The Millionaire Matron

Julia Hunt Catlin Park Depew Taufflieb Vermont, United States 1864 - 1947

Women played a vital role in the First World War, with the conflict proving a pivotal moment in the long struggle for gender parity. Though there were a handful of women warriors across all fronts, it was the majority who kept the farms and factories running in the place of men – many while still raising families – which shattered contemporary notions of inequality. Closer to the front line, nurses proved an invaluable service to the casualties that built up, while others were ambulance and truck drivers near the battlefields. During this era of total war, women more than played their part.

One such example was an American socialite Julia Hunt Catlin Park Depew Taufflieb. Living in high society afforded her the most stylish clothes, the most lavish lifestyle and the grandest parties, thrown in her glamorous mansion. However, when the war that was predicted to be over by Christmas persisted, and as trenches were dug and bloody stalemate ensued, her mansion Chateau d’Anne, near the front lines of France’s Compiègnein Oise, took on a new role.

As well as the war eroding gender stereotypes, so too were many notions of class divide thrown out of the window. In Julia’s case, she opened up her spacious home to injured soldiers, turning it into a 300-bed military hospital. Despite it being within range of German artillery for the entire conflict, Julia remained and ran the hospital, using her own finances to help feed and treat the wounded who poured in from the front. Though she briefly fled to England during the German advance on Paris in 1918, she returned to keep her hospital running as the war entered its final, bloodiest phase.

Julia’s funds would only stretch so far, and before America entered the war in 1917 she asked her homeland for financial assistance. At the heart of her plea were over 1,000 freed refugees who she could not accommodate in her mansion, many of which had already succumbed to disease. Not only did she receive a sum of $4,000 from the US for her eloquently persuasive plea but she also inspired other rich Americans in France to open their doors to the war’s wounded.

Though she would divorce her businessman husband Chauncey Depew, the war brought her together with the French general Emile Taufflieb, whom she married in 1918. Her daughter meanwhile, would marry the chief surgeon who worked at her mother’s hospital. Her work gained her high honours from her adopted country, which was only too happy to have her return to live out her days following another evacuation during the Second World War. After all, she had saved many lives in opening both her heart and her house.

We will remember them

Julia Hunt Catlin Park Depew Taufflieb Vermont, United States 1864 - 1947
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