Additional State Agency Records
A2042. Records of the Commissioner's Visit to France, 1915- 1917 (bulk 1917). 1.2 cubic feet
Arrangement: By type of material. Selected correspondence is alphabetical by name of institution or last name of correspondent. Photographs are numbered consecutively in two sequences.
The series consists of material documenting a mission to France made by Education Commissioner John H. Finley during May and June of 1917. The Board of Regents commissioned Dr. Finley to make the trip in order to observe the way French universities and schools, which were highly organized in the war effort, bore the exigencies of war, dealt with the mobilization of students, and aided national war service. Information on French practices could help solve similar educational problems arising from America's entry into the war.
In their meeting of April 12, 1917 the Regents adopted resolutions endorsing selective conscription as the best means of preparing America for war and resolving that absence from college in the State to perform public service should not interfere with granting degrees or affect the standing of students. The Education Department encouraged high school students to work on farms to meet the wartime labor demand, and it cooperated with the State Food Supply Commission to shorten the school year to achieve that end.
Education Commissioner John H. Finley was a renowned Francophile who had lectured at the Sorbonne and several French universities in the years prior to World War I. He was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and author of a book that was awarded the Malte-Brun Medal of the Geographic Society of Paris. In addition to his pursuits in the realm of education, he was particularly active in health and social service matters, serving, for example, as chairman of the New York State Commission for the Blind (1913-1915), the Albany County Chapter of the American Red Cross, the New York State Committee of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and the Committee for Men Blinded in Battle.
Dr. Finley's trip was endorsed at the highest levels of both countries. He conveyed to France greetings from President Woodrow Wilson and a special letter from Governor Charles S. Whitman, who proclaimed the observance of "France Day" in the State during which all schools gave special lessons in French history and the part France was playing in the war. Dr. Finley was the representative of colleges and universities across the country, many of which sent messages of sympathy and support to their sister institutions in France. Letters from Winifred Holt, Secretary of the New York Association for the Blind, characterize Dr. Finley as the organization's "Ambassador of the blind," and he also visited members of a host of charitable and service organizations during this stay in France.
The records include a journal, correspondence, copies of addresses (by Finley and others), newspaper clippings, pamphlets, notes (especially background information on French universities), and photographs. The bulk of the material dates from March through August 1917. Photographs are undated and unattributed.
Most of the correspondence consists of letters of introduction, social invitations, welcome notes, and letters asking for assistance or scheduling meetings with Dr. Finley. Included in this group is a signed letter from General John J. Pershing from Paris (June 22, 1917), and letters from/to the French Minister of Public Instruction (M. Petit-Dutaillez), the rectors of the universities of France, and members of various political, civic, and educational groups.
The bulk of the records consists of copies of greetings sent from over 100 American colleges (with French translations), and acknowledgment letters from French schools, officials, and pupils, many of them in French with some translations. Major French universities visited by Dr. Finley and represented in the series include: Bordeaux, Poitiers, Grenoble, Lyons, Nancy, Rennes, Toulouse, and Montpellier. A historical sketch of each of these universities (apparently used for speeches and perhaps as the basis for a report on the trip) is found in the series, along with selected school catalogues and other relevant material.
Dr. Finley's journal includes entries (sometimes substantial) from May 15 ("Arrived at Bordeaux") through June 2 (no entry) and appears to be only a partial record of his trip. Copies of clippings, programs, calling cards, and invitations are scattered throughout.
Also included in the series are pamphlets in French on physical education and other materials on fitness training; a few postcards of universities and other sights visited; newspaper accounts of Dr. Finley's visits, speeches, and receptions; and publications relating to schools, curricula, and special educational programs. The clippings and pamphlets include several dozen scenes of French schools; copies of French newspapers contain war reports.
Of particular note are 46 undated, unattributed photographs (5 x 7") at the end of the series. These show war damage inflicted by retreating German forces to buildings, agricultural machinery, trees and farmland in the areas of Aisne and the Somme, France (where major battles were fought throughout the war). A few of the scenes show people, primarily French soldiers and a few civilians. The photographs are in two sets, one numbered in blue and the other in red. Most of the photographs are captioned, in manuscript, on the verso in French (with some English translations in a different hand). They may have been intended as illustrations for a publication about the trip.
Finding aids: Folder list and a photograph caption list (in English).