AFS Founder and Inspector General A. Piatt Andrew and Assistant Inspector General Stephen Galatti at the AFS headquarters in Paris, France. 1917. Photograph by H.C. Ellis.

All items used in this timeline are courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, unless otherwise noted. The holder of copyright for some of these items in unknown. Please contact AFS if you can help identify the copyright holder(s.)

100 Years of AFS

AFS Intercultural Programs began as the American Ambulance Field Service, which had its origins shortly after the outbreak of World War I. This timeline tells the story of the heroic AFS Drivers under the leadership of A. Piatt Andrew in World War I and Stephen Galatti in World War II—and how AFS was transformed from a wartime humanitarian aid organization to a groundbreaking international secondary school student exchange, volunteer, and intercultural learning organization with a noble vision: to help build a more peaceful world by promoting understanding among cultures.

1914 - American Ambulance Hospital

Postcard of the American Ambulance Hospital at the Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, staff at the American Hospital of Paris converted the Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly-sur-Seine into a wartime military hospital (referred to as an "ambulance" in French) to accommodate a larger number of patients. The civilian-run American Ambulance Hospital was used during the war to treat wounded soldiers returning from the front. A. Piatt Andrew, a former director of the United States Mint and assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, set sail for France in December of 1914 to volunteer at the American Ambulance Hospital.

1915 - American Ambulance Field Service

A. Piatt Andrew volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Ambulance Hospital in January 1915. At the time of Andrew's arrival, the ambulance drivers at the Hospital primarily ferried patients from the train stations in Paris to hospitals around the city. In March, Andrew was made Inspector General of the Hospital's Transportation Committee, and in April, he successfully negotiated with the French Army to have some ambulance sections of the Hospital work closer to the front lines of battle. The ambulance units near the front came to be known as the "American Ambulance Field Service."

1916 - 21 rue Raynouard

American volunteer ambulance drivers of SSU 14 at the AFS headquarters in Paris. Spring 1917. Photograph by O. King.

For both political and practical reasons, A. Piatt Andrew broke away from the American Ambulance Hospital and created an independent American Ambulance Field Service (AAFS). In July 1916 the Comtesse de la Villestreux and members of the Hottinguer family put the estate and five-acre private park at 21 rue Raynouard in the heart of Paris at the disposal of AAFS for use as their headquarters for the remainder of the war. The new headquarters had formal gardens and a grove of chestnuts, and included offices, mess quarters, an infirmary, temporary barracks, and grounds for ambulance parking.

1917 - AFS Réserve Mallet

Recruitment poster for the American Field Service Réserve Mallet. 1917.

The Réserve Mallet was the collective name for the camion (truck) units engaged in the transportation of supplies for the French during World War I. Volunteers were recruited for the camion units beginning in April 1917, the same month the United States entered the war. Shortly after establishing the camion units (and partly because of it), the organization changed its name from the "American Ambulance Field Service" to the "American Field Service." By the end of 1917, the American Field Service ambulance and camion units had been fully absorbed into the ranks of the U.S. military.

1920 - AFS Association

First annual reunion dinner of the AFS Association at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. May 8, 1920.

The AFS Association was established in May 1920 to coordinate reunions among former members of the American Field Service and to administer the AFS Fellowships for French Universities program, established in December 1919. The program helped to cultivate peaceful ties between the United States and France, and awarded a total of 222 fellowships to French and American graduate students by the time it was discontinued in 1952.

1939 - World War II Begins

American Field Service promotional poster. 1940.

AFS was reactivated as an ambulance corps shortly after the start of World War II in 1939 under the leadership of Director General Stephen Galatti. Galatti took over the AFS Association after AFS Founder A. Piatt Andrew's death in 1936. The first unit of Americans sailed from New York on March 23, 1940, and joined men who had already volunteered in Europe. After the German invasion and the establishment of Vichy France in June 1940, AFS halted service in France

1941-1944 - AFS with the British and French Armies

AFS ambulance drivers deliver patients from the Monte Cassino battlefront to a camouflaged Polish dressing station behind British Eighth Army lines. 1944. Photograph by George Holton.

AFS officially aligned with the British military and Free French forces (the Forces Françaises Libres, later called the Forces Françaises Combattantes or FFC) in 1941. As the war progressed, the AFS volunteer ambulance drivers served alongside French, British, Polish, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, and South African troops in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, Germany, India, and Burma, and again in France with the First French Army.

1945 - World War II Ends

On April 15, 1945, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated by British forces. A contingent of American Field Service ambulance drivers volunteered to assist with stretcher-bearing details, distributing meals and medical equipment, and evacuating more than 11,000 people to a displaced persons camp that had been established nearby.

