The Other Americans in Paris book coverReprinted with permission from The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941, by Nancy L. Green, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2014 University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.

Subscribers, copies of The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 by Nancy L. Green. Free book giveaway to two subscribers ends June 24, 2014. A $40 U.S. value.

Subscribe free. Once subscribed, you will be eligible to win—no matter where you live worldwide—no matter how long you’ve been a subscriber. You can unsubscribe at anytime. We never sell or share member information.

Nancy L. Green recounts the experiences of a long-forgotten part of the American expatriate population in The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941, (June 27, 2014, The University of Chicago Press). She introduces us for the first time to the Right Bank American transplants. There were newly minted American countesses married to foreigners with impressive titles, American women married to American businessmen, and many discharged American soldiers who had settled in France after World War I with their French wives. The book details the politics of citizenship, work, and business, and the wealth (and poverty) among the Americans who staked their claim to the City of Light. (Purchase)

Chapter Three: “For Love or Money: Marriage and Divorce in the French Capital” (pages 79-97) by Nancy L. Green

“Was it at all possible, for instance, to like Paris enough without liking it too much?” worries Strether in Henry James’s The Ambassadors. The problem, of course, was sex. Parents and patriots depicted the City of Light as a city of shadows where American youth might be seduced. “Public liberty, private liberty, high culture, and untrammeled sexuality: these are the components of the myth of Paris in the American imagination.” [Higonnet] There were the prudish Protestants who felt that the Louvre itself was a bad influence—all that revealing statuary! But by and large, the warnings had to do with life in the garrets. At the turn of the century, the fear of bohemia led to a rash of articles in the American press warning parents about letting their children go adrift in the French capital. Indeed, the dangers of the city were one of the main reasons that upstanding American do-gooders sought to create the protective institutions described above. They tried to provide wholesome places where American students could safely congregate for tea or bowling rather than be drawn to the wilds of the lascivious Left Bank.

Each sex was at risk, alarming reports insisted. Sons could pick up bad habits and lose their bearings upon contact with the Parisian atmosphere. Residence counted. As one guidebook for American women in Paris warned, the American man residing in Paris became “entirely different from the home variety.” Adopting polite surface manners and a little of the French idea about women, “he is likely to have a good many half-baked radical theories about love and probably will want to try them out on you.”In another vein, one Anglo-American fortnightly in Paris ran a spoof titled “Parents’ Protection Agency”: Do you know where your son is? Tongue in cheek, the faux detective replied: You may think he is studying the Old Masters, but he has “broken out with beard, an epidemic of which is sweeping the entire Left Bank of Paris”; his French is fine, “coining new descriptive phrases” to yell at taxi drivers; and his female companionship is flourishing—three French girls, two Americans, one German, two Swedes, and a Turk.

While good American boys and men could be corrupted in Paris, most parents’ and moralists’ fears focused on the female sex. Wealthy women were berated for squandering their riches, poor girls for endangering their health. Both could be morally suspect. While the legatees were criticized for carting their money off to the Old World, the problem was the reverse for the poor female art students who had not brought enough money with them. The dangers for the likes of Anna Gould could be limited by a good prenuptial agreement, and hers was. The remedy for an art student trying to get by on a shoestring was more complex.

Two things in particular set the early twentieth-century American community in Paris apart from other immigrants: its wealth and its women. Thanks to the French census and the busybodies of the American Chamber of Commerce who pestered their compatriots to sign on to their Residential List in the Americans in France directories, we have a relative sense of how many women and men there were among the Americans in Paris. Harvey Levenstein has already noted the feminization of travel at the end of the nineteenth century. This was true for the resident American community as well. According to the French census, there were more American women than men officially registered in the French capital for most years (56–59% of the total) for 1901 to 1931; only in 1921 and 1936 were women just less than half of the Americans in the city.

Could this preponderance of women be a sign of elite migration in and of itself? A comparison with the mass of foreign workers in interwar France is telling. Whereas the 760,000 Italians and 300,000 Poles in France in 1926— mineworkers, factory workers, agricultural workers—were overwhelmingly male (60%), only the numerous British in Paris outdid the Americans in the number of women in their mostly well-to-do ranks (56%). Indeed one could argue that the percentage of women in each group is practically shorthand for a group’s prosperity—only 2 percent of Africans in France were women—were it not for the fact that the Luxembourger and German women in France also outnumbered their male compatriots because large numbers of those women came to France to work in domestic service. Not all female-predominant migrations are elite.

Beyond the by now well-known lesbian salonnières, the American women who lived in interwar Paris were a varied lot: wives, widows, spinsters, divorcées, and countesses. Thanks to the Residential Lists of the Chamber of Commerce directories and the useful if now archaic categories, we know who is a Miss and who is a Mrs., and we know the maiden names of married women. There were the single and the married. The majority of Americans living in Paris in 1926 were there with family: over one-half (53%) of the American women and even more of the men (almost 57%) were listed in the directories as part of a couple or other family unit. This included mothers and daughters or sisters (5%) living together. Mothers brought their daughters for a European education—better to accompany them than to send them off on their own—while shopping and socializing themselves. But there were also working women, the Morgan sisters, for example: the Misses Marguerite, Frances, and Virginia, respectively pianist, violinist, and harpist.

