Featured Item: World War I Photograph Album

American Distributing Service, 62 rue de Richelieu, service motors in courtyard, 1914. HUGFP 76.74 Box 4, HUA.

Photograph album documents experiences of American couple in France, Belgium, and the US, 1913-1919

Robert Woods Bliss (1875-1962, Harvard College Class of 1900) and his wife, Mildred Barnes Bliss (1875-1969), were philanthropists and notable art collectors. In 1940, they donated their Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C. to Harvard.

During World War I, Robert served in the diplomatic corps at the American Embassy in Paris, where the couple balanced embassy social life with war intelligence and relief efforts. Mildred was instrumental in organizing and funding the American Distributing Service, staffed in part by Harvard volunteers, which provided and transferred medical supplies to French hospitals.  

The photographs in this album, annotated by Robert, span the war years from 1913 to 1919, and provide scenes both idyllic and tragic from France, Belgium, and the United States.  Early images of the Blisses socializing at elegant country estates include photographs of American musician and composer Ernest Schelling and Ignace Paderewski, Polish diplomat, pianist and composer. Pictured among those welcoming the French Mission to Washington, D.C. in 1917 is Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Other images document war-torn towns, military shelters and trenches, battle scenes, German war prisoners, embassy employees and dignitaries, American Red Cross and Distributing Service staff and vehicles, and finally, the arrival of General Pershing and the July 1919 Allied Powers victory parade in Paris.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of State made use of these photographs and other documents from the Bliss papers in a study carried out by the Office of the Historian and the U.S. Embassy France on the role of the U.S. diplomatic corps stationed in France during 1914–1918.  The Bliss photograph album is featured on the related World War I Centenary website of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Four pages from the album are reproduced below; the entire album is available online. From more information about Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, see the inventory to their papers held by the Harvard University Archives.