Tuesday, November 9, 2010

9 November 1948: U. S. Post Office Issues Moina Michael Stamp in Athens

On this day in 1948, at 8 o'clock in the morning, the Moina Michael poppy stamp went on sale in Athens, Georgia. Collectors lined up at the windows of the post office hours before they opened, and a parade featuring legion organizations, both University and high school R.O.T.C. and marching bands, and "a number of tanks" led to a ceremony at the Fine Arts Building on the University of Georgia campus. The presentation included speeches by many government officials, and a message sent by President Harry S Truman.

Miss Michael was lauded as "a great American woman, able educator, and valiant crusader who has contributed to veterans of this country and other countries. Her name will always be gratefully remembered by the people of this nation."

The 3-cent stamp, now seven times as valuable, was issued two days before Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day or Remembrance Day) because it was on November 9th, 1918, that Miss Michael came up with the idea to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers.

In 1918, Miss Michael had taken a leave of absence from her educational work in Athens to volunteer with the YWCA Overseas War Workers training headquarters at Columbia University in New York. On November 9th, the YMCA was hosting the 25th Conference of Overseas Secretaries in New York. During a moment of downtime during the conference, she read the poem now known as In Flanders Field by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in a copy of Ladies Home Journal. She was inspired by the poem to write a response, titled We Shall Keep the Faith.

Later that day, a group of men from the conference brought Miss Michael a check for $10.00, in appreciation of the effort she'd made, at her own expense, to "make a home-like Hostess House of their headquarters." She replied that she would use the money to buy red poppies, "I shall always wear red poppies--poppies of Flanders Fields!" Miss Michael showed the men the McCrae poem, as well as the one she had just written. The men took both poems with them back into their meeting while Miss Michael went in search of cloth poppies, finally finding 25 of them at Wanamaker's department store. She returned to the hall to find men gathered around her desk, asking for poppies to wear in their lapels. It was then Moina Michael had the idea of using cloth poppy sales to raise money for the widows and orphans left behind by fallen soldiers.

A year later, while teaching a class of disabled veterans at the University of Georgia, Miss Michael came to realize that many soldiers who returned from the war needed assistance as well. She campaigned to have the poppy not just a memorial flower, but one of remembrance for all veterans who served their countries. The flower was adopted by veterans groups from around the world in the early 1920s, and before long, Moina Michael was internationally known as "The Poppy Lady." By the time of her death in 1944, nearly $200 million had been raised for disabled vets by the sale of poppies in the United States alone.

Poppies are still made by disabled veterans and sold for Veterans Day and Remembrance Day, in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. You can also make your own to wear this Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11th.

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  1. What's always omitted re the Ladies' Home Journal 1918 Thanksgiving issue, is that Canadian soldier McCrae's poem was not in editorial pages, but in an advertisement by surgical supplies co. Bauer & Black, illustrated with Philip Lyman painting dead American soldiers, wrong title for 'In Flanders Fields', and errors in author information. Miss Michael, like most literate people by now knew the 1915 poem first published Dec 8 issue of Punch in England, what apparently struck her so emotionally was the painting.

  2. Correction. typo re artist.
    His name is Philip LYFORD. His painting used by B&B marketers is called "Flanders Fields". The image was already in circulation in the US before that appalling B&B ad was engaged Miss Michael inserted for LHJ 1918 Thanksgiving issue. It must have been created after the end January 1918 as it refers, erroneously, to the death of Lt. Col. McCrae.