By Thomas F. Schwartz
One of the under researched aspects of Herbert Hoover is his vast network of associates that provided him with vital information as well as served as valuable agents in his many humanitarian efforts. Louis Chevrillon is unknown to most Americans, but he was one of the driving forces in feeding French citizens in the German occupied areas of France during World War I. The Commission for Relief in Belgium coordinated with the Committee in Northern France of which Chevrillon was Treasurer. The correspondence between Chevrillon and Hoover housed at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum begins the story in the early 1930s when the Commission for Relief in Belgium’s Education Foundation is wrapping up accounts. The Committee in Northern France represented by Edmond Labbe, President, and Louis Chevrillon, Treasurer, decided to use the portions of funds remaining from the war to erect a statue in honor of the sacrifice of mothers in France during the war.
Perrin C. Galpin, a close associate of Hoover as well as secretary of the C.R.B. Education Foundation, alerted Hoover to the likelihood of the remaining funds being used for a statue. As he explained to the “Chief”: “The part we liked particularly was the idea that the French started out to do certain things in health work largely as demonstrations with school lunches, pre-natal care of mothers and the care of nursing mothers. Much of this work has now been taken over by the state or the local authorities so the Committee is winding up in a creditable way. The documents also show that they are becoming more and more appreciative of the work you did for them during the war through the C.R.B.” This is a reference to the wide ranging relief programs that served mothers and infants undertaken by the C.R.B. during and after the war.
Hoover, already aware that the Committee in Northern France course of action was a fait accompli, sent Louis Chevrillon an encouraging letter:
“I have seen the report of the meetings at which the affairs of the successors to North[ern] of (sic) France Committee were liquidated. You and your colleagues have shown the way in child health matters and have the record of successful accomplishment which you all can look back on with pride and satisfaction.
The plans for the final liquidation of the funds are well thought out and if any group deserves a statue in your country, the Mothers of France have shown themselves worthy of every test.”
French architect Paul Bigot was selected to design the monument with sculptures produced by artists Henri Bouchard and Alexandre Descatoire. As Chevrillon described the work in his response to Hoover in August 1936: “The monument is to be erected in Paris at the Porte d’ Italie where a large part is to be laid out by the municipality of Paris…Ceremonies will take place and as in your own country, a mother’s day will be instituted when school children will congregate for a fitting celebration. In fact the origins of Labbe’s idea has been precisely the American mother’s day which struck him as a very pious and highly moral institution. Personally, I feel that in these times so full of trouble, then the world seems to be turned into a mad house when such essentials as family, liberty, property, religion and morality are threatened to be offered in sacrifice to the monster of communism, it is an atonement to think that such a project is still accepted. As to our present government, it has destroyed more in three months than can be reconstructed in three years and we are being led into the imminent danger of civil or foreign war…or both with eventually Mr. Hitler posing as the champion of civilization in Europe. These are bitter times and I look back with comfort to the time when under your guidance, it was my good fortune to participate to such work as the Relief.”
The monument was dedicated on October 25, 1938, by French President Albert Lebrun. But as Chevrillon foresaw, Germany would invade France months later in May 1940.