The poppy lady moina michael started a movement for veterans – news – athens banner-herald – athens, ga gas monkey monster truck body


Editor’s Note: This is part of a series, called Georgia Groundbreakers, which celebrates innovative and visionary faculty, students, alumni and leaders throughout the history of the University of Georgia — and their profound, enduring impact on our state, our nation and the world.

Now, nearly 100 years and billions of dollars later, the poppy has become the international symbol of remembrance and support for all military veterans, thanks to the tireless efforts of Moina Belle Michael, affectionately known today as “The Poppy Lady.”

“During her lifetime, if you adjust for inflation, poppy sales raised $3 billion worldwide, most of which went directly to veterans,” said Tom Michael, a great nephew of Moina Michael, who died in 1944. “She championed the poppy as a permanent symbol and reminder of our collective obligation to support our veterans and their families. And through all the poppy sales around the world, her legacy of helping veterans lives on.”

Moina Michael, an education professor from the small Georgia town of Good Hope, was in Germany on the final leg of a European vacation when World War I broke out in 1914, forcing her to flee to Italy to find a ship that would carry her home.

After a harrowing 16-day trip through mine-infested waters and an ocean patrolled by enemy submarines, she returned to the relative quiet of her Athens home, but did not find peace. The nation was fixated on the war, and Michael did everything she could to bring comfort to soldiers awaiting deployment.

On Nov. 9, 1918 — two days before the armistice that ended World War I — she wrote her own reply to McCrae’s poem entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith” and decided “always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and emblem of ‘keeping the faith with all who died.’”

After the war, Athens and the University of Georgia became a hub for veteran rehabilitation. Michael taught a class of disabled servicemen and every Monday attended Disabled American Veterans chapter meetings. She even planted poppies on what is now UGA’s Health Sciences Campus.

“The soldiers who made the poppies for sale in America were classified as unfit for any employment by the government because of their war injuries. So they couldn’t be hired. But they could make these little poppies,” said Tom Michael, who has donated historic materials about his great aunt Moina to UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

In the United Kingdom, many don a red poppy on Remembrance Day — a holiday similar to Veterans Day, which also is observed on Nov. 11. There, the British Royal Legion distributes about 45 million remembrance poppies and raises about $64 million annually to assist retired or injured soldiers. The funds support recovery centers, dementia care, medical expenses and even household repairs for veterans.

“Most people in Georgia don’t know who she is,” said Marie Mize, a library associate in the UGA School of Law and a member of the Moina Michael Poppy Project, a group that raises awareness for Michael and sells craft poppies to benefit veterans.

“I knew about her because my parents were both members of the American Legion. My father was a veteran and as a kid, I would go with my mom and we would sell poppies for the American Legion,” Mize said. Members of her group crochet and cross-stitch poppies using plastic canvas and paper. They sell them online and at festivals.

In her hometown of Good Hope, there’s a road named after Michael and a corresponding historical marker. Another historical marker denotes her birthplace. Good Hope changed its annual fall festival to the Poppy Festival to honor Michael. The festival features history displays, a bike ride, a Miss Poppy Pageant, and vendors selling items from handmade poppy crafts to poppy T-shirts.

“The fact that she was able to accomplish what she did as a woman from Georgia in her day and age was truly remarkable,” said James Cobb, B. Phinizy Spalding Professor of History Emeritus at UGA. “For many Americans, our intervention in World War I quickly became something to forget rather than celebrate. Her actions helped to reaffirm the strength of patriotic sentiment.”