St. Luke's Chapel, 1892 – 1934

St. Luke's Chapel, 1892 – 1934

St. Luke's Chapel, affectionately known as "the Little Tin Church" or "St. Luke's in the Garden," was a prefabricated structure located in the back garden of the property at 4 rue de Chevreuse. From 1892 until 1934, it served the continually-burgeoning population of American students in the Latin Quarter. Directly connected to the American Cathedral in Paris (the Church of the Holy Trinity), St. Luke's also maintained a symbiotic relationship with the neighboring American Girls' Art Club and its later iteration as the University Women's Club, as well as with the American Art Association of Paris (AAAP).

St. Luke's in the garden

The Early Years

In this colony of students, far removed from their homes and home influences and in the midst of the many and subtle dangers of a large city, stands our little church, reminding those who are absorbed in the pursuit of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, language, and other departments of study, of God and His Church, of the spiritual demanding culture and development as truly as the intellectual and technical. [The Living Church (1904) 86]

In the fall of 1889, when Presbyterian minister William Whitney Newell and his wife Helen began hosting student gatherings in their apartment on the Boulevard St. Germain, the Church of the Holy Trinity (American Cathedral) quickly took notice and began subsidizing their efforts (see American Girls' Art Club). This financial support became even more steadfast when the Newells moved to a larger apartment at 87 rue de Rennes. Soon after, they proposed to Holy Trinity the establishment of a church service on the Left Bank, somewhere in the Latin Quarter, where so many students lived and worked in the so-called "American colony." In addition to backing from Holy Trinity, the Newells also found a friend in A.A. Anderson, then president of the American Art Association of Paris, and in Elisabeth Mills Reid, a long-time parishioner at Holy Trinity, who was confirmed there in the same class as famed artist John Singer Sargent in 1874.

William Newell, a lay-reader licensed by the Bishop of Holy Trinity, began offering formal church services at 56 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in the fall of 1891. As the first service was held on St. Luke's Day, October 18, 1891, it was only fitting to name the entire venture after St. Luke, patron saint of artists, students, and physicians. In the early years, weekly Sunday services were held at 11am, with Holy Communion celebrated on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

A beautiful altar-cross and candlesticks, in brass, the work of Messrs. Barkinton and Krall of London, have been presented to St. Luke's by a member of our congregation [...] The large windows of the studio in which temporarily the services are held have been beautifully decorated by one of the congregation, Mr. Malcolm Fraser, an American artist living in the quarter. Upon one he has painted a representation of the Annunciation, and upon the other a representation of the Nativity (Parish Kalendar, February 1892, as quoted in Allen 450).

Newell was ordained to the Deaconate on May 8, 1892, and Holy Trinity soon formalized the relationship to his Latin Quarter church services, which became officially known as St. Luke's Chapel of the Church of the Holy Trinity on July 14, 1892 (Allen 451). That same summer, a new site for the chapel was found at 5 rue de la Grande Chaumière, in the back garden of today's Reid Hall. Rev. Dr. Morgan, cousin of the famous financier and rector of Holy Trinity, appears to have leased the plot of land from J.J.E. Keller, the son of Jean-Jacques Keller, who had founded the Keller Institute (Allen 451).

Photo taken from across the rue de la Grande Chaumière showing the back gate and a view of St. Luke's Chapel before the "Annex" was built in 1912 (Crombie 1998, 52).
Photo taken from across the rue de la Grande Chaumière showing the back gate and a view of St. Luke's Chapel before the "Annex" was built in 1912 (Crombie 1998, 52).
Interior of St. Luke's Chapel c. 1892. Archives of the American Cathedral in Paris.
Interior of St. Luke's Chapel c. 1892. Archives of the American Cathedral in Paris.

