A Volunteer's Story
Letter diary of volunteer Marian Bartol, 1920–21
The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of John G. Bartol, 1992
Download PDF of diary
Thirty-year-old Philadelphian Marian Grier Bartol joined the American Committee for Devastated France in 1920 and served a six-month tour, assigned to work alongside French women in the community store in Blérancourt. In nearly four hundred pages of letters home, written in continuous diary form, she cheerfully described the day-by-day experiences of a typical post-war volunteer. She delighted in shopping, sightseeing, and socializing when she arrived in Paris, but adjusted with aplomb to simple life in the volunteers' barracks. "I am feeling splendidly," she told her aunt and sister after she had settled in Blérancourt. "The out-of-door life suits me perfectly, & since I have gotten accustomed to the coarse bread, my digestion equals an ostrich." As she got to know the people of the devastated regions, she wondered if "America should have come into the war sooner, before such terrific sacrifices were required of France."
Bartol came from a prominent Philadelphia family with a home just off Rittenhouse Square, and her voyages to and from Europe were covered in the social pages of the Inquirer. At the time she joined the American Committee, several members of Bartol's family had already provided wartime service. Her brother Grier, who met her in Paris, served in France with the U.S. Army's Field Artillery Branch; her brother George joined the Army Signal Corps; her Aunt Kate worked in the Paris office of the American Committee for Devastated France; and Anne Farr, a cousin and fellow volunteer, welcomed Marian in Blérancourt. On the home front, Marian's father, George E. Bartol—founder and longtime president of the Philadelphia Bourse—saw to it that army, navy, and marine recruitment booths were set up on the Bourse's main floor. Under his direction, the Bourse also founded a domestic program to support American farm families whose sons had gone to war and established a marine engineering school to train crews for transatlantic service. Bartol's father died in 1917, before the war was over. As she described the colorful group of volunteers with whom she served in post-war France, Marian admitted to her aunt and sister that "father would have hated these modern, independent women."
Note that Marian Bartol's letters make reference to four different women named Anne: in New York, Bartol stayed at the apartment of a friend, Anne Hall; in Blérancourt she lived with her cousin Anne Farr, who would later marry Bartol's brother Grier; Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike, heads of the American Committee for Devastated France, are also cited in the letters, but always with their surnames. Bartol also mentions several Katherines: her Aunt Kate, who lived in Paris and worked with the American Committee for Devastated France; Kate's daughter, Katherine, who also lived in Paris; and Kate Lewis, a fellow volunteer, who sailed to France with Marian.