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Belle Skinner: Bringing Back the Village

[ photo: Belle Skinner ]

Bringing Back the Village

After graduating from Vassar in 1887, Belle Skinner spent a year in France where she fell in love with the village of Hattonchâtel because it reminded her of the idyllic Connecticut Valley near her home in Holyoke, Massachusetts. "During the dark days of 1918, she saw it again, this time through field glasses from within the French lines. It was in the hands of the Germans. They had taken the village without resistance and had held it for four years. Miss Skinner declared to a French officer that this was to be her village to adopt. When he protested that there was nothing left but the hill, she replied with true American vision: `Then I will rebuild what there is of it.'" After the war, in 1919, she returned to Hattonchâtel to make good on her promise. She spent a million dollars on the reconstruction - including a new water system, electricity, a model school house, and a town hall with a library and a cinema hall. "In recognition of her unselfish and well-directed efforts for the relief of suffering in France, the French Government bestowed upon Belle Skinner, in 1919, the Gold Medal of the Reconnaissance Française, and, in 1920, the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur."

Biographical Cyclopedia of U.S. Women