A corrugated iron building, the "Little Tin Church," was anonymously donated by a Holy Trinity member. St. Luke's had outgrown its former space on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs and the new structure could comfortably seat 150 people. Rev. Dr. Morgan led the first service in the new St. Luke's on Sunday, November 13, 1892 at 11am, assisted by Rev. Newell, in front of a standing-room-only crowd. In an article in The Independent, Rev. Wilberforce Newton, who attended a mass at St. Luke's in 1895 (with nearly one hundred artists present), recorded some of the remarks made by Rev. Dr. Morgan: "It will be a great thing if we can help to give art a Christian tone [...] for it will help in the work of making America over again. Therefore let us begin with the artists here" (13). Rev. Newton also described a painting of Christ walking among the lilies as one of the lone adornments in the spare chapel.

The rest of the property of the former Keller Institute surrounding St. Luke's, including all of the buildings and the garden at 4 rue de Chevreuse, was leased to Elisabeth Mills Reid in 1893. According to the New York Herald, she had partially contributed funds toward the erection of the chapel, which became an integral part of everyday life at the Club (April 30, 1931, 3). 

Rev. Newell died on January 23, 1894 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. He was replaced by Rev. S.P. Kelly, former rector of St. John's Church in Philadelphia, who had spent time in Paris a few years earlier. Kelly resided at 79 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs and remained at St. Luke's until September 1896. During Rev. Kelly's tenure, a brass chandelier was donated to the Chapel by a member of the congregation (Parish Kalendar, August 1894, as quoted in Allen 456). In his parting sermon, Kelly defended the Paris community of American artists whose behavior had been criticized by the Reverend Dr. Charles Wood in Philadelphia and in a number of press articles: 

[...] American art students at Paris are known for religious consistency and good behavior; they largely attend religious services; their moral tone is excellent. Such a 'bold, bald statement' as Dr. Wood's 'needs to be contradicted flatly.' They are hard workers and find no time for gay and giddy experiences (Allen 457).

Portrait of Rev. Isaac Van Winkle (McProud 88)
Portrait of Rev. Isaac Van Winkle (McProud 88)
Rev. Isaac Van Winkle in the priest’s study at St. Luke’s Chapel, 1904 (Living Church 86)
Rev. Isaac Van Winkle in the priest’s study at St. Luke’s Chapel, 1904 (Living Church 86)

Kelly was replaced for several months by Rev. Hayward, "on loan" from Holy Trinity, and he oversaw upgrades to the Chapel's material structure. Rev. Isaac Van Winkle then took over as minister of St. Luke's on March 29, 1897. Rev. Van Winkle was deeply engaged with the students and artists under his pastoral care and remained at St. Luke's for nearly 20 years, residing just across the boulevard du Montparnasse at 11 rue Léopold Robert, and later at 125 boulevard du Montparnasse. In 1898, he raised funds to incorporate a pipe-organ in the chapel and regularly solicited economic assistance from members of Holy Trinity's wealthy congregation. Around 1912, St. Luke's was further enriched with a gift of "choir stalls in rich old dark oak of the Eighteenth Century" from Messrs. Gaudin, esteemed stained glass artists, which were placed on either side of the altar. A Mrs. Villers-Forbes also donated "an excellent Alexandre harmonium" around the same time (Allen 479). 

Rev. Van Winkle wrote an impassioned article in Ladies' Home Journal in June 1903 defending the lifestyles and social mores of young American women living in Paris, aiming to reassure parents back home that the Chapel ensured their virtue. But, in the same article, he did not recommend artistic careers for women:

To girls who are attracted by art or music, it must be said: ‘Look about you. What are the results?’ Successes are not so numerous as to warrant a rash rushing into one or the other as a profession. There is a demand for teachers, but apart from this there is perhaps no career for a girl in the which the steps are so slow as art or music (17).

Van Winkle's community engagement seems to have focused more on male artists and art students than on their female counterparts. He founded and oversaw the St. Luke's men's reading rooms and developed strong ties with the AAAP, the male equivalent of the Girls’ Art Club. But in spite of his overt penchant for male artists, Van Winkle was nevertheless beloved to the whole American colony for his dedication and kindness. His lengthy curacy at St. Luke’s ended on May 4, 1914, just before the start of World War I. As Van Winkle prepared to return to the U.S., an outpouring of emotion was communicated to the New York Herald European bureau in the form of letters bearing witness to his unstinting devotion. Artist Theodore Spicer-Simson lauded his kindness:

He is beloved by all who knew him. That means practically every American student and every American who has passed anytime in the ‘Quarter.’ He is kindness itself. […] He is always attentive to young men’s problems. He knows how to deal with them. Understanding students, he does not attempt to thrust religion down their throat or court admiration for brilliant preaching or seek glory in an atmosphere of social snobbishness (July 27, 1914, 3). 

