to act as body-
guard to the Prince of Wales. Receiving by a special
messenger a letter from his wife, to whom he had
been married but a few months, he separated himself
from the group surrounding the English Prince and
walked off some distance alone to read it. Here a
bomb from a taube intended for the Prince hit and
killed him instantly.

Being widows themselves it was natural they should
concentrate their minds on some organization that
would be of service to other widows, poor women
without the alleviations of wealth and social eminence,
many of them a prey to black despair. Calling in
other young widows of their own circle to help (the
number was already appalling), they went about their
task in a business-like way, opening offices in the Rue
Vizelly, which were subsequently moved to 20 Rue

When I saw these headquarters in May, 1916, the
ceuvre was a year old and in running order. In one
room were the high chests of narrow drawers one sees
in offices and public libraries. These were for card
indexes and each drawer contained the dossiers of
widows who had applied for assistance or had been


discovered suffering in lonely pride by a member of
the committee. Each dossier included a methodical
account of the age and condition of the applicant, of
the number of her children, and the proof that her
husband was either dead or "missing." Also, her own
statement of the manner in which she might, if as-
sisted, support herself.

Branches of this great work Association d'Aide
aux Veuves Militaires de la Grande Guerre have
been established in every department of France; there
is even one in Lille. The Central Committee takes
care of Paris and environs, the number of widows
cared for by them at that time being two thousand.
No doubt the number has doubled since.

In each of the rooms I visited a young widow sat
before a table, and I wondered then, as I wondered
many times, if all the young French widows really
were beautiful or only created the complete illusion
in that close black-hung toque with its band of white
crepe just above the eyebrows and another from ear

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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 5 of 19)