The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941

The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941

by Nancy L. Green


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While Gertrude Stein hosted the literati of the Left Bank, Mrs. Bates-Batcheller, an American socialite and concert singer in Paris, held sumptuous receptions for the Daughters of the American Revolution in her suburban villa. History may remember the American artists, writers, and musicians of the Left Bank best, but the reality is that there were many more American businessmen, socialites, manufacturers’ representatives, and lawyers living on the other side of the River Seine. Be they newly minted American countesses married to foreigners with impressive titles or American soldiers who had settled in France after World War I with their French wives, they provide a new view of the notion of expatriates.

Nancy L. Green thus introduces us for the first time to a long-forgotten part of the American overseas population—predecessors to today’s expats—while exploring the politics of citizenship and the business relationships, love lives, and wealth (and poverty for some) of Americans who staked their claim to the City of Light. The Other Americans in Paris shows that elite migration is a part of migration tout court and that debates over “Americanization” have deep roots in the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226324463
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/20/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nancy L. Green is professor of history at the École des hautesétudesen sciences sociales. She is the author or coeditor of several books, including Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York, Jewish Workers in the Modern Diaspora, and Citizenship and Those Who Leave.

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The Other Americans in Paris

Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880â"1941

By Nancy L. Green

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-30688-9


The Not So Lost Generation

The "American Colony"

There is only one nation on earth ... whose citizens have imagined making constant use of the right of association in civil life. ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE (1840)

Benjamin Franklin slept here, Gertrude Stein wrote here, Ernest Hemingway drank here. There are many reminders in Paris that Americans have been coming to the city since Americans became Americans. Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams along with Abigail have pride of first place in most anecdotal accounts of Ameri cans in Paris. There could be a walking tour for every interest group: American diplomats and their mistresses, American lesbians of the Left Bank, African American Montmartre musicians, American historians and their archives ... No commemorative plaque, however, announces that the Chase and Equitable Banks merged here, that Palmolive Société Anonyme was set up here, or that "here lived milk mogul George Hull," who provided the community with pasteurized goods. The working rich made up the largest segment of the Americans in Paris, but their activities were not exactly plaque-making.

True, people on plaques do not a community make. So how can we find the other Americans in Paris in the first half of the twentieth century, those who did not leave famous memoirs or novels? They called themselves and were called "the American colony." The term colony was not specific to these potential Americanizers abroad. It was used frequently from the nineteenth century on—until twentieth-century decolonization gave it a bad name—to describe groups of foreigners of all classes, in France and elsewhere. The American residents of Paris embraced the word to distinguish themselves from the ephemeral tourists, there today, gone tomorrow. When a mini-French riot broke out against American tourists flouting their dollars in 1926, the American residents of Paris hastened to distance themselves from the traveling hordes.

Neither tourists nor immigrants per se, the American residents in Paris nonetheless acted in many ways like other groups of foreigners in the city, busily creating clubs and associations to take care of their own, to socialize or pray together, or to celebrate the Fourth of July thousands of miles from home. Certainly there were many long-term inhabitants who never set foot in any community organization (just like other immigrants), but in good Tocquevillian fashion, the Americans in Paris banded together for everything from (weak) coffee and (layered) cake to lectures on Flaubert or Lafayette. They created organizations to take care of everything from health to welfare to faith but also to promote everything from American cars to planes to dental work. There were two chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and an American Dental Club of Paris. Many of the major American institutions existing in Paris today date to the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and, along with guidebooks and newspapers, they defined the American "colony," conscious of self yet not at all self-conscious.


American travelers heading eastward in the early nineteenth century crossed paths with Alexis de Tocqueville. While this mobile noble Frenchman traveled to the United States in 1830 and scrutinized, approved, yet also warned about the American model of democracy, good American democrats were traveling in the other direction. More than one observer noted the irony of Americans' fascination with the European aristocracy, always delighted to be invited to partake in the pomp.

Paris is "invaded by a crowd of Americans," wrote one mid-nineteenth-century French observer. Yet it is difficult to pin down precise statistics, given the fluctuating character of arrivals and departures. Approximately thirty thousand Americans visited France between 1814 and 1848 (well outnumbered by the British), yet perhaps only three hundred families were settled in Paris in the mid-1840s. A decade later, the American consul there estimated that one to three thousand Americans were residing in or touring the city.