Others also expressed their admiration for his ability to be a friend who did not allow the minister to overshadow the man:

Mr. Van Winkle worked humanly and that is the secret to his success and of the friendship and confidence students and others have for him. He and Mrs. Van Winkle did a host of things, little friendly services, homely services, of a sort no minister could rightly expect to do. I am sure that all the Americans in the Latin Quarter will feel when the Van Winkles go as though a parent has been taken from them (July 27, 1914, 3).

Van Winkle returned to the United States with his wife and their five children. He served as rector of St. Clement's Church in New York City until his death in 1917. His obituary in the New York Times reported that he had graduated from Columbia College in 1865 before attending the General Theological Seminary (11).

Activities at St. Luke's

I went to St. Luke’s Chapel Sunday morning and enjoyed the service very much. It is just back of the girls’ club… and well heated. It is only plain boards, no paint, but has stained glass windows and back of the alter [sic] a lovely piece of Tapestry, so soft and beautiful in color (Anna McNulty Lester, 1898).

In a 1902 issue of the Parish Kalendar, the American Cathedral in Paris reflected on early attempts by St. Luke’s chapel to meet the varied needs of its congregants:

Its work is so much more than the rendering of public worship. The work of any church, true to itself, true to its responsibility, must be more than worship. So St. Luke's stands ready to be a friend in whatever direction a friend may be needed. In this it is largely your trustee, to minister in trouble, sickness, need, or other difficulties [...] Its colony is practically an Anglo-American University in a foreign land, and St. Luke's is practically a University Chapel (cited in Allen 464).

The American Art Association of Paris (AAAP), an early supporter of Rev. Newell's religious services and social endeavors, hosted a reception at their headquarters at 131 boulevard du Montparnasse for the Chapel's inauguration, and they continued their ties with the chapel through 1909, when they went into liquidation (Allen 456). In describing the activities co-hosted by the chapel and the AAAP, Ann Merriman wrote in Quartier Latin that they were the "spiritual backbone to this busy community" (666). 

One of the chapel’s key activities were reading rooms for male art students in the neighborhood. The history of these reading rooms is intricately tied to the AAAP’s trajectory. First opened by the Newells at 19 rue Vavin, the reading rooms also provided Sunday evening social services before the idea of a chapel had even been conceived. Once the AAAP’s headquarters on the Boulevard du Montparnasse were established in 1890, the Vavin reading rooms were closed and religious services were moved to the temporary St. Luke’s space on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. When the AAAP moved out of the Latin Quarter, Rev. Van Winkle created the "St. Luke’s Reading Rooms" in January 1901 at 14 rue de la Grande Chaumière. Since the Girls' Art Club had a well-stocked and frequently-used library, the St. Luke's Reading Rooms were reserved for men (Harper’s Guide to Paris 196). They were moved to 132 Boulevard du Montparnasse in May 1901 before closing in 1902 upon the return to the Latin Quarter of the AAAP. Unfortunately, the AAAP closed down for good in 1909, so the St. Luke’s Reading Rooms reopened in February 1910 at 70bis rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, only to move once more in 1912 to 6 rue Huyghens, where they remained until the outbreak of WWI (Allen 477).

A brief 1911 article in Living Church described the modus operandi of these reading rooms:

Ten francs a year, less than $2.50, gives young men the right to turn in there, find warmth, a well-stocked library, the best newspapers and magazines, chess and other games, a pianoforte, and sociable company. As for the exhibition, the pictures on view were, as expected, not so much an exhibition of remarkable paintings as a collection of efforts and studies [...] Part of the proceeds of the exhibition sales are to go to the reading-room funds. One feels what a blessing such rooms must be for young men, strangers in a strange land. In return for the ten franc fee, each member receives a key; he depends on no one therefore to let him in. Accessible all day long and late into the evening, men can turn in there away from the discomfort of a cramped logement [...] (Wolff 155). 

