Iowans Respond to 1892 Russian Famine

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Courtesy Library of Congress

Illustration of famine stricken Russian villagers, 1892

“Burlington must not be less charitable and humane than other cities of the state…” Burlington Hawkeye

“The people of Iowa have been blessed with abundant harvest, and the appeal should be generously responded to.” Iowa City Citizen

“Davenport has raised enough Russian relief money to buy two cars of corn. Let us make a better record in Dubuque,” Dubuque Times

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Across the state newspapers encouraged readers to contribute to famine relief efforts for Russia in 1892. Governor Horace Boies had issued a proclamation in November 1891 appealing to the state’s citizens. “Never have her harvests been more abundant or her people more able to give,” he said of the state. The Iowa Russian Relief Committee was established, setting up 11 districts across the state, each with a chairman and treasurer. Women formed the Iowa Women’s Auxiliary to the Red Cross to help raise money; their admission fee of ten cents helped get the ball rolling. In Sioux City women signed pledges promising to cavass the city asking for 25 cent contributions.

Reports from Russia indicated the situation was dire. Families had only 30 pounds of grain for a month; but typically by the last days of the month all the grain was gone, leaving the family to scrounge for food. They had no meat or vegetables. People were desperate in Russia.

Iowa’s newspapers published subscription lists—identifying people who donated to the cause along with the amounts of their contributions. Iowans across the state took part in the campaign. In Clinton residents had collected $1,347.70; Denison’s citizens came up with $400 and a train car of corn was waiting at the grain elevator; in Fort Dodge six carloads of corn had been collected; and in North English 750 bushels of unshelled corn was ready for shipment.

Railroads donated their services to ship the corn from the Mississippi River to the east coast. Telegraph companies offered free services to people who were coordinating the relief efforts. The American Red Cross under the direction of Clara Barton oversaw the coordination of the project. Wealthy business owners had paid about $13,000 for the charter of the steam ship, Tynehead, which would leave New York on May 2 with its load of corn, most of which was from Iowa. The Tynehead arrived in Riga, Russia, on May 27. Dr. J.B. Hubbell, a representative of the American Red Cross and a native Iowan, was already in Russia and officially handed over the state’s donation to the Red Cross of Russia.

Overall, Iowans were very generous in their contributions—225 train cars of corn, in addition to nearly $5,000 in cash collected by the Iowa Russian Relief Committee; over $16,000 collected by the Iowa Women’s Auxiliary to the Red Cross; and an estimated $5,000 sent to Russia directly from Iowa’s citizens (individuals and churches). Governor Boies congratulated the Russian Relief Committee for its work, calling it “a charity magnificent in its proportions and grand beyond expression.”

The Davenport Morning Democrat summed it up best, “The heart-throbs of Iowa people go wherever appalling famine or disaster strikes human beings…the language of the dying are the same the world over.”

[For a detailed description of Iowa’s contributions to the relief efforts, see Henry Borzo’s article in Annals of Iowa, vol. 34 (1959)]

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Sources

  • “The Appeal Ready,” Daily Leader (Davenport), Jan. 3, 1892.
  • Borzo, Henry. “A Chapter in Iowa-Russian Relations.” Annals of Iowa 34 (1959), 561-596. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17077/0003-4827.7524
  • “Iowa Corn and Money for the Starving,” Morning Democrat (Davenport), Dec. 24, 1891.
  • “The Iowa Press and Russia’s Starving Millions,” Quad-City Times, Dec. 30, 1891.
  • “Iowa Women Enlisting,” Quad-City Times, Jan. 17, 1892.
  • “Iowa’s Gift to Russia,” Sioux City Journal, June 7, 1892.
  • “The Order Has Come,” Daily Leader (Davenport), Feb. 11, 1892.
  • “The Starvation in Russia, Sioux City Journal, Feb. 25, 1892.
  • “What the Newspapers Say,” Quad-City Times, Jan. 10, 1892.

 

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