During World War I.
Hoover was living and working in London, England, when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. He immediately became involved with assisting American travelers who were fleeing the war zone, setting up a committee that aided 120,000 Americans. With the German invasion of the neutral nation of Belgium, Hoover was...
Hoover was living and working in London, England, when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. He immediately became involved with assisting American travelers who were fleeing the war zone, setting up a committee that aided 120,000 Americans. With the German invasion of the neutral nation of Belgium, Hoover was asked to create a private humanitarian relief agency to assist Belgium’s civilian population, which was threatened with famine. Hoover took the job and launched the Commission for Relief in Belgium. For the next three years he and his commission performed miracles, organizing millions of tons of food to send to Belgium and northern France.
In 1917, the United States entered the war, and Hoover, by now a famous humanitarian, was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to become head of the United States Food Administration, newly created to coordinate food conservation and distribution. This was a gargantuan task, as the U.S. needed more food than ever to feed people at home, soldiers abroad and the people in war-torn Europe. With “Food will win the war” as his motto, Hoover soon had millions eating cornbread and oatmeal instead of bread, and fish dishes instead of meat. Part of Hoover’s method was to enlist organizations for his efforts and have them cajole their memberships. Fraternal organizations with charitable purposes, like the Masons, Elks, and Odd Fellows, found themselves in Hoover’s sights. Here is his letter to the head of the Odd Fellows, seeking help quite pointedly, and very much illustrating his entire approach.
Typed Letter Signed on his United States Food Administration letterhead, Washington, March 22, 1918, to J.F. Needham, Grand Secretary of the Order of Odd Fellows of America. “I desire to take this opportunity to commend the response made by members of your Order to the appeal of the United States Food Administration. The support of such a membership as yours is deeply appreciated. The necessity of close cooperation between the Food Administration and the American public becomes constantly more imperative. The whole great picture of winning the War rests largely on the loyalty and sacrifice of the American people as individuals. It is not a government responsibility alone. It is therefore important that every means of communication should be kept open to enable us, quickly and authoritatively, to keep the facts concerning food before the American people and to accomplish that flexibility of action which the changing circumstances abroad require. The lodges of the fraternal organizations scattered throughout the entire country are among the most important and available mediums of communication.
The Food Administration has been organized by states, and the Federal Food Administrator in each state is now perfecting his state organization. A bulletin containing suggestions for enlisting the active support of fraternal organizations in food production and conservation is herewith enclosed, and it is our hope that by putting these suggestions into operation among the lodges of your Order, it will be possible for us to establish a closer working relationship with your entire membership. May we express the hope that you will send copies of this bulletin, which we will be glad to furnish, to all your lodges, accompanied by a personal letter of transmittal urging the assistance so greatly needed.
The United States Government, through its Food Administration, deeply appreciates what you have done in the past, the excellent spirit of patriotism which you are showing as an organization, and requests this further effort on your part in order to make possible the accomplishment of greater results in the future.” Included are two subsequent letters from Hoover’s aide to Needham, the first taking him to task for not responding to Hoover’s call, and the second thanking him for cooperating.
When the war ended in 1918, Hoover returned to Europe for almost a year as director-general of the American Relief Administration to organize the supply and distribution of food and relief materials to more than twenty nations, thereby facilitating the emergence of stable economies in the war-torn region. All of Hoover’s efforts having been crowned with success, his name began being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.
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