Harry’s Trip Reflections

Thursday 14th March 2019 – Maidenhead UK

After an uneventful but not quite long enough to get any proper sleep, flight from NYC to London Heathrow, I am home after 73 days.

Harry’s home was Lyons in upstate New York, so he returned there at the end of his trip.

Back at home on the 20th of April 1966 her wrote a letter reflecting on his trip….

Dear Friends around the World:

You who have been following my journey, and whom I have seen so recently, will be glad to know that I arrived in New York April 19, and that I am quite well, though, as might be expected, a little tired. Otherwise no worse for wear, and quite ready to make another trip when there is a new International House to dedicate.

Although I have been a seasoned traveler for half my life, these 100 days top them all. For I saw so many hundreds of you in such a short time in your own countries and capitals –

New York, Berkeley, Honolulu, Tokyo, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, London – New York.

Your kindness, and hospitality and enthusiasm for International House, and its ideals, were far beyond measure, and my ability to thank you.

What were the high points of my travels?

Well, every stop, every country, every city, every Person I saw was a high point.

However there were three times when I was greatly stirred.

  1. Going with two Greek friends up the Acropolis, I saw the exact spot where the Apostle Paul made his famous speech to the “men of Athens” in which he said, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.”
  2. In Paris, opposite the U.S. House at the Cite Universitaire, is the statue of Tom Paine, who had such an influence on the American and French revolution; he said “The world is my country,” and “My religion is to do good.”
  3. In Westminster Abbey, London, is a Plaque of the brothers John and Charles Wesley, Founders of Methodism, with the inscription, “The world is our parish.”
Athens Greece – the plaque about Apostle Paul’s speech
US House at Cite Universitaire, the garden was being renovated so it was not possible to see the Tom Paine statue
Wesley plaque at Westminster Abbey

All these are akin to the motto of International House “That Brotherhood May Prevail.”

Will Brotherhood ever prevail?

Yes, I believe man is rapidly approaching that point. Brotherhood must prevail, or else!

Again, thank you for everything. There are enough happy experiences stored in my memory to last a thousand years!

With sincere and affectionate regards,

Harry Edmonds

Paris – Maison International

Wednesday 20th February 2019 – Paris

It seems that Harry unlike parents was quite willing to declare a favourite, and it was France that won his favourite country vote. In some ways it is not surprising as it seems like the country after the US where Harry spent most time. In fact he lived in Paris from September 1935 to August 1936 whilst he helped realise the Maison International project.

Part of the draw was Monsieur Auguste Desclos, who was a key player in the starting of the Maison in Paris, and became a very close life long friend of Harry’s. Desclos had grown up in England and spoke perfect English and French and it seems was an engaging soul. He first met Harry in 1927 when he was in charge of all the universities and schools in France came to the US and visited International House in New York.

Harry aged 78 and Monsieur Desclos aged 84 c1961 by the statue of Monsieur Honnorat
Me by the same statue

The Cite Universitaire had been started after WWI by Andre Honnorat with the first ‘maison’ being funded by Emile Deutsch de la Meurthe. This was followed by individual ‘houses’ funded either by wealthy donors or countries including Argentina and Canada. Today the Cite houses around 12,000 post graduate and research students each year and is expanding to add a further 1800 beds through a number of new Houses. Similarly to the International House idea, the underlying philosophy is all about living and working together to create greater understanding. From the start the ‘country’ houses had to mix up students with other ‘countries’ houses so there was some diversity in each house and a huge diversity across the whole site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cité_Internationale_Universitaire_de_Paris

The back of Maison International looking out over the large lawn – the Maison was modelled after the Chateau at Fontainebleau

When Desclos visited I-House NYC in 1927 they were looking at how to have a communal building and thought that modelling it along the lines of International House would be beneficial. They were also in need of a donor to fund it so the close relationship between Harry and J.D. Rockefeller would have been a consideration. In fact our tour guide had found the letter in the Rockefeller archives where Mr Desclos asks Harry to approach J.D. to fund the Maison.

The grand entrance hall

The House was finally opened in 1936, this was nearly decade after Rockefeller had originally agreed to fund it. There were a number of false starts and although Rockefeller did not want to get involved in the project, in the end he decided that he would have to and assigned a whole team to its completion, which then happened within two years. The land was given for the site, Rockefeller funded the building of the Maison and then handed it over to the Cite Universitaire Foundation to run it.

In the hallway

The Maison International was to be the central communal building amongst the individual ‘country’ residences and to provide the canteen, sports, arts, practical and library facilities.

The canteen could feed over 5000 students a day and was one of the first self service restaurants in Paris so considered very modern. The pool too included technology from the US so was one of the best in Paris when it opened.

