Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Her Own Way: The World in 1914

1914 was a fateful year in world history. The first world war—known then as the Great War—began in late July. In one of the first large-scale military operations, Germany invaded the neutral country of Belgium, on the way to invading the enemy country of France.

 The Belgian people faced immediate food shortages, when their food supplies from outside were cut and German troops requisitioned what little food they produced within the country. Early international attempts to send food failed, as the occupying Germans took it for themselves, or food shipments were stopped at the border by the British naval blockade. Belgium faced a winter of starvation.

In October a wealthy American businessman living in London, Herbert Hoover (later to be elected President) organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The US government was not formally involved but the CRB could operate in Belgium because the US was a neutral country (it did not enter the war until 1917). The CRB succeeded partly because it not only raised money, bought and shipped foodstuffs, but also supervised distribution within Belgium so the food got to the Belgian people.

 “The CRB conducted its humanitarian work on an unprecedented scale and with unique administrative organization,” writes historian Elena S. Danielson. “Its bold acts of benevolence were accomplished with an efficiency and integrity that later became a model for modern foreign aid.”

 Most of the funding came from various government subsidies but especially in its early months, voluntary contributions were crucial. Through his friends in the press, Hoover emphasized the plight of Belgian children.

 His wife, Lou Henry Hoover, who had attended the San Jose Normal School and Stanford University (where the Hoovers met) returned from London to California to raise funds in the state, and to organize shiploads of supplies. This is probably why there was a local Belgium Relief organization in Humboldt so soon in 1914. In time, Belgium Relief became a prestigious charity, especially for American women (including author Edith Wharton.)

For student-teachers at Humboldt State, the appeal to help children and the fund's
 California connection would have made, Belgium Relief a natural choice as the beneficiary of Humboldt State’s first play for a paying audience. That benefit performance of Her Own Way on December 8, 1914 was a great success. The 50 cent admission charge yielded $200, plus another $15 from the sale of flowers in the lobby. (The total population of Arcata was 1,200, and getting there from Eureka was still difficult.) After expenses, probably about a third went to Belgium relief.

No comments: