Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, August 15, 2022

American University Union in Europe


Source: University of Illinois Archives

By James Patton

On 18 June  1917 just five days after Gen. Pershing and his advance party arrived, alumni from ten American collegiate institutions (Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, MIT, Williams, and Yale) met in Paris and founded the American University Union, to be a "simple club" in Paris for American college men. Their expressed purpose was "to cooperate in all proper ways with university authorities in the United States for the general well-being of American university and college men who come to France." Subsequently, on 15 July there was an organizational meeting at the University Club in New York, then the first group of staffers left for Paris on 3 August, and the Union opened its doors on 18 October.

My alma mater, Cornell University, reported their participation in the Cornell Daily Sun on 16 November 1917, in an article headlined "CORNELL BECOMES CHARTER MEMBER OF UNIVERSITY UNION":

The Trustees of the University have appropriated $500 for the membership fee of Cornell to the American University Union in Europe. This Union was established by American college men abroad who met in Paris, June 18, 1917, in order "to cooperate in all proper ways with university authorities in the United States for the general well-being of American university and college men who come to France."

Cornell was represented at this meeting as one of the ten charter members of the Union [i.e. Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, MIT, Williams, and Yale], and has now become an active member with Professor M.W. Sampson as chairman. A campaign will be started to raise the funds necessary for the maintenance of the Cornell bureau in the Union… Cornell is represented on the Advisory Council of Seven by [Paris resident] A. D. Weil  [Class of] '84. 

The headquarters of the Union are in Paris, the trustees having rented the Royal Palace Hotel on the Place du Théâtre Français, [1 st Arrondissement]... The offices of the Union and of its constituent bureaus have already been established in the hotel, which has been planned as a center for all American college and university men and their friends in France. Informal receptions and smokers will be held from time to time.

The Beautiful Quarters Today


Representative English and French journals, fifty of the leading American daily papers, weeklies, and magazines are on file, and also many college periodicals… Funds for the maintenance of the Union both in Paris and in the London branch will come from two sources, the receipts from [meals and] room rentals at the hotel and from an annual budget of $50,000. The money taken in at the Paris headquarters will provide for all the present expenses of the Union, but the additional funds are needed for a planned recuperation place in the French Alps or on the Riviera… In order to meet [the] budget the organization has taxed the colleges and clubs an amount which will total $18,000 annually, the other $32,000 being made up by individual subscriptions… 

The article listed 47 institutions from 27 states, two fraternities and two military academies that had joined the Union. Subsequently, over 40 more institutions joined, similarly motivated by the desire to support the service of their own. For example, the following editorial is from the Brown and White, the newspaper of Lehigh University (all-male until 1972):

At present it is estimated that there are some fifty Lehigh men fighting in France. By next summer, if the war continues as it promises to do, there will be several hundred. It is something in which the university may take pride. The fondest recollections that many of those men cherish are those of their college days; the petty disappointments or differences of opinion that may have seemed to mar college associations are entirely forgotten in the great common cause and Lehigh memories… The action of the alumni association in affiliating Lehigh with the American University Union in Paris is a step which calls forth the gratitude of every Lehigh man. The union furnishes a center for recreation, news and mail distribution, reading rooms, tennis courts, baths, cheap but excellent meals and lodging, will information and service are all available to American university men in Paris through this excellent organization.  Some Lehigh men have already availed themselves of these facilities and report in glowing terms of the splendid treatment they received; the democratic spirit which is in evidence at the Union is admirable and typically American, official rank is forgotten as reminiscences of days back at college are exchanged. By becoming affiliated with the Union Lehigh has assured every right and privilege of the organization to every man who ever attended Lehigh and even those who had intended to enter the university [in 1917]. It is an excellent step and one of which we may well be proud.’

As mentioned above the Union was created to house the various 'bureaus" which had already been created by some universities, beginning with Yale’s in May 1917.  

Because of its collegiate roots, the Union was "elitist," although not exclusively upper-class, as many public institutions participated. But the Union wasn’t an Officer’s Club or even a military club, nor was there any religious orientation; anyone with a connection to a participating institution who was in Europe "for military or other service in the cause of the Allies" was welcome to use the facilities.  Those who came were known as "Registrants" rather than members. 

Particularly valuable and popular was the mail service—the Union would receive, hold or forward personal mail for the Registrants. A "Desk Book" was maintained where Registrants could leave messages for other Registrants.

The Union was operated by a board of 24 trustees, with Edward Tuck (1842–1938), Dartmouth 1862, as the chairman. Tuck was an international banker and financier who spent his whole adult life in France. To honor his father, in 1900 he endowed the prestigious Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. The on-site director of the Union was George Nettleton (1874–1959), Yale 1896, later to be the Dean of Yale College.

The Union's Location Could Not Have Been Better

Built in 1908, the former Union property is today La Clef Louvre Paris. On the corner of the Rue Richelieu and what is now the Place André Malraux, it is just one short block from the Louvre. In 1917 it had 80 rooms and 42 baths; today it has 51 suites and nightly rates start at €325.

From June 1916 American Field Service (AFS) personnel had similar services available to them at the AFS headquarters, 21 Rue Reynouard, 16th  arrondissement, but this site is not as centrally convenient as the Union. Today there sits a high-rise on the former AFS site.

The much smaller London branch of the Union was located at 16 Pall Mall East, London SW1, just off Trafalgar Square. It consisted of some rooms rented from a "gentlemen’s club" and was suitable only for social activity. This site is now part of the High Commission of Canada complex. The Union had a rate arrangement with the St. James Palace Hotel, Bury Street, London SW1, which was a short walk from the branch. Today all of the buildings on the two blocks of Bury Street are modern.

There was also a bureau in Rome, located on Via Venti Septembre. 

No comments:

Post a Comment