The Poppy Lady

The red poppy is famous in many countries as a symbol of remembrance to commemorate those who have died in war but few people know the story of the woman who first gave the poppy this significance. Born on August 15, 1869, American professor and humanitarian Moina Michael -- who devoted her life to ensuring that war veterans were remembered -- established the memorial poppy leading to her nickname, the Poppy Lady.

On November 9, 1918, Michael was on leave from her job as a professor at the University of Georgia and volunteering for the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters in New York City when she first encountered John McCrae’s battlefield poem “In Flanders Fields.” In the Canadian soldier’s famous poem, he writes about the red poppies growing on the battlefield: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.”

Michael later described that she felt she was being called in person by the voices which have been silenced in death and immediately made a pledge to “keep the faith.” She penned a response “We Shall Keep The Faith,” in which she wrote “the Torch and Poppy Red / We wear in honour of our dead” and vowed to wear a red poppy on her heart as a symbol of remembrance who those who served in the war.

That same day, she purchased 25 red silk poppies at a local department store with the support of delegates at the Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries. This marked the first sale of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy and launched Michael on a mission to have the US adopt the red poppy as a national memorial symbol.

Shortly thereafter with the end of the war, Michael returned to Georgia and began teaching a class of disabled serviceman. After seeing that many were in need of financial and occupational assistance, she realized that the sale of the silk poppies could be used to raise funds to help injured and disabled veterans. As a result of her efforts, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans. The symbol was adopted soon after by veterans' groups in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The legacy of Moina Michael, who became widely known as the Poppy Lady by the time of her death in 1944, lives on today. Red poppies are still sold in these nations and worn on Remembrance/Veterans Day or Memorial Day to raise funds for veterans' organizations and honour those who have served.

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