Nonetheless, a significant 46 percent of American women (only 43% of men) were listed as living alone. The registry entries may be misleading. As we have seen, Gertrude Stein is listed but Alice B. Toklas is not, neither with Gertrude nor under her own name. There were the single “Misses” but also “Mrs.” on their own—gay divorcées? widows? women separated from their husbands? The singly listed women could range from modest singing teachers or “middle-aged women with small, fixed incomes, who can be comfortable in France on a sum that would mean poverty at home,” to American legatees. Of the Mrs., Madames, or Countesses listed alone, over half (54%) were titled, including, in ascending order of rank, four baronesses, two viscountesses, seventeen countesses, four marquises, two duchesses, and five princesses.

What about the mixed marriages, those brave souls who conquered language to live lives in another culture? Many Americans were in Paris for love of the French, literally. “International marriages,” as they were called, either the cause or an effect of prolonged presence abroad, constituted over one-quarter (27%) of the couples listed in the 1926 directory, to which could be added those American women listed singly whose French surnames indicate a French spouse past if not present. All in all, 15 percent of all married men and 14 percent of all women who were or had been married had a spouse of another nationality. And those are just the ones we know about. Other binational couples undoubtedly melted into the Parisian boiseries (woodwork) without leaving a trace in the American colony’s records.

The names are only suggestive, but they give an intriguing peek into the hybrid social, cultural, and legal identities behind a Viscountess Antoine Marie Hector de Chabannes Curton la Palice, known in her former life as May Patterson, or an Ethel Simon who became Mme Mouillefarine. Not to mention, in the other direction, a woman née Marguerite du Bouzet de Roquépine de Poudenas who became Mrs. Benjamin Francis Berry. Although men’s names did not get changed in the process, may we assume, for example, that Stephen Perry Jocelyn Jr., the poultry farmer in Aisne Department, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1916 and belonged to the American Legion, stayed on for the love of Yvonne Dugas, if not necessarily for the chickens? While the Harvard soldier-turned-poultry-farmer is a little-known “type,” the Daisy Polk turned Countess de Buyer- Mimeuvre is a better-known figure.

Together, Countess Daisy Polk and Stephen Perry Jocelyn Jr. represent the two most prominent types of French-American couples living in Paris in the first half of the twentieth century: the American heiress married to a cash-poor French nobleman and the starry-eyed Stars and Stripes soldier who tied the knot with his wartime sweetheart. The asymmetry of the mixed marriages is striking. “French-American marriages” is perforce a heterogeneous category. They not only brought two cultures into close contact. They did so with different sexes at different ends of the social spectrum.

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

“Whether she is taking us into the territory of marriage and divorce…unearthing consular records of American misdeeds, or tracking down the capture of Baby Cadum soaps by Palmolive, she surprises and delights on every page.” —Alice Kaplan, Yale University, author of Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, and French Lessons: A Memoir

“A fascinating, compelling, and sometimes hilarious look at the Americans of the Right Bank: those who lived across the river from the Lost Generation and belonged to a world apart. Who knew that 90 percent of the interwar Americans in Paris rarely visited Shakespeares’ and never heard of Gertrude Stein? Green’s wonderful book tells the untold story of the American businessmen, lawyers, renters, heiresses, and slackers who created the ‘American colony in Paris’ and never thought of writing the Great American Novel.” —Edward Berenson, New York University, author of The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story, and The Trial of Madame Caillaux.

Nancy Green photo portraitNancy L. Green is professor of history at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales and a member there of the Centre de Recherches Historiques. 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, Repenser les migrations, and Citizenship and Those Who Leave. She received her Doctorate at the University of Chicago and a Doctorat d’État from the University of Paris VII. (A Woman’s Paris interview with Nancy L. Green)

Photo portrait: Cynthia Truant


The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 (June 27, 2014, The University of Chicago Press)

Citizenship and Those Who Leave: The Politics of Emigration and Expatriation Nancy L. Green (editor) and François Weil (editor) (2007, University of Illinois Press)

Jewish Workers in the Modern Diaspora Nancy L. Green (editor) (1998, University of California Press)

Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York (1997, Duke University Press Books)

A Woman’s Paris® is a community-based online media service, bringing fresh thinking about people and ideas that shape our world and presents a simplicity and style, in English and French.

Connecting with you has been a joyous experience—especially in learning how to enjoy the good things in life. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Share us with your friends.

Barbara Redmond


Text copyright ©2014 University of Chicago Press. ©Nancy L. Green. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.