United States World War I Relief Efforts: Country Trends


Figure 1.-- Here Italian children during World War I are waiting for the distribution of American food relief by the Red Cross. The photograph was taken in Pordenone, Italy during 1917 or 18. Source: American National Red Cross Collection. Library of Congress).

The American Red Cross did not just conduct programs at home or for American soldiers overseas. It played a major role in American relief efforts overseas that prevented millions of Europeans from starving. This was because of its overseas organization, made it the organizational infrastructure to handle food and other relief programs. This was especially the case after America entered the War. Many charitable and volunteer groups organized drives to collect funds, food, medical suplies, blankets, clothing. For example the food here was collected and packaged by the Greek War Relief Association. Such groups, however, had no way of getting the food and other relief supplies to Europe and destributing it there. It was the Red Cross that proved to have the cability to deliver the relief supplies to desperate Europeans. It essentially acquired this role by default. American Relief started in Belgium with private donations. Eventually the U.S. Food Administration got involved, putting Government resources behind the relief effort. Just about every European country received American war relif and the Red Cross became the major American orgnization distributing food and other relief abroad: Armenians, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Serbia. The food went to all kinds of distribution points, including food kitchens, schools, and orpohanages. It was a major salvation for refugees, but also civilian populations that had not been displaced, but were experiencing severe food shortages because of the War.

U.S. Food Administration (1917-19)

When the United States entered the War, President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to the post of United States Food Administrator (1917). Food had become a weapon in World War I and no country produced more food than America. Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. America had to produce the food needed by the new large army America was building as well as for Allied armies and civilians. Hoover designed a voluntary program. He called it food conservation, but many Americans took to calling it "Hooverizing." Various promotions were devised, such as wheatless Wednesdays and meatless Mondays. Hoover was convinced that Americans would cooperate voluntarily to support the boys overseas. He did not want a mandatory program and Government regulated rationing. The idea was that American civilians would have to modify their eating habits voluntarily so that more food was available for shipment overseas. The American housewife was urged to conserve food and eliminate waste. Signs and posters appeared in workplaces and public areas with the slogan "Food Will Win the War". Hoover managed to voluntarily reduce domestic food consumption 15 percent without rationing. Hoover guaranteed the farmer a "fair price" and there was an overseas market for all that could be produced. American food exports tripled. Not only did America help feed the Allies, but the shipments created surplus stores of food that helped prevent a post-war famine in Europe. America after the War not only helped her Allies, but the former Central Powers countries as well as Soviet Russia.

American Relief Administration (1919-23)

With the end of the war, the United States wound down the United States Food Administration (USFA). Europe was, however, in crisis. The war had damged and dirupted the continents economy. This included the agricultural sector. Europe was not producing enough food to feed its people. Europeans were going hungary and facing famine on a collosal scale. This was not only the industrial countries that imported food before the War, but the agicultural countries that had a food surplus before the War and exported food. Here Poland and Russia were in particularly desperate states. Hoover accompanied President Wilson to Europe as an adviser to the Paris Peace Conference. Hoover because of his work to save the Belgians and to incrase americam food production seemed the perfect choice to head an Allied relief effort. Problems immediately surfaced. when Britain and France both demanded more relief supplies and blocked relief efforts to the defeated Central Powers. President Wilson decided to end distracting diplomtic wrangling and to simply create an American relief effort--essentially to go it alone. This made sense because it was America who had the food to deliver. Presidebt wilson created a successor agency to the USFA with the sole purpose of saving starving Europeans and a focus on Central and Eastern Europe where the situation wss increasingly desperate. The sucessor organization to deal with post-War relief was the the American Relief Administration (ARA) (February 1919). USFA Director Herbert Hoover was put in charge of the new effort. The ARA inherited the USFA staff with extenive relief experience. The ARA was funded by both the U.S. Congress and private donations. The ARA set about opened missions in Europe. The ARA opend missions in both Allied countries as well as the former Central Powers, the enemy countries during the war. The ARA even tried to open an office in Bolshevik Russia. Bolshevik Russia was a state which from the beginning was dedicated to destroying the capitalist United States. Even so the ARA odffered to aid the Russian people as a humanitarian effot (1919-20). The Bolsheviks despite the desperate need of the Russian people at first refused, demanding total control over any food relief efforts. They could not believe that the United States, the great capitalist power would be so insane as to aid a country devoted on destroying America and capitalism. The plight of the srarbing Russian masses was simply dismissed. Wjile the ARA was unabke to help the Rusian people, it did launch a massive effort to aid the rest of Europe. The primary goal of the ARA was to provide food relief, but it actually did much more providing warm clothing, blankets, medical aid, relocation services, and much more. Hoover placed a special focus on saving the children. The ARA was invisioned as a short-term effort lasting a few months. Hoover who went to Europe in 1919, however, saw immediately that a longer term effort was desperately needed. Tragically for the Russian peoole, millions perished durung a horible winter famine (1920-21). Only after respected author Maxim Gorky personally petitioned Vladimir Lenin to allow America to establish a relief effort did the situation change in Russia and the Bolsheviks relent. ARA European Director Walter Lyman Brown and Soviet assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov finally reached an agreement for an ARA Russian mission (Summer 1921). Only because of this did millions of Russians survive the winter. In all American relief efforts saved some 350 million during and after World War I.