Today the Maison is open to the public as well as students. There is a thriving Theatre, lovely cafe and sports facilities. The Biblioteque (Library) is free for students and open to other paying customers. We were lucky enough to meet Marie-Dominique Loustalot who has been Directrice du Biblioteque for some 30 years. She explained that the library is focused on the study of the French language and literature and they have every type of resource you could imagine along with also having recently acquired, thanks to a large capital donation, an extensive collection of French literature from the former French colonies in Africa and Middle-East.

The Biblioteque (library)
Avenue Rockefeller
The Maison Etas Uni (US House) on the Cite

We were given an excellent tour by Eglantine Pasquier, who is doing her PHD on the philanthropic work of J.D. Rockefeller in France (which includes restoration at Versaille and other key sites as well as funding Maison International). I was joined by Francois Rey who had lived at I-House NYC whilst doing his MBA at Columbia in the 90s and Pierre Gottreaux who has a long association with International Student House London.

If you live in Paris or visit Paris, it is well worth visiting the Cite, the history is fascinating and the park is open to the public all year round. The 40 + residences all have different architecture and many are by now famous architects such as Corbusier.

Pierre (ISH London) and Jany Gottreaux, me, my daughter Millie and Francois Rey (NYC IH)

Harry was also great friends with Jeane Thomas who started as assistant to Monsieur Honnerat when he was overloaded with work and was so capable expanded her role over the years. So when he came to Paris, as he seemed to do frequently, he stayed with either Desclos or Mme. Thomas. The Maison International was always a slight source of frustration to Harry as it was never quite as he had hoped. In his view they never maximised the possibility of interaction between nations and did not have the extensive cultural program of the I-Houses in the US.

Visiting the site I am not sure I agree with him, I think it is a wonderful place offering many opportunities to build international friendship and understanding, it is just being done in its own way.

A Worldwide movement

When Harry and Mr. Rockefeller opened the first International House in New York in 1924, they attracted a great deal of attention and Harry talks about them being approached by others wishing to have an International House too. Mr. Rockefeller advised that they should pause for breath and see how the House worked out before building again. But it seems that their passion for the idea and interest from others meant that pause was very short with the Berkeley House being opened in 1930 and Chicago in 1932. These were the original three Rockefeller funded Houses. Then the building of Maison International as part of the Cite Universitaire in Paris.

Since then International Houses have come and gone and some have been closer to the original idea than others. Harry talks in his memoirs of his frustration when those wanting to create a new House did not get the importance of design of the building to create the intermingling of residents and cultural programs.

Madrid – was built in the 1920s and housed 250 residents, it was completely destroyed in the Spanish Civil war

Geneva – 1935 founded by Nellie Tullis and later run by Violette Baulmer

Rome – was much discussed but never realised. The Palazzo Salviatti on the banks of the Tiber just outside the Vatican was identified as the potential building but procrastination meant that the project missed the post war reconstruction project funding.

Japan – Harry was in Japan just before the start of WWII and was along way down the road of finding a site. The war stopped all plans. The Rockefeller Foundation funded International House Japan in the 1950s, which is membership organisation promoting cross cultural activities.

Keil – 1953 with space for 50 residents and 200 to dine

Gottingen – Opened in 1948 as Nansen House with twenty eight German students and eight international students, which increased by 1950 to forty eight students with a 50/50 German / international split. The House was then expanded to 100 residents and was opened to women too.

Today there are 18 institutions in the International Houses Worldwide group, in the UK, Australia, Romania, Canada and the USA. The criteria are simple, that they must offer residential accommodation for a diverse set of international students (usually over 100+ students), have a cultural program for the residents and a dining requirement that encourages eating together a key facilitator of understanding and friendship. The group come together once a year to exchange ideas and discuss ways to keep the I-House idea relevant and ensure it has a wider reach.

Talking to Hans Giesecke the current Executive Director at Berkeley, there is a strong desire from those involved in the current group to continue to expand the group and there already exist institutions with residences that could join. They are looking to Asia, Africa and South America for the next members of the group.

To find out more visit http://ihouseworldwide.org

Alumni Associations: The ebb and flow of the world wide alumni community of the Houses is also interesting. Harry and Mr Rockefeller’s ambition was to have a strong alumni community that was applying their learnings from their time in the House to both their personal and professional lives, particularly in the promotion of peace, tolerance and understanding. From 1947 this was particularly strong tens of active ‘Chapters’ across the world, these groups welcomed alumni from all the Houses under the umbrella organisation International House Association. International House Day on November 10th was a particular highlight when there would be gatherings around the world on the same day.

By 1961 there was no longer the funding to keep this central organisation going, so it was down to the enthusiasm of the alumni in different locations to meet up. Today the different Houses work hard to keep alumni connected through events and there are enthusiastic groups as well as individuals looking up fellow alumni when they travel. Meeting and hosting fellow alumni is a great way to keep passing the light on…

New York I-House alumni https://www.ihouse-nyc.org/alumni/alumni-chapters/

Berkeley I-House alumni http://ihouse.berkeley.edu/alumni/

Chicago I-House alumni https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/alumni/