The Alliance Française de Buffalo celebrated its Centennial Celebration on February 20, 2003 at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Court in Buffalo. The late, Jean Miller, Vice-President of the Alliance Française in 2003, did some archival research and, with the help of long time members and former members, Marianne Vallet-Sandre, Geneviève James, Michèle and Richard Dates, and Bernard Cavelier, constituted the AFB's Centennial article and the listing of Past Presidents of the Alliance Française de Buffalo.
The AFB's Centennial
In January 1903, a small group of Buffalo women interested in keeping their French fluent and being informed of the newest in French literature, sent invitations in French to those known to speak French fluently concluding with: "It is purposed to form in Buffalo a branch of the Alliance Française. If the project interests you and you desire to be a member of the society, please send your name to Mrs. John G. Milburn, 1168 Delaware Avenue, before Feb 14th. The annual dues ... must not exceed $5.00...." Mrs. Milburn continued that one could read French easily enough but needed contacts to not grow imperfect in pronunciation and idioms. (Interview reported in Buffalo Express 2/6/1903). It is interesting to note that Mrs. Milburn, was married to Mr. John Milburn, the president of the Pan American Exhibition Association, and that it was to their house that, the year before, the wounded American President McKinley was taken when shot to death at the opening of the Pan-Am Exhibition.
On February 20, 1903, the Alliance Française de Buffalo formally organized with a constitution modeled on the New York chapter and officers were elected. Membership was about 150. Note that although women got this going, Dr. James W. Putnam became president and Professor Felix A. Casassa, secretary. This was a pattern that continued for many years.
Meetings were social gatherings with songs, plays, lectures, etc. For the first meeting of March 25, 1903, there were some solos, then a monologue followed by the comedy, La Souris, played by members. Visiting lecturers were frequent. In April the meeting scheduled for a home on Delaware Avenue was changed to Catholic Institute Hall - a morning lecture with a very large audience. Professeur M. Leopold Mabilleau of the College of France and also of the National Conservatory of Arts and Trades, and a director of the Social Museum in Paris...lectured (in French) on " What the United States Owes to Lafayette and What Lafayette Owes to the United States."
Surprisingly, considering that members needed to be sponsored and fluency was essential, membership went quickly from 150 - 200 in a few months. The Buffalo chapter was considered third in importance in the U.S. and by 1906, when Dr. Charles VanBergen became president, it was the most active chapter as well. There was close contact with other chapters and annual reports for comparison.
The second phase came in 1917 when about 350 French and Alsatians produced the French section of the Allied Bazaar held in May 1917 for allied war relief. In 1919 to celebrate the return of Alsace to France, some of these people met for dinner and thus began the group, Les Amis de la France, which had its first meeting in February of that year with Adolph Bournique as president. The organization continued affiliation with the Alliance Française. Members were very active in supporting French war orphans and continued with aid to France during World War II.
Pascal P. Franchot, French consul, became president followed by Paul J. Speyser who held the office for many years as well as being French consul for 33 years. Melodia Jones (Mrs. Joseph T.), a member and Buffalo philanthropist, was the donor of the French chair at the University at Buffalo for visiting professors. So many important people in Buffalo were members - membership was near 400, but by 1964, it was about 50 - a culture club with monthly meetings (Courier-Express, April 19, 1964).
Thus a concerted effort was made to increase membership. The first meeting of the renamed organization, Cercle Culturel de Langue Française, was held at the University at Buffalo in October 1969 with Dr. Pierre Aubery, French professor, as president. This name, chosen by Professor Courteville in 1968, reflects a broader inclusion of Francophone/Francophile people. Despite the name change, the organization was still affiliated with Alliance Française.
Paule Hennin-Aubery, professor of French at Rosary Hill College (now Daemen College) served as president from 1974 - 1983. Membership doubled to about 100 by the time Gisèle Feal took over as president followed by Rosine van Oss in 1984. In 1986, with the effort of Marie-Thérèse Chouchani, president for 7 years, the group became a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Paul Carroll was president in 1993; in 1997, with the perseverance of co-presidents, Genevieve James and Marianne Vallet-Sandre, (1994-1998) the name was retaken from 1903 and known again as Alliance Française de Buffalo.
Since 1997, classes in French for adults are given at Canisius in the evening, a French play is annually sponsored as it has been done for many years, an annual holiday dinner has been added and a Francophone Day as well as the Goûter for the children in December. Olivia Arditi has been president since September 1998. Membership is now nearing 300. As we celebrate our 100th year, the Alliance Française de Buffalo is proud of its rich history as we continue to thrive and make our contributions. We eagerly look forward to sharing our French culture with the community for many years to come.
Past Presidents of the Alliance Française de Buffalo
1903 - 1906 | Dr. James W. Putnam
1906 | Dr. Charles VanBergen
1907-1918 | No records found - (yet)
1919 | Adolph Bournique
1920 - 1930 | (Charles) Pascal Franchot
1930 - 1939 | Paul J. Speyser
1939 - 1942 | Dr. Seaver Gilcreast
1942 - 1956 | Paul J. Speyser
1956 - 1964 | Dr. Charles J. Beyer
1964 - 1967 | Marianne Schraven
1967 - 1968 | Professeur Yves Courteville
1968 - 1971 | Dr. Pierre Aubery
1971 - 1976 | Bernard Cavelier
1976 - 1977 | Sylvain Touati
1977 - 1983 | Paule Hennin-Aubery
1983 - 1984 | Gisèle Feal
1984 - 1986 | Rosine van Oss
1986 - 1993 | Marie-Thérèse Chouchani
1993 - 1994 | Paul Carroll
1994 - 1998 | Geneviève James and Marianne Vallet-Sandre as co-presidents
1998 - 2005 | Olivia Arditi (Olivia Ben Haïm)
2005 - 2007 | Marianne Vallet-Sandre
2007 - 2011 | Patricia Schiavone
2011 - Now | Evelyne Harris