But aside from these reading rooms, the chapel's religious services and social activities made it a home away from home for so many young Americans in Paris. In September 1902, Geraldine Rowland documented the chapel's centrality in the lives of the American student community for Harper's Bazaar: "... on Sundays, the Episcopal students come from various parts of Paris to make good resolutions. Or, as sometimes happens when Cupid interrupts the progress of art, they come to be married. Here as well are the children of the Quarter baptized" (758). 

John Crombie has discovered that the St. Luke's ministry expanded beyond American students and "assumed a more dynamic role in the neighbourhood's daily life, manifested in a practical concern for the bodily welfare of [the] regiment of models. In 1904 it held the first of a regular series of Epiphany Festivals for child models in a large studio...graciously lent by Colarossi for the purpose" (111). Allen describes the 1910 festival:

About 150 children were assembled in the large studio of the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, kindly given for the festival by the management. As many as 150 more gathered to help and see the children made happy. Each child received a large bun, a package of candy, an orange and a gift - toys, dolls, and useful knitted articles prepared by the Sewing Society at Holy Trinity Lodge. The expense was largely contributed by students and artists (473).

Another passage about St. Luke's from the 1912 book, Footprints of Famous Americans in Paris, best summarizes its impact on the student community and neighborhood:

St. Luke's Chapel is something one would not expect to find in the Quarter. It looks like a country church; and gives a Christian tone to the whole neighbourhood. [...] Here the preacher paws the air and popularizes and Christianizes principles of pagan philosophy. Here queer pictures, far from representing Calvary or the Way of the Cross, decorate the walls. Here some professional singer or fascinating female student of song entertains the audience with her thrills and her frills. A reception is held after the services. The preacher and the singer are congratulated; and newcomers are welcomed. It is a capital entertainment. American students celebrate national holidays, such as the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Washington's Birthday, and Lincoln's Birthday. Nowhere else is the banner of the Stars and Stripes hung more profusely on the outer walls; nowhere else is the Star Spangled Banner sung with more enthusiasm. To make the Thanksgiving Day dinner as homelike as possible the Art Students' Club of New York has been known to send over American turkeys, while distinguished ladies of the colony have supplied cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green corn, mince pumpkin, lemon and apple pies, and other eatables peculiar to the United States (Conway 245-246).

Even after World War I, when the property surrounding the chapel had been converted first into a French military hospital, then an American military hospital, and, finally, the European headquarters of the American Red Cross, St. Luke's returned to service and supported a new generation of Americans in Paris.

In a 1926 letter to Dean Beekman at Holy Trinity, chaplain Clampett wrote that approximately 40-50 students and artists attended the Sunday morning service, citing a certain Dr. Paul Van Dyke who declared St. Luke’s the “spiritual heart of the Latin Quarter.” Clampett also noted that one of his parishioners, Leo Johnson, tutored the sons of Ogden L. Mills and that the artist Cameron Burnside, who was his right-hand man at St. Luke’s, had nothing but praise for the support he and his artist spouse, Lucille Hitt, received from the chapel, where they had been married in 1908 (Allen 502). The historian Dorothy Mackay, who resided at the Club, had also been of significant help to the chapel, in Clampett's estimation.

Holy Trinity Lodge

Since it was generally known that most St. Luke's initiatives, including the reading rooms, catered to male students, Holy Trinity established a Lodge at 70bis rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in 1905 for women. It included "[...] 'an apartment with studio attached.' This was to be a 'home-like gathering place for English-speaking women'" (cited in Allen 469). Headed by Deaconess Jessie Carryl-Smith, a graduate of the New York Training School for Deaconnesses (NYH Euro, November 16, 1913, 2), the Lodge was a kind of auxiliary to St. Luke's that included rooms for sick female students, an information bureau, books and magazines in English and French, and a clothing bureau.

