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World War I Through Children’s Eyes

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany, officially entering World War I. An exhibition of 30 drawings from 1917 depicting the American contingent arriving in France as seen by French children, will be running at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, until October 15.

From 1914 to 1918, Georges Huppen, a teacher at the Saint-Isaure elementary school in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, regularly asked his students (aged 8 to 13) to make illustrations depicting the war. In Spring 1917, as the United States joined the conflict, the children’s drawings were adorned with American flags. An early drawing depicts the Allied troops parading in the Jardins des Tuileries alongside a portrait of General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another drawing shows doughboys outside Gare de l’Est in Paris, about to leave for the front.

This drawing exercise assigned by the Parisian teacher produced around 1,300 drawings, which were conserved in the Vieux Montmartre Historical and Archaeological Society. The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, has selected 30 to be part of an exhibition called Vive l’Amérique: French Children Welcome their American Ally. “Our aim was to commemorate the day America entered the war, while bringing a new perspective on this historical period,” explains Jonathan Casey, the exhibition’s curator. “The French children’s drawings offer a poignant insight into French-American relations.”

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Uncle Sam helps French war orphans. ©Société d’histoire et d’archéologie Le Vieux Montmartre.

One child’s representation of American troops arriving at the port of Saint-Nazaire in 1917 is deeply figurative and naive. The soldiers are shown arriving in small wooden boats, while residents in striped bathing costumes look on. In contrast, other drawings are allegorical and close in style to the propaganda posters that lined the streets. One drawing depicts two images of Marianne: one dressed in the French tricolor flag, the other enrobed in the Star-Spangled Banner, facing one another from either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Another drawing shows Uncle Sam offering gifts to French war orphans. In a time when international relations are becoming more and more complex, Jonathan Casey concludes, “we should not forget that 100 years ago, the French-American friendship changed the course of history.”

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American troops arrive at the port of Saint-Nazaire.

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A dispplay of solidarity between France and the United States.

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General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, and allied troops parading in the Jardins des Tuileries.

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Doughboys outside Gare de l’Est in Paris, about to leave for the front.

Vive l’Amérique! French Children Welcome their American Ally
From March 21 to October 15

National World War I Museum and Memorial
2 Memorial Drive
Kansas City, MO 64108

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