Post World War I Relief Work in Europe


This primary source packet contains resources related to Americans doing relief work in Europe during and after World War I (approximately 1917-1922). These materials can support classes and research interested in US involvement in international issues, peace and conflict studies, the emergence of non-governmental organizations, humanitarianism, relief work, and mission work.  Potential pedagogical goals from using these materials might include understanding the ways in which Americans undertaking this work talk about it and the world they are experiencing, examining whose voices are represented and whose are not, comparing accounts of similar time periods from different places and by different authors, and exploring, analyzing, and putting in conversation primary sources. 

The materials in this packet document men and women, mostly with Quaker backgrounds, working in France, Germany, Poland, and Russia from 1917 to 1922. They worked through or with the YMCA/YWCA and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). There are numerous other related resources housed in Quaker & Special Collections; a longer list can be found at our subject guide on relief work materials in the collections. 

Packet contents:

  • List of primary sources
  • Guiding questions for engaging with the primary sources
  • Articles which provide background on this topic
    • Bruno Cabanes. “The hungry and the sick: Herbert Hoover, the Russian famine, and the professionalization of humanitarian aid” in The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918–1924. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 189-247. 
    • Julia F. Irwin. “The disaster of war: American understandings of catastrophe, conflict and relief” First World War Studies 5 no. 1 (2014), 17-28.

Primary Sources

Beulah Waring. Correspondence. 1919-1922. HC-MC-1225.
[Digitized materials]

Joseph Haines. Correspondence. 1917-1918. HC-MC-950-095.
[Digitized materials]

Francis R. Bacon. Correspondence. 1920-1922. HC-MC-1226.
[Digitized materials]

Katharine and Howard Elkinton. Correspondence. 1917-1922. HC-MC-1239.
[Digitized materials]

Guiding Questions

  • Who created the document(s)?  For what purpose?
  • Describe the implied audience for these materials. What informs your opinion?
  • How do these documents inform your thinking about international relief work?
  • Do these documents provide support for ideas you have been discussing? If so, how? If not, why might that be the case?
  • What additional (contextual) information would you need to know to fully understand your document(s)?  Where might you find some of this information, and why might you choose a particular source over another?