The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

I’m thrilled to tell you about a new book featuring The American Girls Art Club in Paris. It’s called The Light of Paris, authored by Eleanor Brown, who also wrote the fun and quirky The Weird Sisters a few years back.

light of paris

Whether you’re a longtime follower of this blog, or you’re interested the history of the Reid Hall in Paris, or maybe you’re just a fellow Francophile, then you’ll love reading about Margie, a young American débutante who defies her family’s traditional expectations to spend a Jazz-Age summer at the American Girls Club in Paris, writing in cafés, meeting avant-garde artists and working at The American Library in Paris.

My name is Margie too. How fun is that? It feels a little like reading one of those children’s books that you can have personalized with your child’s name.

I was like, “Go Margie Go!”

Margie’s story is told through the lens of her granddaughter Madeleine who finds Margie’s old diaries in a trunk in her mother’s house. The diaries reveal Margie’s secret life in Paris, inspiring Madeleine to rediscover her artistic talents and to pursue her own dreams.

The plot might be a bit predictable, but who doesn’t enjoy a story set in Paris? And especially, who wouldn’t love to visit the Left Bank scenes around the Rue de Chevreuse and The American Girls Art Club in Paris?

Here is a post I wrote during my own year abroad about the history of the American Girls Art Club in Paris, which includes some of my own photos to accompany the book. I’m posting a few more below. They may not be the best quality, but hey, I was there and it was cool. You get the idea.


 Courtyard Image 2011

Reid Center Courtyard  (The former American Girls Art Club in Paris)


Reid Center 1


Reid Center 3



Street View, 4 rue de Chevreuse

Street View, 4 rue de Chevreuse



There are more (and better quality) photos on the Reid Hall – Columbia Global Centers – Paris website. You can watch a video on their website too, which shows some fabulous historical photos and informs you about their current global initiative.

Isn’t it good to know that new generations of students and travelers get to have their own adventures in Paris, like those of Margie and other young women of the American Art Club?


American Girls Art Club: History

American Girls Art Club Courtyard in 2011

The American Girls Art Club, which once stood at 4 rue de Chevreuse on the Left Bank of Paris, is now known as Reid Hall, and is owned by Columbia University’s Global Centers Program.

The property was built by the Duc de Chevreuse and way back in the 18th century it housed the Dagoty porcelain factory. In 1834, the site was turned into a Protestant school for boys called the Keller Institute.

In the early 1890’s, Elisabeth Mills Reid, a wealthy American philanthropist and wife of the American ambassador, got the idea to start a residential club for American women artists in Paris. She knew about an arts club for men on the rue Paul Séjourné, and when she learned that the Keller Institute property was available, she got together with her friends, Reverend and Mrs. William Newell. The Newells were evangelicals who had been hosting Sunday evening social hours for American girls at their own home on the rue de Rennes. With the help of the Newells and the larger expatriate community in Paris, Elisabeth Reid established The American Girls Art Club in Paris, a residential club for young American women artists that provided matronly supervision and spiritual guidance.

The club thrived because it was affordable and very social. There was room for approximately 40-50 women in either single or double rooms at approximately $30 per month. There was a “dainty blue” receiving room for playing the piano and serving tea, as well as a reading room full of English-language books and magazines. The residents often strolled and sketched in the gardens of the courtyard. Each Sunday the Newells arranged an informal religious service followed by a social hour. The club hosted an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner every year.

The club was within walking distance of the Luxembourg Gardens, L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and many bookshops and restaurants along Boulevard Raspail. Although the female residents could not study at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts until 1897, many of them did study at prominent private ateliers in Paris, including the studios of Bouguereau, Whistler and Carolus-Duran.

The residents planned and hosted their own art exhibits at the club, inviting their fellow students and art teachers. In 1895, they formed the American Woman’s Art Association of Paris to host the annual show. Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low and other prominent women artists who were permanent residents of Paris helped preside over the club, serving as jurors and officers. Prominent Paris artists and art teachers attended the exhibitions, providing the members with valuable critiques and praise. Each year, the Art Club purchased one piece of art from the exhibition for display in the Club.

Anne Goldthwaite’s 1908 oil painting of the courtyard of the American Girls Art Club in Paris is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Take a peek at it here.

During World War I, the property became a hospital, and was held by the American Red Cross until 1922. Elizabeth Reid and her daughter-in-law then arranged for it to become Reid Hall, an association for American college women abroad. Gertrude Stein even made an appearance in 1931 at the invitation of one of Reid Hall’s art students.

In 1964, Reid Hall was bequeathed to Columbia University. For more current and historical photographs, visit Reid Hall’s Photo Gallery.

The unassuming front entrance to 4 rue de Chevreuse, the home of The American Girls Art Club in Paris from 1893- WWI.

The unassuming front entrance to 4 rue de Chevreuse, the home of The American Girls Art Club in Paris from 1893- 1914.

The view outside toward the courtyard

The view of the Reid Center outside toward the courtyard. Toward the back is a high wall that borders rue de la Grand Chaumiere, a street that is still full of art studios today. The lodgers could take a shortcut to their classes at nearby Académie Colarossi by exiting through a gate in this wall. 

A green classroom shed that was once used as a hospital room for WWI soldiers

In the courtyard: a green classroom shed that was once used as a hospital room for WWI soldiers.

Courtyard seating at the Reid Center today. I wonder how old that tree is?

Courtyard seating at the Reid Center today. I wonder how old that tree is?

The view from the courtyard back toward the main entrance of the Reid Center

The view from the courtyard back toward the main entrance of the Reid Center

Few paintings or sketches of the American Girls Art Club remain, although I was able to find this rendering in a scholarly journal.

The American Girls Art Club

The garden of the American Girls Art Club, artist and date unknown. Source: Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 26. No. 1 (2005)


Sources: and Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 26, No. 1 (2005)