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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Fr 499

World War I "filleuls de guerre" letters sent to Mary M. Engel


Letters from World War I French soldiers called "godsons," sent to their wartime "godmother," Mary M. (Mrs. René) Engel of Paris.


  • 1914-1919

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in French, a few items are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


6 linear feet (14 boxes)
Collection includes autograph manuscript letters (with envelopes) and postcards from soldiers serving with the World War I French armed forces sent to their "marraine de guerre," Madame René Engel [listed in the papers also as M. M. Engel and Mary M. Engel] in Paris. Letters record worries over the war, concern for their families at home, imprisonment, health, loneliness, many other details concerning the war, and often listed where they were stationed. Writers include soldiers in hospitals, some held as German prisoners of war, and those on the front lines of battle.

There are only a few letters from Engel to the servicemen, and there is a letter in English from an American concerning one soldier and her efforts on his behalf. A few letters from others to servicemen are included. Many folders also contain notes in French kept by Engel on each soldier, specifying where the man was stationed, his rank, the dates he wrote, what goods were sent to him and when, and other details. Many notes include the names of an American correspondent assisting the man. Some notes record that the soldier was deceased and the location of his death.

Biographical / Historical

The "marraines de guerre" scheme was a system of philanthropic pen-pal correspondence begun during the First World War in France. The system was first proposed in French newspapers and quickly caught on with French women to aid the war effort. Wartime godmothers (marraines de guerre) would correspond with servicemen godsons (filleuls de guerre) on a regular basis and supply them with emotional support via letters and also send them such small luxuries as they could afford in the form of packages of food, tobacco, chocolate, clothing, knitted items, etc ...

Mrs. René Engel [Mary M. Engel] served as a war godmother from 1914 to 1919 from the addresses of 58 rue Lhomond, Paris, France and 38 Avenue du Petit Parc 38, Vincennes (Seine), France. It is not clear from this collection whether Madame Engel only coordinated the "godmother" letters from others, some from Americans, or also wrote them herself.


Arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent. Unsorted letters listed at end of finding aid.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Gift of Mary M. (Mrs. René) Engel; received: 1919.

General note

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Part of the MS Storage project, 2008-2009.
Link to catalog
Engel, Mary M., recipient. World War I "filleuls de guerre" letters sent to Mary M. Engel, 1914-1919: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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