- by Mount Saint Mary College
Mount Saint Mary College

As part of the Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) series at Mount Saint Mary College, Michael McGuire, assistant professor of History, will present “From Comfort Zone to War Zone: Edith Wharton's World War I Humanitarianism,” on Thursday, March 23 at 4 p.m. in room 218 of the Dominican Center.

This event is free and open to the community. The Mount is located at 330 Powell Avenue, Newburgh, N.Y.

“World War I pushed Edith Wharton out of her comfort zone,” notes McGuire. “An aristocratic American novelist who moved to Paris in 1907, she had no prior experience leading or working for philanthropic projects.”

But that changed in autumn 1914. As thousands of French and Belgian refugees entered Paris fleeing German assaults, Wharton incrementally began redressing their suffering. She refined methods for sheltering, feeding, treating, employing, and resettling civilians who abandoned all for Paris’ safety. Wharton cooperated with stateside supporters to gather the funds and materials needed for providing refugees with such corporeal works of mercy. She even toured and described war zone cities to raise Americans’ awareness of locales devastated by the war. Though encountering obstacles to her benevolent efforts, Wharton assisted thousands of Frenchmen, earned French honors, and inspired scores of American humanitarians to help refugees behind and in the war zone.

The material for McGuire’s upcoming talk comes from research he did for Chapter 2 of his manuscript, Hidden Transformations. The work delves into private American humanitarian work for French refugees during official U.S. neutrality in World War I.

“I explore Wharton because American women’s colleges and elite non-college educated American women were familiar with Wharton's approaches as they donated to Wharton’s refugee relief agencies,” McGuire notes. “When Morgan and Smith, Wellesley, and Vassar College decided to found their own relief agencies for French refugees, they directly imitated Wharton’s methods.”

In addition to Hidden Transformations, McGuire has published and presented extensively on many facets of World War I-era American humanitarian work for French refugees and its effects on Franco-American relations.

The goal of the iROC series is to provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community.

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