The Original Six
FAAFC was founded in November 1939 by women who believed in making a difference in a world that had been ravaged by conflict. Simone Alibert Smith along with 5 other French women, married to Americans, decided that they could send back supplies and funds to France. The earliest fundraising activity was a Christmas bazaar at The Ritz Hotel in New York City. The members knitted clothing and sold handmade dolls.
Photo: Simone Smith, Henriette Hollander and Martha Baldwin
1940 – 1945
The War Years: A Call to Action
Through her friendship with Anne Morgan, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of War Relief Agencies, daughter of J.P. Morgan and a francophile, Mrs Smith was able to establish contact and coordinate the war relief efforts with the Quakers (American Friends Service Committee) and the American Red Cross working in Europe. FAAFC, first known as the “Committee of French-American Wives”, soon started sending supplies. President Roosevelt’s War Board granted them a license to operate.
(picture below courtesy of American Friends of Blerancourt)
Bal des Berceaux
The “Bal des Berceaux” was created in 1946 as a fundraiser. The event was entirely organized and produced by the Junior Committee of FAAFC formed in 1942. The image of a stork bringing a newborn baby and the “baby’s cradle” conveyed the activities of their main beneficiary: “le Refuge des Petits“, an orphanage founded in 1939 by A. Seymour Houghton, Jr. and his wife Germaine. The “Bal” became a popular event in the New York social calendar.
The group sent over 1,000 parcels to French prisoners of war. With the Liberation, thousands more packages were sent to Europe, filled with blankets, clothing, powdered milk and other necessities for distressed French families and orphans. A mobile x-ray machine was bought and sent to Europe. During that time, a number of organizations who wanted to send funds for charitable purposes to France and England used the Committee. It retained a fee of 5%, a welcome source of income. For her remarkable efforts, in 1950, France decorated Mrs. Smith with the insignia of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
(Photo: Mrs. John Sandifer, … , Mrs Leonard B. Smith, Mrs. Theodore Pahle)
The Glamour Years
After the war, the group continued to raise money for relief organizations through private efforts on a volunteer basis. The group’s goal is to aid selected organizations and answer appeals, wherever they may come from, in times of emergency. The Bal des Berceaux became an important event in the NYC social calendar where such celebrities as Maurice Chevalier and Charles Aznavour, to name a few, were attendees.
(Photo: Mrs. Claude Palmieri, Mrs.Françoise Bordes, M. Maurice Chevalier)
The Debutante Years
In the late 1970s, the group decided to introduce debutantes as part of the Bal des Berceaux using the model of debutantes where the young ladies were presented to society. Debutante balls can be traced back to as early as the 1600s when the French ladies would be presented to society, notably the King and the Queen. Debutante comes from the French word of “débuter” or “to start”. For more than 40 years, the ball was a highlight of the season.
FAAFC “Children Come First”
In 1988, the association changed its name from “Committee of French-American Wives” to “French-American Aid for Children” to better reflect the work that was being done. The group chose a logo depicting two children holding French and American flags. “Children Come First” was created as a tagline and continues to be the association’s motto ever since.
Visits to grantees and program selection
FAAFC’s Board members and supporters regularly schedule visits to their NY based grantees in order to experience firsthand the work of both potential or existing organizations they choose to support. These visits offer an opportunity to build a strong relationship with each grantee and allow a deeper understanding of how the various programs directly impact the children. The picture below was taken during a visit to the Children’s Village, one of FAAFC longtime grantee.
Today, FAAFC is composed of members from France, America and many other countries who are motivated to make a difference in children’s lives in both France and the United States while strengthening the bonds of friendship between these two nations. The Junior Board has vibrant and dedicated members who are eager to make a difference. They hold regular meetings, organize various events and are directly supporting two of FAAFC’s programs.They recently joined FAAFC members in supporting the Save the Children walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise funds for girls.
The Covid-19 Pandemic: A New Call to Action.
FAAFC was born in a time of crisis with the people of French-American background banding together to help the children affected by the onset of World War II. The current environment is calling for FAAFC’s mission as strongly as it was when it was originally founded. The worldwide health crisis requires FAAFC to make its response commensurate with the impact the virus has had and will continue to have on underserved children of all ages. The members of the Board are currently studying how FAAFC can have a meaningful impact during these unprecedented times by first reaching out to its immediate community in New York City. More news to come soon!