The whole place is charming – large and comfortable studio, where tea is served gratis to all American and English students, every afternoon between five and six o’clock, the picturesque court, with its old ivy-mantled tower, the cozy dining room, where coffee is served gratis to students every Sunday morning after the service at St. Luke’s Chapel; the wholesome and artistically furnished bed-rooms with windows overlooking the court, all combine to make Holy Trinity Lodge that which it is designed to be – a place of rest, recreation, and genuine home comforts (Leonard 6).

As it gained popularity with the Anglo-American community in the neighborhood, the Lodge quickly outgrew its original quarters and moved to more spacious accommodations in 1906, at 4 rue Pierre Nicole, near the Observatoire. Prior to its move, the Lodge had cared for 37 women who suffered from a variety of ailments, some of which were quite serious: malaria, nervous breakdowns, typhoid, etc.

A cozy corner of the Holy Trinity Lodge, February 4, 1907 (NYH Euro 7)
A cozy corner of the Holy Trinity Lodge, February 4, 1907 (NYH Euro 7)
Sixth Annual Exhibition at Holy Trinity Lodge, February 5, 1911 (NYH Euro 6)
Sixth Annual Exhibition at Holy Trinity Lodge, February 5, 1911 (NYH Euro 6)
Holy Trinity Lodge Exhibition, February 9, 1913 (NYH Euro 3)
Holy Trinity Lodge Exhibition, February 9, 1913 (NYH Euro 3)

In 1907, the Lodge leased the large garden of a Carmelite convent on the rue du Val de Grace (Allen 476).

It is a little oasis of verdure such as dwellers in great cities keenly appreciate, and it has historical associations of the highest interest. [...] On the ground floor of the Lodge, which has a house to itself, is a large studio where Mr. Rubert Bunny holds a painting class daily [...] On a floor above, are two large rooms. One, called the reading room, is a marvel of taste and neatness [...] Beyond is a large studio available for portrait work between certain hours, and used for the Sunday evening religious services. Still higher, we come to the dining room and consultation rooms and the hospital. The first is a lofty cheerful apartment in which meals are served to about a dozen regular boarders. Across the hall is the hospital. [...] The Lodge also possesses a clinic (NYH Euro, June 24, 1907, 6).

The Lodge expanded its hospital work in these new quarters. The benefactions of a certain Helen Gould enabled the Lodge build up its hospital space, which was inaugurated in 1907 with religious ceremonies, music, and tea in the presence of the American ambassador, Henry White, and other dignitaries of the Anglo-American colony. The New York Herald European edition covered the event and reported on the hospital’s facilities and welcoming atmosphere:

There is an operating room, a sterilizing room, several private bedrooms, and a convalescing ward, which contains five beds. At present there is room in the hospital for eight patients. All is bright and white and clean. A glance at the rooms and a talk with the nurses are almost sufficient to make the visitor wish for illness and a period of attendance in such an inviting place (October 3, 1907, 6).

Of the hospital's eight rooms (which had initially just been four), two were reserved for men “[…] for it has been found that the condition of the men when ill is even more pitiful than that of the women, and the rooms are continually full.” (Rev. Dr. Morgan quoted in NYH Euro, November 16, 1913, 2). The hospital was non-denominational and intended for the entire English-speaking community in Paris. More importantly, care was dispensed free of charge, with the proviso that those who could afford to do so were asked to give a donation.

By 1910, the hospital had seen 225 patients.

With the opening of the American Hospital in 1910 in Neuilly-sur-Seine and the consolidation of medical services to the American community, Holy Trinity decided to terminate the Lodge’s hospital work in 1913. According to the New York Herald European edition, members of the Anglo-American colony in the Latin Quarter voiced their  “[...] consternation at the thought that an institution should be closed which for nine years had filled so important a place in the community and has indisputably been the salvation of many a suffering and unfortunate American student.” (November 16, 1913, 2). Many also claimed that the newly-founded American Hospital in Neuilly was too expensive and required signed affidavits attesting to one’s poverty before beginning treatment. For this and other reasons, a visiting nurse from the American Hospital held regular consultations for minor ailments at the 4 rue de Chevreuse medical clinic.

