Captain Edith Standen 1905-1998
The preservation of culture isn’t typically something one thinks of during times of war, especially when it belongs to one’s enemies, but, in 1941, just as the U.S. was entering WWII, it was just what was on the minds of the select few in the Robert’s Commission. That year, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. created two Robert’s Commissions; one in relation to the island bombing, and the second, the protection of cultural artifacts in zones of war.
Under the Robert’s Commission, the American Army established the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Division, whose members were commonly referred to as The Monuments Men. It was their task to protect sites of cultural and historical importance on the battlefield, and also to locate, preserve and return art stolen by the Nazi’s. One of these officers was Captain Edith Standen.
Born in 1905 in Nova Scotia to American parents, Edith spent her childhood in Ireland and England. In 1926, she received her B.A. from Oxford University and two years later moved stateside where she worked for museums in both Boston and Pennsylvania. It was in the latter that Edith attracted the attention of soon-to-be Robert’s Commission member Paul Sachs.
Armed with considerable education and experience in museum curation she signed up, in 1942, for the Women’s Auxillary Corps. Assigned to the MFAA, Captain Standon was dispatched at once to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point (WCCP) in Germany. Wiesbaden was one of four main collection points for the sorting of looted art with the others being; Munich, Marburg, and Offenbach. Wiesbaden held mostly German-owned art and artifacts and at its height held approximately 700,000 individual pieces. Munich held items that were to be restituted worldwide, holding over one million pieces, (Marburg was closed shortly after its establishment), and Offenbach was responsible for the collection of Jewish items of religious and cultural value, and at its height had over two and a half million objects.
In her position as Director and Officer in Charge at Wiesbaden, it was her responsibility to catalog, and restitute the items held there, as well as to keep them out of the hands of the Soviet Army. Edith Standon served in her post from 1942-1947. Upon her discharge, she returned to the U.S. attaining a coveted position at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. There she gained a reputation as a leading authority on European tapestries. According to the Monuments Men Foundation, Captain Standen is the only member of the MFAA to have earned the Bronze Star for her service. Ms. Standen passed away July 19, 1998, in New York at the age of 93.