Columbia Maison Francaise Centennial Remarks by Shanny Peer

November 18, 2013 | By French Culture

On November 7th, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy hosted the final event in the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Columbia University’s Maison Française.

Over a hundred guests attended the Centennial celebration hosted by Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the U.S., Paul LeClerc, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Maison Française, and Shanny Peer, Director of the Maison Française.

During this reception, Ambassador François Delattre, French Ambassador to the U.S, was honored with the first Columbia University Maison Française Centennial Medal.

Below, remarks from Shanny Peer, Director of the Maison Française.

Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, distinguished colleagues, Board members and friends of the Columbia Maison Francaise:

I'd like to thank Ambassador Delattre for gracing us with his presence this evening and thank our host, Antonin Baudry, and their whole team at the French Embassy's Cultural Services, not only for graciously hosting this Centennial celebration, but also for the essential ongoing support and partnership the Embassy provides to the Maison Française.

It's fitting that this final celebration is taking place here at Cultural Services and that Ambassador Delattre is receiving our inuaugural Centennial Medal because, over the course of its 100-year history, the Maison Francaise, and Columbia University more generally, have benefited from -- and nurtured -- a very special relationship with France and with the French government.

You can see evidence of this at its origins: 100 years ago, French Ambassador Jean Jules Jusserrand (1902-1925) had close personal ties to Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler, and he was the honorary president of the France-America Society that Butler also presided and that was headquartered at the Maison Francaise.

And in WWI thousands of Columbians fought on the side of France, first many of them as volunteers and many more after the U.S. entered the conflict.  Marshal Joffre and French Minister Rene Viviani in 1917, and then Marshal Foch and Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1921, were awarded honorary doctorates by President Butler in grand outdoor ceremonies before tens of thousands of witnesses on the Columbia campus.  [You can see newsreel of Foch arriving in New York in 1921, ticker tape parade on 5th Avenue, ceremony at Columbia with Ambassador Jusserand, on our Centennial website.]

And these ties between Columbia and France have continued and gathered strength over the past century.

I've already told the history of the Maison Francaise in our Centennial exhibition - which you can visit online ( -- and in the exhibition catalog which you can take home with you.

So my main role this evening is to express tremendous gratitude, not only to Ambassador Delattre and Antonin Baudry, but to ALL of you for being here to join in this celebration.

I'd like in particular to thank our Chairman Paul LeClerc and all our Advisory Board members and Centennial sponsors, for their tremendous engagement and support.

From the founding donors who financed the purchase and refurbishment of the original Maison Francaise townhouse on 117th Street, to recent generous gifts from the Florence Gould Foundation, LVMH, John and Henrietta Goelet, Boffi Soho (thanks to Brigida Barraco and Michele Morgillo here this evening) and Miele -- who have all provided major funding for the Centennial renovation -- and thanks to the ongoing support provided by the Florence Gould and other foundations, Cultural Services, and our Board members, the Maison Francaise has survived and thrived throughout its history thanks only to the generosity of its benefactors.

Today we rely on funding from outside the university for 75% of our budget and so we are more grateful than ever for this sponsorship.

I want to pay special tribute to our longest-standing and tremendously faithful Advisory Board member: Dr. Jeanine Parisier Plottel, Columbia PhD and professor emeritus at Hunter College, and president of the Maurice I. Parisier Foundation, who has served remarkably on the Board for more than 35 years.

On behalf of all of our Board members, I would also like to express our deepest  gratitude to John Young and the Florence Gould Foundation, and keep a thought in memory of Mary Young; John and Mary Young and  the Florence Gould Foundation have been so generous to the Maison Française, and they play a vital role in sustaining French culture in New York and the U.S.

And of course, the Maison Française would be an empty shell without the exceptional faculty at Columbia University who bring it to life -- renowned colleagues in the French Department as well as faculty in other departments such as history and film studies who research and teach about France and the Francophone world.

Our thanks go as well to LVMH Inc. and Domaine Chandon (and our Board members Pauline Brown and Elisabeth Desvignes) for providing the Chandon Etoile being poured this evening. 

Finally, we are grateful to all of the donors to our Silent Auction, including Air France (and Board member Antoine Huet) which has generously donated two RT business class tickets from New York to Paris.  All our donors and Centennial sponsors are acknowledged in tonight's program.

Please consider bidding in the auction or signing up for one of the two special benefit events as a way of supporting the Maison Francaise: 

One is a series of 3 chamber music concerts by the Four Nations Ensemble and  Brentano Quartet, with pre-concert talks by guest speakers Caroline Weber and Paul LeClerc, and the last concert followed by a benefit dinner with the musicians and speakers.

The second is an exceptional cooking demonstration and tasting for a small number of guests with Chef Jacques Pepin in our to-be-renovated kitchen.

Although tonight's event concludes our Centennial celebrations, we have exciting plans to start out on our next 100 years, so we hope to see you again soon and hope that you will remain part of the extended Maison Française family.

And now I shall turn over to Paul LeClerc, Chairman of our Advisory Board and an exceptionally generous benefactor, who will present the Centennial Medal to Ambassador Delattre.

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