The cessation of wartime hostilities came just months after the evacuation of the camp. By the end of the war, the 2,196 ambulance drivers had carried more than 700,000 wounded.

1946-1947 - AFS Secondary School Exchange Programs

AFS Participants Jean Paly (France), Kees de Kujper (Netherlands), and Sarka Sramkova (Czechoslovakia) look over their American bus trip route. These students were part of the first group of post-war AFS Participants, who came from France, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, England, Greece, New Zealand, Estonia, Hungary, and Syria. July 19, 1948.

In 1946, AFS Director General Stephen Galatti and AFS Drivers from both World Wars founded a secondary school student exchange program intended to perpetuate international friendships in peacetime. In 1947, the first group of post-war AFS Participants arrived in the United States on a scholarship program. The following summer, 29 of these students embarked on a 24 day, 5,500 mile bus trip through 22 states across the United States. One of the purposes of the bus trip, which continued in following years, was to interest Americans in providing scholarships and hospitality for future AFS Participants.

1950-1957 - Americans Abroad

Americans Abroad Participant Katharine Lowry sharing a sukiyaki dinner with her host family in Japan. 1957.

In 1950, the Americans Abroad (AA) Summer Program was initiated, thanks to the work of AFS Returnees who helped develop new programs in their home countries. The first nine students from the United States spent a few months living with families in France, which had the largest number of AFS Returnees at the time. By 1951, the AA Summer Program had expanded into seven countries in Europe; and in 1957, AA Participants had the option to spend several months abroad and attend foreign schools in a wide variety of countries.

1960-1969 - Promoting a More Peaceful World

The AFS Programs continued to grow in the 1960s. The AFS Winter Program (students coming to the United States) and the AFS Americans Abroad Program each enrolled its 10,000th Participant in 1961 and 1964, respectively. Throughout the 1960s the AFS Winter Program Participants continued to meet with presidents of the United States in Washington, D.C., before heading back to their home countries at the end of their stay abroad. The presidents lauded the organization for its contributions to US public diplomacy efforts, and often directly addressed the role of AFS Participants in promoting a more peaceful world.

1970-1988 - Internationalization and Program Diversity

A South African AFS Participant at a market in Bolivia. 1985.

In 1970, non-United States citizens were elected to the AFS Board of Trustees for the first time. One year later the AFS Multinational Program began, allowing students to travel to and from countries other than the United States for the first time. The AFS Programs continued to diversify, adding community service projects and teacher exchange programs. At the 1984 Montreal Workshop, AFS formally articulated the educational aspects of its programs, creating 16 Educational Goals that continue to be the foundation of our innovative Intercultural Learning programs today.

1989-1990 - Articles of Partnership

Attendees at the AFS World Congress in San Jose, Costa Rica, representing 54 AFS Partners. 1999.

In 1989, four national organizations (Australia, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland) became the first AFS Partners to become separate legal entities from the AFS headquarters in the United States. The "Articles of Partnership" were approved by the AFS International Board in 1990 and stated that each AFS Partner is bound by a separate agreement with AFS International. In 1993, the partnership structure was officially established in all national units, including the United States.

2004 - AFS Foundation

Four of the seven founding members of the AFS Foundation (left to right): Werner Rechsteiner, Chris Little, Jürgen Blankenburg, and Marianne Meyer. July 13, 2004. Courtesy of the AFS Foundation

The AFS Foundation was established on July 13th, 2004, in Zurich, Switzerland. It endeavors to preserve the AFS Legacy and holds the AFS name and logo. AFS World War II Driver and Life Trustee Ward Chamberlin, Jr., noted that the founding date was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Stephen Galatti, founder of the post-war student exchange programs. Chamberlin and the founding members dedicated the AFS Foundation to the memory of Galatti and "the worldwide struggle for peace to which he devoted his life."

2014-2015 - AFS Centennial

Annually, AFS sends more than 12,000 young women and men on intercultural exchanges among more than 100 countries, supported by more than 43,000 volunteers around the globe.

Today, AFS is one of the largest volunteer-based organizations of its kind. In its centennial year, the AFS Global Community will include more than 450,000 former AFS Participants. Going forward, AFS will continue providing quality experiential intercultural learning opportunities for students, families and volunteers. By linking our "learning to live together" philosophy to the defining global issues of the 21st Century, AFS is dedicated to building an inclusive community of global citizens determined to build bridges among cultures.

*The above information is taken from the AFS INT website.