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World War I French war orphan photographs

 Collection — Folder: SP130
Identifier: SP130

Scope and Contents

This collection contains 3 black-and-white photographs of French war orphans assisted by war work in Indiana during World War II with handwritten notes of gratitude to their benefactors in French and English. One photograph likely taken in Saint-Malo, Bretagne, France shows an 8-year old child named Pierre Mordrel in 1917, which has a note on the back that reads, "Souvenir affectueux de Pierre Mordrel à son aimable bienfaifrice Mrs. Lucius B. Swift." The other photographs show young men who were once war orphans, with handwritten notes of gratitude: a young man in a military dress uniform with a fourragère on his left shoulder taken by photographer Théodore Lehmstedt in Neuf-Brisach, Alsace, France and a young man in a suit in Nancy, Grand Est, France, circa 1920-1930.


  • 1917-circa 1930

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Historical Note

World War I and its aftermath produced thousands of "war orphans" across Europe, which included children whose fathers were killed fighting, disappeared, or had not yet returned. Many individuals, families, schools, and organizations around Indiana "adopted" war orphans from France and Belgium, sending them annual pensions to take care of them, providing for food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and education. Interest in caring for this vulnerable group grew exponentially after the United States entered World War I. A minimum pension for a child was $36 per year, but amounts varied depending on the child's specific needs, which could include education, apprenticeship, or medical care. The American benefactors received photographs, histories, letters, and even doctors' certificates in return to connect with their "godchildren."

Between March 1917 and February 1919, the War Orphans' Committee of the French Relief Committee, officially the American Fund for French Wounded, of Indianapolis, Indiana provided for 975 war orphans, sending about $35,000 to France in nearly two years. Mary Ella Swift, wife of politicians Lucius B. Swift, was chairman of the War Orphans' Committee. Other organizations, such as the Red Cross, YWCA, and Fatherless Children of France, also raised money during and after the war to provide for children who had lost at least one parent.


French Relief Fund. War Orphans' Committee. "Report of the French War Orphans' Committee of the French Relief Fund." Indianapolis, IN: American Fund for French Wounded, Indianapolis Branch, 1919. Accessed November 18, 2021.

Fatherless Children of France, Indianapolis Branch. "Third Annual Report." Indianapolis, IN: Fatherless Children of France, Indianapolis Branch, 1919. Accessed November 18, 2021.


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials




This collection is arranged by subject.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/11/18 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/11/18 by Brittany Kropf.
World War I French war orphan photographs
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.