5 American Women Who Made French-American History

Julia Child on "The French Chef"

Who are the great women who have, often from the shadows, shaped the history of Franco-American relations? In honor of Women’s History Month in the United States, March, we’re presenting 5 portraits of women, in chronological by birth, who helped build a bridge between the two countries across the Atlantic.

1. Anne Morgan, the philanthropist committed to the French (1873 – 1952)

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Anne Morgan is the daughter of banker John Pierpont Morgan, better known as JP Morgan. In 1914, the young woman and some members of the Colony Club, the first private club reserved for women in New York, travelled to France to support soldiers fighting in World War I.

Together, these women raised funds from their compatriots to support the wounded and founded a recovery home near Versailles. Morgan settled in Blérancourt in the Aisne region in 1917 and helped the local population to rebuild itself during the inter-war period. She continued her efforts when the World War II broke out and in 1924 founded a Franco-American historical museum, which is still open today.

2. Anna Coleman Ladd, who fixed broken faces (1878 – 1939)

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Born in Philadelphia, Anna Coleman Ladd studied sculpture in Rome and Paris. She met her husband in Boston and when he was transferred to France to work at the American Red Cross in 1917, the couple moved there together. Soon, the young sculptor discovered the work of her British colleague Francis Derwent Wood, who made masks for disfigured people in Paris.

She decided to set up her own “portrait mask studio” with the Red Cross and began to receive her first broken-faced clients: soldiers disfigured during World War I. She made clay and copper masks to allow these broken men to recover their old faces. Thanks to her technique, she contributed to the advancement of the design of prosthetics.

3. Josephine Baker, the American who made France dream (1906 – 1975)

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Josephine Baker’s life began in poverty. The eldest of a poor African-American family in Mississippi, the young girl, passionate about dance, left home at the age of 16 to try her luck in New York, where she was scouted for a show in Paris. Baker crossed the Atlantic in 1925 and thrilled France in a show, “La Revue Nègre,” which was perceived as exotic by her dance contemporaries. She acquired French nationality by marriage in 1937.

During the World War II, the artist joined the secret services of General de Gaulle’s free France and carried war messages in her music scores and costumes. As she sought to win back the hearts of Americans in the 1950s, she was struck by the racism that reigned there and became involved in the struggle for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. After a lifetime as a dancer, singer, actress, counter-intelligence figure, resistance fighter, activist, pilot and more, Baker died in 1975 at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital and received military honors and tributes from the entire artistic community in France.

4. Julia Child, the ambassador of French cuisine (1912 – 2004)

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What better way to love France than through its cuisine? One of its greatest ambassadors of French culture in the United States was undoubtedly Julia Child. Born in Pasadena, California, she had no plans to become a chef. After a brief career as a publicist in New York, she met her husband, a Francophile who introduced her to the country’s gastronomy.

In 1946, she tasted oysters and a sole meunière accompanied by a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé in a restaurant in Rouen. And then came the big revelation: Child decided to become a chef. She took classes in Paris and began translating cookbooks for Americans. Back in the United States, she wrote the best-selling “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961 and hosted the show “The French Chef” on the WGBH channel, which was a national success for ten years. In 2009, a movie, “Julie & Julia” based on a book of the same title, about her life was released; any foodie or Francophile should give it a watch.

5. Lady Liberty, the French woman “lighting the world” (1875 – )

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At 305 feet tall, Lady Liberty is undoubtedly a large and great lady. A gift from France to the United States unveiled in 1886 to celebrate the centenary of the American Declaration of Independence, the Statue of Liberty was created by the Frenchman Auguste Bartholdi with the help of Gustave Eiffel for the interior structure.

Many legends revolve around the model that would have inspired the artist for the face of the famous Lady Liberty. The most common hypotheses are that Bartholdi based the statue off of his mother, with whom he was very close, a prostitute from Pigalle, or the American fiancée of one of his dear friends. Now a symbol of the United States and freedom in the world, Lady Liberty joined UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1984.