1918: Wartime France Photographed by Lewis Hine

A hundred and five years ago, World War I came to an end in France. U.S. photographer Lewis Hine traveled across the country, documenting the work of the American Red Cross with refugees, orphans, and wounded soldiers. Lost for decades, his poignant work has been made public by the Library of Congress.
An American soldier stands in the doorway of a building before the Eiffel Tower in March of 1919. All photographs: © Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress.

Lewis Hine has been acknowledged as one of America’s principal 20th-century photographers, best known for his moving portraits of immigrants on Ellis Island, child laborers in factories and mines, and steel workers balanced on high girders of the Empire State Building.

During World War I, Hine became a photographer for the American Red Cross, assigned to record the devastation in Europe and document the need for relief work. In the spring and summer of 1918, he photographed hundreds of war refugees, orphaned children, hospitalized soldiers, nurses and volunteers, as well as the country’s ruins. The photographs were intended to drum up support for the Red Cross and appeal to an American audience. Some of these pictures appeared in Red Cross publications, but most of them went into the organization’s archives, where they remained hidden for almost 100 years.

At the end of World War II, the Red Cross deposited its photograph collection – some 50,000 images – at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where Hine’s work was misplaced due to an eccentric filing code that baffled historians for nearly 40 years. Author Daile Kaplan was finally able to break the code, identify Hine’s photographs, and reintroduce to the world the best of this master’s “lost” photographs, giving him his due as a true pioneer of photojournalism.

American troops march through Place d’Iéna and down Avenue du Président-Wilson in Paris on July 4,1918.
Lying in the arms of an American Red Cross nurse underneath the flags of France and America, twins only two weeks old, whose father was killed at the front four months before and who, with their mother, are now being cared for by the American Red Cross.
A French soldier whose face was mutilated in the war, wearing the artificial chin made by Anna Coleman Ladd of the American Red Cross.
Nurses lined up after a fire drill at 60 Rue Saint-Didier in Paris, where the American Red Cross makes front parcels.
An overview of war-ravaged Lens, April 11, 1919.
An African American soldier entertaining his comrades in the American Red Cross Recreation Hut in Orléans, September, 1918.
Time to open the American Red Cross Recreation Hut for the day at the American Military Hospital No. 5 in Auteuil.
Drivers of the American Fund for French Wounded, September 1918. They have assisted the American Red Cross by driving cars for the Children’s Bureau, but are now attached to the Service de Santé, under the French government.
Château de Grand Val, Sucy-en-Brie. Country home for refugee children from St. Sulpice. The injured French soldier at the left of the picture is one of the best friends of the children at Grand Val playing their games. Grand Val is a large estate near Paris which has been converted into a country home for the vulnerable children among the refugees received at St. Sulpice in Paris. The American Red Cross sends doctors and nurses to care for these children whose condition improves remarkably in the healthy surroundings.

Lewis Hine in Europe: The Lost Photographs
by Daile Kaplan, Abbeville Press, 1988.

Portfolio published in the August 2018 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.