Published to YouTube on Jun 5, 2012 by Tina Calhoun
Final Edit of Moina Belle Michael for GA Women of Achievement
The Poppy Lady
The Great War 1914-1918
Moina Belle Michael (1869-1944)
Summer 1914: a Tour of Europe
In June and July 1914 Moina was on a tour of Europe. She had visited the British Isles, Holland, Belgium, France and Switzerland. In the last week of July she was in Cologne (Köln) in Germany. Four weeks earlier, as Moina described it, “the very foundations of our world were shaken by a radical student who threw a bomb into the carriage of an Austrian archduke”.(1) With the momentous events going on around her in those weeks building up to the German declaration of war on Russia (1st August) and on France on 3rd August, Moina and her companions found themselves caught up in a difficult and worrying situation. They were foreign visitors in Germany. The leader of the party, Dr J C Wardlaw, organized for the group to travel to Rome in Italy. They met numerous other American citizens gathering in Rome including the US Ambassador Thomas N Page. He had been on holiday in France near the coast on his way to sail to America and it had taken him a week to make his way back to the embassy in Rome. Americans were arriving from their holidays in Russia, central and eastern Europe. They were all heading for the Mediteranean ports so that they could travel home to the United States by sea and avoid travelling across borders of countries which were at war.
Moina’s tour leader, Dr Wardlaw, set up the American Committee to work with the American Embassy in Rome to help the stranded tourists. Moina took on the role of hostess, or secretary, and was based in the lobby of the Hotel Royal where the American Committee was located. She took down details of each American citizen wanting to find out how to get back to the United States. In all, Moina helped to collate information for more than 12,000 Americans in the first two weeks after the American Committee was set up.
Moina sailed home to the United States on the RMS Carpathia.
Moina and her party, along with hundreds of other stranded Americans, were given safe passage home to the United States on the Cunard Line transatlantic steamship RMS Carpathia. This was the same ship which had rescued survivors from the RMS Titanic just two years earlier in April 1912. It was also the ship Moina had originally been booked to travel home on. In the event it was by a quirk of fate that it had ended up at the port of Naples, thereby providing the possibility for Moina and many other Americans to sail with her, as planned, to the United States.
Moina returned safely to the United States and returned to Winnie Davis Memorial Hall at the teaching college called Normal School in Athens, Georgia. By 1918 she was teaching at the University of Georgia, in the town of Athens.
1918: Voluntary War Work with the YMCA
After America had declared war on 6th April 1917 Moina applied to join the only line of service that she could apply for — War Work with the YMCA. She was not trained as a nurse for medical service, but also she was ten years over age. In 1917 she was 47 years old. Having waited for many weeks she eventually received a call to the YMCA in April 1918. However, she was very busy with teaching at the Normal School in Athens, carrying out voluntary duties for the YMCA and acting as Hostess at the Winnie Davies Memorial Hall. It was agreed that her leave to go to the YMCA Overseas Secretaries training in New York would be delayed.
In September she again received her “call” for service with the Overseas YMCA War Workers. This time she took leave of absence from her post at the university of Georgia and arrived at the YMCA Overseas War Workers training headquarters at Columbia University, New York City. She was familiar with the surroundings as she had been a student at Columbia University in 1912-1913.
Moina trained with the sixteenth YWCA Conference but after completing her training course Moina’s hopes of being sent abroad were dashed. She was barred from overseas service due to her age – she was 49. However, Dr J W Gaines, president of the Overseas YMCA Secretaries, helped Moina to stay with the organization by giving her a job at the training headquarters where she worked until the organization moved to Paris in January 1919.
9th November 1918: The Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy
It was while she was working for the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization that Moina had the inspiration for the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy. This was a momentous time for her and it was the start of her journey to create a national emblem of Remembrance. She would devote her life’s work to this project from this time and because of it she became known as “The Poppy Lady”[i].
Her description of the moment she was inspired by the Flanders Fields poppy is provided as an extract from her autobiography on this website:
Moina Belle Michael: the Idea for the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy
For the story of how Moina Michael’s Memorial Poppy emblem became a symbol of Remembrance and how she inspired others to use it for raising funds for disabled and needy war veterans go to our article at:
The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy
An Outstanding Educator
Front cover of Moina’s autobiography “The Miracle Flower”.
By the time she was in her later years, Moina Michael had become one of the outstanding educators of Georgia. She was associated with the leading professional education associations.
In 1938, after 54 years in education, she retired from the University of Georgia after a year of prolonged illness.
In 1941 at the age of 72, Moina published her autobiography “The Miracle Flower, The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy”. Moina dedicated the book to the late Colonel John McCrae, whose poem “In Flanders Fields” was the inspiration for her idea to wear the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy.
Moina Michael died aged 74 on 10th May 1944….
Read Moina Michael Bell’s full bio
Although toward the end of World War I, Moina Belle Michael, an American worked out of the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization in Europe, Michael’s “inspiration for the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy” I consider one of the many stories to be re-told in remembrance of her service, the service of veterans and in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I believe that our American heroes, those who served one way or another, who found a way to carry the mantle, if not in battle, during times of war, must never be forgotten.
BUDDY POPPY – The first distribution of poppy in the United States
The VFW conducted its first poppy distribution before Memorial Day in 1922, becoming the first veterans’ organization to organize a nationwide distribution. The poppy soon was adopted as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
It was during the 1923 encampment that the VFW decided that VFW Buddy Poppies be assembled by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work to provide them with some form of financial assistance. The plan was formally adopted during the VFW’s 1923 encampment. The next year, disabled veterans at the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh assembled VFW Buddy Poppies. The designation “Buddy Poppy” was adopted at that time.
In February 1924, the VFW registered the name “Buddy Poppy” with the U.S. Patent Office. A certificate was issued on May 20, 1924, granting the VFW all trademark rights in the name of Buddy under the classification of artificial flowers. The VFW has made that trademark a guarantee that all poppies bearing that name and the VFW label are genuine products of the work of disabled and needy veterans. No other organization, firm or individual can legally use the name “Buddy” Poppy.
Today, VFW Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals.
Sources: The Great War.
Veterans of Foreign Affairs
History by Zim
Wisconsin Historical Society
[i] As further elaborated upon by History by Zim,
“On November 9, 1918, Moina Michael, an American professor, was working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters during its annual conference in New York. After reading a poem in the Ladies Home Journal titled “We Shall Not Sleep” (later called “In Flanders Field”), she was moved and vowed to always wear a red poppy. She purchased 25 silk poppies and upon returning to the conference, she pinned one to her coat and distributed the rest among those at the conference. She began to campaign to get the poppy adopted as the national remembrance symbol….”