To understand the early American colony in Paris, there is no better hero than a dentist. Thomas W. Evans was a community builder who at the same time epitomizes the American elite hobnobbing with French nobility. Personal dentist to the French emperor, Evans was not the first American dentist in Paris. He went there in 1847 to join the thriving practice of Cyrus Starr Brewster,formerly of South Carolina. But Brewster was out of the office one day when Louis Napoleon Bonaparte got yet another of his frequent toothaches. Evans went to his side. With his discreet, efficient manner and his wonderful gift for relieving toothaches, Evans became not only the regular dentist of the then-president and soon to be self-appointed second emperor of France but his confidant as well. By 1850, Evans had set up his own practice down the street from Brewster's on the fashionable rue de la Paix. The "father of gold fillings" became a Europe-renowned expert for his use of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic and his agility at straightening crooked royal teeth. His access to the mouth—and ear—of Louis Napoleon meant that this Philadelphian was apparently able to discourage Napoleon III (as he became known once he established the Second Empire) from recognizing the Confederacy during the American Civil War, although the majority of Americans in Paris at the time sided with their native South. Evans even made the American consuls and ministers in France a wee bit jealous of his dental-chair diplomacy. His faithfulness to the American republic was equaled only by his fidelity to the French imperial family. In his most shining moment, during the Franco-Prussian War—as recounted ad nauseam afterward to friends and acquaintances—Evans helped the empress escape to England on September 4–5, 1870, after her husband, the First Patient, was captured at Sedan. After the fall of the Second Empire, Evans still retained his royal clientele in Europe, and even the now-republican French forgave him his role in the empress's getaway.

Evans appears again and again not just as dashing dentist but as community leader. In 1868 he created the American Register, a newspaper that would last almost fifty years, and he was part of the initiative to set up both major American churches that still throne over Parisian avenues today. Not surprisingly, he began the American Dental Club of Paris. But first he was instrumental in presenting the American ambulance system at the Paris World's Fair of 1867 (although the official American Sanitary Commission considered him to be something of an expatriate arriviste in doing so without having been asked) and then helping implement it during the Franco-Prussian War. The French newspapers were generous in their praise of wealthy Americans who could have fled to safer places but remained to help, and they marveled at the cheerful atmosphere of the American hospital with "its daring reliance on fresh air, since the French were normally paralyzed by the fear of air currents."

When the childless grand man of the American community died in Paris in 1897, several months after his wife, his will generously reflected his Franco-American interests. "Handsome Tom" had taken on a French mistress, one of the grandes horizontales (courtesans). But Tom was tolerant, and some of her other lovers had become his friends, such as the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. A handsome sum thus went to Méry Laurent, while 100,000 francs were set aside for Americans stranded in Paris. The bulk of Evans's fortune went to his hometown, Philadelphia, as did he, for burial beside his wife. The resulting dental school and museum at the University of Pennsylvania exist to this day. As an American newspaper had described the transnational dentist: "He has the whiskers of a German, the accent of an Englishman, the manners of a French man [but] he has creditably clung to the nationality that permitted his success."

Friend of French royalty yet creator of American institutions in Paris, Evans represented one of the major contradictions of the early Americans in Paris: democrats' fascination with nobility. Evans's longevity allowed him to span three French regimes, from the short-lived Second Republic (1848–51) through the twenty years of the Second Empire, into the first twenty-five years of the ultimately long-lasting Third Republic. He, like other members of the early American colony, was by turn anxious and alarmed by the jam-packed events of 1870–71. From the declaration of the Third French Republic on September 4, 1870, through the Commune (March 18–May 28, 1871) to the consolidation of the Third Republic, US northerners and southerners, the wealthy American elite invited to court and the more middle-class American residents, reacted in different ways. The court hangers-on, such as Evans, would long be nostalgic for the empire. But Elihu Washburne, the American minister in Paris at the time, was positively thrilled at the declaration of the Third Republic: "I am so tickled at what has taken place that I can hardly contain myself.... Only think, breakfasting in an Empire and dining in a Republic, all so quick as to make your head swim." Once the Third Republic settled in, the theme of amity between the French and American Republics would become a staple slogan of the American community in Paris—along with an abiding interest in noble titles.

After the commotion, travel to France resumed, and the American colony grew. If there were some five thousand permanent American residents in Paris in 1870–71, by the turn of the century the American Register trumpeted on its undoubtedly overly generous masthead: "30,000 Americans Reside in Paris." The American residents became an ever more visible component of late nineteenth-century Paris, leading one American critic to lament the fact that they stuck to themselves: "They remain what they are, and no matter how long it may have been since they ceased to be Americans, they do not become Frenchmen. They are a race all to themselves; they are the American Colony."


Consider a luggage theory of mobility: we are what we pack. If we could peek inside the steamer trunks, we would no doubt see confirmation of the changing social and class composition of Americans traveling to France. Benjamin Franklin's and Thomas Jefferson's trunks included official documents and letters of representation. Edith Wharton's valises were presumably filled with literature and writing books. But there were also the likes of Mrs. Mackay, "bonanza princess" thanks to her husband's silver mines, her trunks filled with gowns and jewels. She became a well-known salonnière in Paris before 1900, bringing together American, French, and other European elites in her 17th arrondissement villa. By the early twentieth century, however, more and more suitcases were filled with commercial order books and accounting pads accompanying eager industrialists across the seas.

