Published In Documents

In Memoriam Henry D. Sleeper

Creation Date
Staff member
WWI, Between the Wars
France, USA

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In Memoriam

To the men of the American Field Service who were privileged to know personally Mr. Henry Davis Sleeper, this announcement of his passing, in September of last year, will bring a pang of sorrow and regret. There is little need for us to say what Mr. Sleeper meant to the Field Service, but our members will like to read the following fine tribute paid to him by Colonel A. Piatt Andrew, and printed in the Boston Transcript at the time of his death

Henry Davis Sleeper, whose life ended last Saturday, was a man of versatile talent and varied achievement. His expert knowledge of the development of art and decoration had made him a consultant of collectors and museums throughout the country and led inevitably to his selection as trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and his choice by Mrs. Gardner for trustee of Fenway Court and the remarkable art collection which she bequeathed to Boston. His fund of technical information, together with his impeccable taste, and his ingenuity in color and design which was distinctly creative, brought him a nation-wide reputation as an interior decorator, the evidences of whose skill remain today in many important houses built in recent years from Maine to California.

The greatest achievement of Mr. Sleeper's life, however, and that from which he drew the most enduring satisfaction, and for which he will be long and tenderly remembered, lay in quite a different field. For the same passion and energy which he devoted throughout his life to the peaceful arts were enlisted unsparingly in humane service during the tragic period of the war with a perfection of accomplishment no less complete.

The vision which illumined the world in those days has paled in the light of commonplace day. What we of the war generation felt, and what stirred and exalted us then, are largely forgotten. Later generations can but vaguely conceive of it. But there was much that was great and beautiful, the memory of which ought to be kept fresh, when men rose to heights of which few are capable now.

Among the inspiring figures in America during the years before our country's entrance in the war was Henry Sleeper. the American representative of the group of volunteer ambulance drivers serving with the French troops in France, known as the American Field Service. Frail of body and without any experience as an organizer, he undertook, almost singlehanded at first, in a country that was officially neutral and still largely indifferent to the issues of the war, the work of collecting funds and enlisting volunteers for this organization throughout the length and breadth of the country. As early as 1915 he began to open offices in the larger cities, to organize committees in schools and colleges, in clubs and churches, in business houses and trade organizations. What he lacked in experience was more than compensated by his crusading spirit, his ingenious mind and his tireless energy. He pursued this arduous effort with such unflagging faith that before America had reached the great decision of 1917, nearly $5,000,000 had been collected and about 2500 young men had joined the American Field Service in France. This was indeed a glorious and memorable achievement, which made possible the saving of countless thousands of lives.

A valiant soul left this world when Henry Sleeper's life ebbed out the other day.

A. P. A.

Many members of the Field Service who did not come in personal contact with Mr. Sleeper during the years he was American Representative, came to know him during the months just before and after the Armistice, when he was Director of the Paris Headquarters. Going to France in the summer of 1918, his task in America completed with the militarization of the Service, he was free, as the heads of the Service in France were not, to give all of his time, energy, and fertile imagination into making of 21 rue Raynouard a home. How well he succeeded we all know. Who of us will forget those midnight spreads. . . .

In the words of Joel Harris Newell (S. S. U. 13):

As one who worked in the Paris office after our Section left for the States, it was my privilege to he closely associated with the man who was responsible for making '21' the only place we could call home in all of France . . . a man of rare understanding, sympathetic and helpful to all who came under his influence, and one of unusual charm and possessed of a radiant personality that made us enjoy being with him. He had a keen mind that was constantly searching for ways to make us happier and more contented, and was the only man I have ever known who had to act in the double role of mother and father to hundreds of boys three thousand miles from home ........

At Mr. Sleeper's funeral, the following Field Service men were present in a body: A. Piatt Andrew, W. de Ford Bigelow (S. S. U. 4), John A. Boit (S. S. U. 2), A. Graham Carey (S. S. U. 3), Charles R. Codman (S. S. U. 3), Mayo Darling (R. M.), Roger Griswold (S. S. U. 2), George R. Harding (S. S. U. 4), Richard Lawrence (S. S. U. 2), Austin B. Mason (S. S. U. 8), Durant Rice (S. S. U. 3), and Harold Willis (S. S. U. 2).

A beautiful laurel wreath, hearing on its ribbon of tricolor and the buff of the A. F. S., the inscription "From his Associates of the American Field Service," was given a place of honor directly in front of and leaning against the casket. "There were quantities of flowers," came word from Boston, "and they were beautifully arranged,---just as if he had done it all himself!"

From Mr. Bigelow we received the following account of the part played by those we may think of as our representatives in this final farewell to a very good friend:

A small group of old Field Service men, rather hastily gathered together in Boston, attended the funeral of Henry Sleeper in Lindsey Chapel . . . and at the request of the family formed a little guard of honor. At the conclusion of the church services, they formed in line behind the family, and M. Flamand, the French Consul, walked between them and the coffin. Outside the church they formed a double row on the sidewalk as the coffin was passed between them and placed on the hearse. All of them said afterwards how glad they had been of the opportunity to pay even this little tribute to Harry Sleeper . . .

Mr. Sleeper is buried in the family lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery. But somehow we believe he knows of our sorrow at his going, and our lasting affection for him.