In later years, the Lodge expanded its other services to the American and British student community, adding a circulating library, an education department, a painting club, a choral club, and even a Bible class. The Lodge and St. Luke's jointly hosted annual Christmas-Epiphany events, featuring mass, carols, and feasts. The Lodge also held a musical and social reunion every Wednesday and hosted other parties with concerts. By 1911, its library boasted 8,000 volumes (Allen 479).

In 1907, the Lodge formed an Art League for women, a sort of rival organization to the American Woman's Art Association. Headed first by Elizabeth Nourse, then by Florence Esté from 1908 – 1913, it sponsored annual exhibitions (mainly in February), which drew an average of 200 submissions, though only 75-100 were ultimately selected. In 1909, the League also organized a special exhibit of the works of New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins. Each Lodge exhibition was inaugurated with an address by the American ambassador, a concert, and tea. In its last years, the opening drew as many as 500 people. Open daily from 2pm-5pm, the exhibitions usually lasted for two full weeks and featured paintings, drawings and engravings, sculptures, and "objets d'art." These shows were generally favorably reviewed in The New York Herald European edition, although the comments of the male viewers are unacceptable from a modern perspective, i.e. "In the broad, vigorous treatment of the subject there is a seemingly masculine touch that, unsigned, few would attribute it to a woman. Bold the sweeping lines, vivid the color and strength of expression make this a remarkable picture" (said of the paintings of Cornelia Cowles, February 6, 1910, 6).

Whether due to lack of funding or competing organizations in Montparnasse, the Lodge ceased all activities in 1913.

WWI and Postwar

During World War I, when Elisabeth Mills Reid transformed 4 rue de Chevreuse into a military hospital, St. Luke's chapel was also renovated and used as a ward for convalescing soldiers. (Congressional Record – House 1074). 

Religious services resumed at St. Luke's in 1919, six months after the end of WWI, but a Vicar-in-Charge was not appointed until October 1920. A rapid succession of clergymen oversaw the chapel's services and activities in the next few years. As St. Luke’s resumed ministering to the spiritual needs of the American community in Montparnasse, its managing committee sought news ways to expand the social headquarters "for the vicar and his student work" (Allen 652). The committee attempted to convince Elisabeth Mills Reid to build a second temporary structure as a clubhouse in the back garden at 4 rue de Chevreuse but she refused, in part because she had spent a considerable amount of money restoring that garden after the war. 

By 1922, St. Luke’s social footprint had grown considerably and Holy Trinity finally secured a space for its own club at 107 Boulevard Raspail, not far from the chapel. It was inaugurated on Easter Monday, April 17, 1922, under the name of The American Students' Club (later called the U.S. Students' and Artists' Club). Allen cites a description of the Club in the Holy Trinity Yearbook of 1922:

The rooms were crowded with organizers, students and artists. There is a large general room, a reading and writing room, a billiard room, and the Chaplain's office. In the basement will be a small gymnasium, with shower baths [...] The rooms are comfortably and attractively furnished [...] Its object is "to bring within its sphere of influence the greatest possible number of American and British students and artists." (653).

Student receptions and dinners followed by concerts were held in the assembly room at 4 rue de Chevreuse and at the new clubhouse. Sunday evening concerts and Thursday afternoon tea dances brought together scores of young people. Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities were also major events in the community. In addition, St. Luke’s supported the medical clinic at 4 rue de Chevreuse, organized a sewing society, and partnered with the American Library in Paris. 

With the growing success of the Club, its quarters at 107 boulevard Raspail soon became too crowded. Holy Trinity's "vestry still wished to consider a 'complete church plant' on the Reid property" in 1926 (Allen 656). If they could convince Mrs. Reid to sell, they planned to overhaul a good portion of the property and add a new chapel, art studios, improved accommodations for 75 students, a cafeteria, a library, a gymnasium, and medical clinic. Though it seems that she did seriously consider the sale of her property to Holy Trinity, she ultimately transferred the deed to the board of the American University Women's Club (Allen 656), and Holy Trinity focused its efforts on securing a new location.

