When war broke out in 1914, American novelist Edith Wharton (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) didn’t even think about going home or to England, she wanted to stay in Paris to help the many refugees coming from Belgium.
Edith was born in New York City in 1862 and became¬†one of the most notable novelists and short story writers of her time. She loved to travel, and Edith¬†and her husband would spend some months every year in Italy, and from 1907 decided to base themselves in Paris. Just before the First World War broke out, Edith was planning to go on holiday again but decided to stay in Paris to help people as best she could. At that time she was writing for the New York Times, and helped to rally her friends in Paris and America and ask them for money to help. Within the first 7 months of the war, she devoted herself to establishing several charities which predominantly helped the refugees coming from Belgium. At first she opened hostels for the refugees and helped raise funds for meals, clothes, and eventually helped to find them work. Education was another problem, so Edith then turned her attention to opening schools for the displaced children. During the beginning of 1915, she organised the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee which helped further numbers of Belgian refugees who flooded into France after their homes had been destroyed by German bombing. Not only did Edith focus on refugees, but she also helped to set up workrooms for the unemployed seamstresses and helped to open up homes for those suffering with tuberculosis. Edith helped on the French homefront and was also one of the few foreigners allowed to travel to the front with supplies for the men.
For all of her tireless campaigning for refugees, the injured and the unemployed, on the 18th April 1916, Edith Wharton was named as Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the most prestigious award in France. This woman showed exceptional bravery for not only staying in Paris but putting the lives of others before her own, making her a heroine.