Brunhilde Biebuyck, Director of Columbia Global Centers | Paris and Meredith Levin, Western European Humanities Librarian at Columbia University Libraries
In 2017, we began exploring the rich and multi-layered history of the buildings we now know as Reid Hall, situated at 4 rue de Chevreuse in the Montparnasse district of Paris. Unraveling the complex past of this address was a rather daunting undertaking, which might explain why a comprehensive overview of its history had never been completed. The challenges we faced were manifold:
- First, we wanted to write the definitive history of 4 rue de Chevreuse in all its iterations, beginning somewhere around 1750, an era of murky historical sources.
- Second, the place we now know as Reid Hall reinvented itself to suit the needs of each succeeding generation. Through economic downturns, wars, political crises, and a veritable parade of administrators and benefactors, 4 rue de Chevreuse has weathered every storm and offered shelter – sometimes literal, sometimes figurative – to an extraordinary array of brilliant people, many of great importance, who resided, worked, or visited the property. All of these individuals and groups had their own stories and contributions that needed to be examined.
- Third, 4 rue de Chevreuse was not only part of a vibrant Parisian neighborhood, but also the hub of a transatlantic community – both of which played a significant role in its evolution.
- Fourth, information about 4 rue de Chevreuse is scattered in numerous, oft-inaccessible sources in several languages (notably, French, English, Italian, and German), and in the most diverse formats: photographs, reports, correspondence, articles, news clippings, and testimonials, to name but a few.
- Last but not least, much of the aforementioned is riddled with errors and misinformation, making fact-checking a difficult yet essential aspect of our work.
Our inquiry began as we sorted through and scanned Reid Hall’s own fragmented archives of photographs, correspondence, documents, and reports. At the same time, we scoured the Barnard College, Smith College, and Columbia University archives, and consulted the Reid family papers at the Library of Congress, scanning as many documents as possible. The pandemic prevented us from visiting other archival centers in the U.S. and Europe, but we marshaled the resources of the Columbia University Libraries, whose print collections, database subscriptions, and partnerships with other libraries and cultural institutions unlocked a world of sources we could access virtually. The digital collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, via Gallica and RetroNews, were also invaluable to our research. It goes without saying that we pushed Google to its absolute limits, also searching Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, AskArt, Google Books, and numerous institutional websites. We benefited from Google's translating technology as well as deepl, although revisions of the translated words were often necessary.
Reading and searching historical newspapers published in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France over the last three centuries, enabled us to discover the many conferences, distinguished speakers, and holiday celebrations that were hosted at Reid Hall in each decade. Artist biographies, exhibition catalogues, and rare art journals from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped us document the legacy of the countless women artists who resided at 4 rue de Chevreuse and whose lives had been subsequently forgotten or obscured. Declassified military records and Red Cross correspondence allowed us to piece together the extraordinary tale of the WWI military hospitals housed on the property, and to recount the efforts of American artists to raise money and rehabilitate wounded French and American soldiers. Detailed reports, correspondence, and several university websites unveiled Reid Hall’s importance as an international center for women, and as an educational facility for French and American students and study abroad groups.
We were thus able to piece together the many layers that constitute the history of this extraordinary place dating back to the early 1700s, when the street was surrounded by orchards that belied Montparnasse’s future as the epicenter of the arts and a hotbed of rollicking nightlife. Our website traces the various iterations of 4 rue de Chevreuse, which has transitioned from a porcelain factory to an orthopedic center, then a Protestant boarding school to a residential art club for women, a military hospital to a women's university center, a French-American educational facility in the twentieth century, and, finally, the Parisian headquarters of Columbia University since 1964.