The Little Tin Church remained a beloved part of life at the University Women's Club and in the larger Montparnasse community. Hope Mirrlees, a resident at the Club from 1922-1925, wrote at length about St. Luke's in her memoirs:

A little tin chapel was another of the ornaments of the garden – a humble vassal of the great American Episcopalian Church at the Etoile. On the principle of suave mari, it was very pleasant to sit of a Sunday morning in the arm-chairs of our comfortable study and listen to the strains of the Te Deum and of the Church’s One Foundation, and, particularly, to the scrapings and shufflings of the congregation as they performed the exhausting gymnastics entailed by the ritual of the Anglican Church. We were fond of that little chapel. It was certainly far from decorative, but it seemed as friendly as the Judas tree, and as much a part of the garden; though, from its vocal powers it had, perhaps, more in common with the innumerable cats who regularly held their concerts there every night of the week. But strange rumours have reached us that the horn of the little chapel is to be exalted, and, from being but a humble denizen of the garden, it is to become the owner not only of the garden, but of the house, the hall, the endless bath-rooms – even, I suppose, of the complete works of Charlotte M. Yonge. It is like one of Pharaoh’s dreams – the tiny animal that swells and swells till it swallows the whole herd (93).

From St. Luke's in the Garden to the American Center

American Students’ & Artists’ Center in Paris, 261 Boulevard Raspail (Delanoë 41)
American Students’ & Artists’ Center in Paris, 261 Boulevard Raspail (Delanoë 41)
Engraved panel on the wall of the American Students’ Center (Delanoë)
Engraved panel on the wall of the American Students’ Center (Delanoë)
American Students’ & Artists’ Center in Paris, from a welcome poster (Delanoë 40)
American Students’ & Artists’ Center in Paris, from a welcome poster (Delanoë 40)
Swimming pool at the American Students’ & Artists’ Center (Delanoë 45)
Swimming pool at the American Students’ & Artists’ Center (Delanoë 45)

By 1933, the financial situation at the University Women's Club had deteriorated, in part because of the 1931 death of its greatest patron, Elisabeth Mills Reid, but mainly because of the worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929. To help stave off financial difficulties, Reid’s daughter-in-law, Helen Rogers Reid asked that "St. Luke's Chapel pay taxes on their portion of the rue de Chevreuse/rue de la Grande Chaumière property, a request that had never been made before" (Allen 603). Apparently, the chapel's finance committee found this request to be reasonable and paid its share of the taxes, 1,529.60 francs.

But Holy Trinity had already cemented plans to transfer the entire St. Luke's enterprise to another site in Montparnasse. In 1929, Holy Trinity established a fundraising effort centered on a "Student Property Campaign," an initiative to secure a large space where they could consolidate their religious and social work on the Left Bank (Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1929, 2, 8). In 1930, they found an ideal property that had been ceded in 1838 to the Cardinal, Archbishop of Paris: the Fondation Chateaubriand at 261 boulevard Raspail, which featuered a centenary cedar of Lebanon and measured "[...] 4820 square meters with a frontage of 82 meters on the boulevard Raspail" (Allen 668). On April 1, 1931, Holy Trinity leased this massive estate for a term of 60 years and hired the American architect Welles Bosworth to design an edifice that would become The American Students’ Social Center (Delanoë 23), later renamed the American Students’ & Artists’ Center. The laying of the cornerstone took place on July 4, 1932 and the building was opened on October 16, 1934. It housed a library, cafeteria, a billiard and ping-pong room, an assembly hall, artist studios, exhibition spaces, and a swimming pool.

While the new building and grounds were full of promise, a 1934 Parish Bulletin waxed nostalgic for the intimacy of the old Club:

[...] will the new club building, spacious, elegant, efficient, and completely satisfying as it is scheduled to be, be able to weld that strangely heterogeneous mass of spontaneous youth, middle-aged women, dogs, cats, babies, old men, and noisy children into one homogeneous whole, as 107 has so successfully done, and having done so, will one enjoy there, anything like that sense of vital, spontaneous, carefree informal life, that sense of absolute use, which for all of us who knew 107 spelt one word - HOME (Allen 675).

