Moina Belle Michael (1868-1944) – the last of five three-cent stamps issued in 1948
Less famous now than in her lifetime, Monia Mitchell is associated with World War I and veterans.
Born in Good Hope, Georgia, in 1869, Moina’s father was Confederate veteran John Marion Michael. Although she began her teaching career when just 15 years old, she ultimately was educated at the Lucy Cobb Institute, Georgia State Teacher’s College, and later at prestigious Columbia University in New York City. When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Mitchell was a professor at the University of Georgia.
She took a leave of absence and volunteered in New York at the training headquarters for overseas YWCA workers. The YWCA, or Young Women’s Christian Association, had begun with the need for women to travel during the American Civil War, and by this era, the organization had developed a strong interest in safe travel, especially for female immigrants, which led to a focus on international issues affecting women. It sponsored workers abroad in both this and future wars.
“In Flander’s Fields,” a poem by John McCrae, became very popular during what then was called “the Great War.” The poem refers to poppies that grew near the battlefields of that horrific conflict, and inspired by this, Michael not only published her own poem, “We Shall Keep Faith,” but also vowed to permanently wear a memorial poppy.
After returning to the University of Georgia, Professor Michael taught a class of disabled veterans. Realizing how much support such men needed, she came up with the idea of selling artificial poppies to raise funds for America’s disabled veterans. Her organizational ability soon was clear, as millions of people bought paper or silk poppies to wear as lapel pins on national days of remembrance. Women both made and sold them, and the endeavor raised so much money that the American Legion adopted the poppy as its symbol and honored Moina Michael with its highest award.
Professor Michael retired in 1938; she lived out the rest of her life in the university town of Athens and was buried in its historic cemetery. Death came in 1944, the last full year of World War II. By then the poppy sales that she originated had raised more than $200 million for the rehabilitation of war veterans. Many future sales were done under the aegis of the Girl Scouts – whose founder, Juliette Gordon Low, also was a Georgian and also was honored with a 1948 postage stamp.