Readers might wonder why we chose to publish this voluminous history as a website and not as a printed text. Given the scale of our efforts and the desire to reach a wide audience, we have come to realize that a living, growing website, to which more information can always be added, is the best way to showcase the mountain of stories we need to tell, and to offer the world an opportunity to share with us their own experiences (or those of their forebears) at 4 rue de Chevreuse. Through this digital medium, we aim to reunite the dispersed archival records that chronicle Reid Hall's past. The post-1964 era of Reid Hall will be documented on this website, as Reid Hall continues to evolve and we are able to conduct additional research. We encounter new information on a daily basis and, once the website goes live, it is our hope that it will inspire others to share their memories, photos, and documents with us. We invite anyone who has lived at or visited Reid Hall at any time to share their memories of this place. Without the people who shaped its programs, its architecture, and its position in the larger Montparnasse community, what could really be said about this collection of buildings and gardens?
As we looked to our past, several points are worthy of mention. Reid Hall's earliest iteration seems to have been as a private eighteenth-century home transformed into a small porcelain-making workshop that eventually grew into a world-renowned factory subsidized by the Empress Joséphine and the Duchess of Angoulême. When the factory ceased its activities, the vacant property was turned into a residential orthopedic center, whose constituency waned with the declining reputation of its medical director. The buildings were then taken over by the pastor Jean-Jacques Keller, who established a Protestant boys’ boarding school, educating the future leaders of the 19th century. In 1893, when the school closed, the buildings were lent to Elisabeth Mills Reid, whose benefactions funded many different initiatives which were continued by her daughter-in-law, Helen Rogers Reid, upon Elisabeth's death in 1931. Initially, Elisabeth founded a residential art club for women, fostering the creative energy of the many young artists who came to Paris to complete the education they had begun in American art schools. When WWI broke out, Reid transformed the property into a military hospital to care for wounded officers. In the aftermath of the war, the property became a residential club for American university women, who could network and collaborate in an international setting. During WWII, the 4 rue de Chevreuse sheltered the École normale supérieure des jeunes filles de Sèvres, but was reclaimed by the Reid Hall Board of Directors after the conflict ended. It was then transformed into a residential study center at the forefront of 20th-century educational exchange, providing young women and men an opportunity to extend their college experience through immersion in Paris. To honor the family that brought it to life and eventually transformed it into a university center, 4 rue de Chevreuse was officially named Reid Hall in 1928.
Now as ever, Reid Hall is a vanguard of its time, a haven where those seeking to flourish creatively and intellectually are encouraged to do so.
This website provides the details necessary to understand the significant role that 4 rue de Chevreuse played in the lives of so many individuals who have passed through its doors. Our homepage is arranged into three distinct sections – a timeline, a photo-based chronology of each of Reid Hall’s iterations, and sections highlighting the leadership at Reid Hall and its diverse collection of artwork.
We hope that readers will forgive us for any misplaced commas or for the adapted MLA format we are using in our citations. The breadth of sources has astonished us and we anticipate that our lengthy bibliography will aid others who wish to delve deeper into any of Reid Hall’s remarkable chapters.
Designer: Brunhilde Biebuyck; Authors: Brunhilde Biebuyck and Meredith J. Levin. Editors: Krista D. Faurie and the two authors.
Our research and the creation of the Reid Hall website was made possible thanks to the generous support of Paul LeClerc and members of the Advisory Board of Columbia Global Centers | Paris (2018, 2019). As with any project of this magnitude, we have been helped along the way by countless scholars, colleagues, and friends. We thank the following people for their invaluable help:
- Anouk Allart
- Mihaela Bacou
- Grace Marie Corton (student UGE, Fall 2019, Spring 2020)
- Rémi Coprechot, member of the Association Internationale de l'histoire du notariat, who addressed a letter to Biebuyck with information about the French Military Hospital N°53. He had seen the Columbia Global Centers website and felt we had not given proper recognition to the efforts by the chambre des notaires... Subsequently, he came to Reid Hall to deposit the letter, and was most cordial.
- Joyce Goodman
- Lois Grjebine
- Paul Hersh
- Timothy V. Johnson
- Frank Keller
- Alex Kutler
- Sinéad McCausland
- Lisa Peters
- Isabelle Runkle
- Harrison Stetler