After World War I, the rentiers of the turn of the century continued to come, but a veritable onslaught of businessmen, artists, writers, and teachers changed the makeup of the American colony. Historian Harvey Levenstein has well described the shifting crowds of American tourists in France, and these shifts would hold true for the residential community as well. After mid-nineteenth-century upper-class single young men set off for months if not years on a Grand Tour for cultural enrichment, increasing numbers of upper-middle-class tourists began making the journey. Mothers and daughters started coming for several months of art, music, and shopping. But already by the 1890s there were complaints that American tourists were everywhere ("vulgar, vulgar, vulgar," commented Henry James). The real change came with World War I. The doughboys, both white and black, led the way for "the invasion of the lower orders." Levenstein tells a tale of changing patterns of tourism in which the elite American tourist metamorphoses into the nouveau-riche and then middle-class shopper in an inexorable march toward tour buses.

While tourists came in droves beginning at the turn of the century, the permanent community also grew. Perhaps as many as 100,000 American tourists visited Paris in 1906, and the number rose to some 300,000 per year in the 1920s. The figures for more permanent residents vary greatly, given that immigration and emigration data rarely coincide, nor did city and national counts. Whereas the French census counted almost 18,000 Americans in France at the peak of their statistical presence (1926), the Paris municipal council had estimated three years earlier that there were 32,000 in Paris alone. This made Americans the sixth largest foreign group in the capital, after Belgians, Italians, Russians, Swiss, and the British. After the stock market crash sent many Americans scurrying home, the US State Department counted 19,466 Americans in France in 1933, but apparently only 11,878 of them had French residence cards that year. That would mean there were (at least) 7,588 American illegal aliens. Contemporary newspaper reports estimated that there were up to 40,000 Americans settled in Paris in the late 1920s, and that has become the favorite figure of historians.

The changing composition of American visitors, in addition to reflecting social change at home, was due to both technological advances in transatlantic travel and World War I. As steamships replaced sailing ships, the length of time needed to cross the Atlantic plummeted. For the steamer set, "New York's only a week away." And as competition increased, the liners lowered their fares. The shift in the American colony was noticed by American and French observers alike, as salaried men coming for a vacation joined gentlemen of leisure. But business would soon take precedence over pleasure.

Then came the war and free trans-Atlantic crossings—for doughboys. World War I brought yet another social class of Americans to France. As the song goes, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm (after they've seen Paree)," "They'll never want to see a rake or plow / And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow? ... Imagine Reuben when he meets his Pa / He'll kiss his cheek and holler 'oo-la-la!'" The song was not just a joking symbol of postwar malaise. As one veteran explained, once "the first excitement of home-coming was over, and when we ceased to be heroes, thoughts turned toward the fair land of France and the Second American Invasion was on." For black soldiers returning home to American racism, glimpses they'd had of an (imagined?) race-free French society took many of them back to France after the war as well. Not to mention the American women who went over during the war as nurses, canteen workers ("serving doughnuts to doughboys," as Susan Zeiger has put it), YMCA hostesses, or Salvation Army lassies, some of whom also stayed on. The US army's Stars and Stripes magazine, after all, had encouraged soldiers to appreciate la belle France, the better to win the war, and when transportation bottlenecks meant long delays between the armistice of November 1918 and the return home (as late as August 1919 for some), the US government organized travel tours and enrollment in French civilization classes to occupy the soldiers. Even French department stores did their bit to help US soldiers get along in France; one printed a brochure explaining, among other things, how to pronounce merci (Mare-see). After the war, an ever more mixed crowd of energetic doughboys, the occasional nurse, and busy businessmen would constitute the new "vast armies" of industrious Americans abroad.


"The American colony of Paris was an enclave in which everybody knew everybody else and wanted to know everything that happened to them, particularly if it were scandalous." Yet before exploring how the community coalesced through its bricks-and-mortar or stone-and-spire institutions, we do well to take a detour through the guidebooks and directories the Americans published. The books helped to construct the colony through their very compilation. They helped the Americans of Paris recognize one other, find each other, and gossip about each other.

Besides filling the cavities of the colony, Dr. Evans began the list craze, although he was certainly not the first of his social class to want to identify and be identified in a social registry or blue book. His newspaper, the American Register, like other social who's whos, printed long lists of Americans, both traveling and in residence throughout Europe. While ship arrival lists tried to capture the "floating" population, as one early traveler aptly called it, other directories tried to pin down the permanent population. Albert Sutliffe, correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, underlined the new growth of the late nineteenth-century community when he published The Americans in Paris in 1887. It listed addresses along with days for calling: the Evanses received on Sundays and Tuesdays, Mrs. Mackay on Tuesdays ...


Excerpted from The Other Americans in Paris by Nancy L. Green. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents


1 The Not So Lost Generation: The “American Colony”
2 Uses of Citizenship, Tales from the Consulate, or How Mrs. Baker Got Her Hat Back
3 For Love or Money: Marriage and Divorce in the French Capital
4 Americans at Work: Of Grocers, Fashion Writers, Dentists, and Lawyers
5 Doing Business in France: The Formal and the Informal
6 Down and Out in Paris: The Tailed, the Arrested, and the Poor
7 French Connections, Reciprocal Visions: Love, Hate, Awe, Disdain
8 Heading Home: War, Again


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