With time, however, the seven hundred members grew into a vast community of shared interests and vibrant activities. The new center welcomed the American colony until the onset of WWII, when the "building was taken over as French governmental offices [...] for the duration of the War" (Allen 684).

View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)
View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)
View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)
View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)
View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)
View of Reid Hall’s third garden without the chapel, 1934 (Reid Hall archives)

As for the Little Tin Church in the back garden of 4 rue de Chevreuse, its fate was quite different. Holy Trinity had planned to erect a chapel on the grounds of their new property and had already promised Elisabeth Mills Reid that it would dismantle St. Luke's. Though the exodus was planned before Reid’s death in 1931, a July 1933 letter from Rev. Frederick W. Beekman to Dorothy F. Leet, director of the Women's University Club, tells us that the move was delayed for several years:

I am a bit embarrassed in writing you this letter. You will recall that Mrs. Reid took up with me some time ago the date when we would give up the little chapel and vacate the premises [...] Owing to unforeseen delays [...] I am compelled to place the facts before you and to ask if you would be good enough to use your good offices with the officers of your association in granting us a little more time (Barnard College Archives).

Finally, in a July 1934 letter to Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, Rev. Beekman announced the formal closing of the Chapel:

On Sunday, the 22, will be held the last service in the 'little tin chapel' and we were planning to remove the building and its appurtenances during the week following. Of course, we shall take care of the expenses. Canon Belshaw, who is much au courant with the details involved and who is to be in charge of the moving will be in contact with Miss Leet within the next day or two [...] While I am writing I want you to know of the deep appreciation of the Vestry, including myself, for the uniform courtesy accorded us at all times by Miss Leet and the officers of Reid Hall since the last named have been the proprietors. We send you all out [typo for 'our'] best wishes for the continued success of your valuable center. Of course, Mrs. Reid’s memory will always be dear to us, as it was to our predecessors at the church and particularly to Dr. Morgan who, with Mrs. Reid entered into a real partnership for student work (Barnard College Archives).

In the summer of 1934, the baptistry, altar, lectern, and other chapel accoutrements were moved to the auditorium of 261 Boulevard Raspail (Chicago Tribune, October 6, 1934, 2). A few months later, in October, the Little Tin Church was torn down, but another chapel was never constructed at Holy Trinity’s new property.

After the war, the American Center on Boulevard Raspail reopened in 1949 but its relations to Holy Trinity became increasingly tenuous. Allen’s comprehensive history of Holy Trinity elaborates on the in-fighting around oversight of the Center. Several passages which detail the ultimate rupture between the Church and the Center are noteworthy:

Frederick W. Beekman, who following his resignation as Dean of the Cathedral, but during his continuance in office as President of the Center, had successfully alienated the Center from the effective control of the vestry of the Cathedral which had founded the Center and controlled it over the years.

The tragedy of Dean Beekman’s petty but strong-willed behavior in the period 1951 – 1955 took a religious institution for which many people had made sacrifices over a period of two generations and turned it over to a group of well-meaning people for whom religion is an irrelevance and “art” is all. He oversaw in the 1920s and 1930s the transfer of substantial funds given or willed to Holy Trinity for student work, to a separate corporation whose successors turned a blind eye on the origins and purposes of St. Luke’s and its appended club.

With Dean Beekman’s death, if not before, the Center no longer felt it necessary to give even a polite tip of the hat to the church. It underwent a total metamorphosis in character and emphasis. In 1965 the site (which had heretofore been on long-term lease) was bought outright from the owner of the fee, the French Government, as had been impliedly suggested in the original negotiations, for the extremely small sum of $250,000 […] (779).

In the 1970s, the Center evolved into one of the foremost cultural arenas in Paris, promoting cutting-edge art exhibits and performances until 1987. The Raspail property was bought by Cartier, which hired architect Jean Nouvel to replace the old building with a glass edifice behind that majestic cedar tree (which died in 2020). The Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art was thus born in 1994.

In 1994, the Center moved to a building designed by Frank Gehry in the repurposed area of Bercy but financial difficulties made it impossible to continue. The building was sold in 1996 and used by different organizations until 2005, when it became the center for the Cinémathèque française.


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