European Relief Council

The European Relief Council was an American umbrella organization to coordinate the activities of American charitable relief organizations. It was called European because that was where the relief was needed. The members included: American Friends Service Committee, American Red Cross, American Relief administratiom, Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, Joint Distribution Committee, Knights of Columbus, National Catholic Welfare Cojuncil, Young Men's Christian Asociation, and the Young Women's Christian Assiciation. Notice that most of the members were religious groups. Nost were Christian groups. The Joint Distribution Committee was a Jewish group. These were the most important groups in American committed to saving European children. Through the Council, these groups organizedan a joint appeal to the americn people an publicize the desperate need of European children. The Council elected Herbert Hoover Chairman and Franklin K. Lane Treasurer. Relief assistance in 1921 was delivered toL Albania, Austria, Turkey (Constantinople), Czechoslovakia, France (northern area), Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Danzig (Free Sity), Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Palestine, Poland, Romania, Russia, , Serbia, ans Yugoslavia. There was a special program for Russian refugee children. There were also programs for refugees in Shanghai and Vladisvostock. Notice that Belgium was no on the list. That was because by 1921 Belgium had began to recover and was able to feed itself. These were refugees that had made in to the Pacific across the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The Literary Digest helped publicize the desperat need and collect money.

Country Efforts

Americn relief effirts during World War is one of the most astonishing humanitarian actions in human history. The United States did nothing short of preventing an entire continent from starving. Nothing like this had ever before even been conceived of--let alone attempted. America not only attempted it, but suceeded. The American Red Cross played a major role in this effort. The Red Cross did not just conduct programs at home or for American soldiers overseas. It played a major role in American relief efforts overseas that prevented millions of Europeans from starving. This was because of its overseas organization, made it the organizational infrastructure to handle food and other relief programs. This was especially the case after America entered the War. Many charitable and volunteer groups organized drives to collect funds, food, medical suplies, blankets, clothing. For example the food here was collected and packaged by the Greek War Relief Association. Such groups, however, had no way of getting the food and other relief supplies to Europe and destributing it there. It was the Red Cross that proved to have the cability to deliver the relief supplies to desperate Europeans. It essentially acquired this role by default. American Relief started in Belgium with private donations. Eventually the U.S. Food Administration got involved, putting Government resources behind the relief effort. Just about every European country received American war relief and the Red Cross became the major American orgnization distributing food and other relief abroad: Armenians, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Serbia. The food went to all kinds of distribution points, including food kitchens, schools, and orphanages. It was a major salvation for refugees, but also civilian populations that had not been displaced, but were experiencing severe food shortages because of the War.

Sources

Burner, David. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (1979).

Glant, Tibor. "Herbert Hoover and Hungary," Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS) Vol. 8, No. 2, (Fall, 2002), pp. 95-109.

Schulze, Max Stephan. "Austria-Hungary’s economy in World War I," in Stephen N. Broadberry and Mark Harrison, eds. The Economics of World War I (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge/New York, 2005).

Surface, Frank M. and Raymond L. Bland, "American Food in the World War and Reconstruction Period: Operations of the Organizations under the direction of Herbert Hoover, 1914 to 1924" (Stanford: 1931).






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Created: 11:44 PM 1/25/2016
Last updated: 12:15 PM 4/28/2017