eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
SINCE 1997
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Acta Historica Tallinnensia
ISSN 1736-7476 (Electronic)
ISSN 1406-2925 (Print)


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Olavi Arens


The American Relief Administration sponsored Children’s Relief Program that operated in Europe in 1919–1922. The program was initiated and organized by Herbert Hoover, the head of the American Relief Administration (ARA) in Europe. The article provides a comprehensive account of the program in-so-far as it affected Estonia. The financing, the administration, and the distribution of food to children via the Estonian Children’s Relief Committees will be covered.


1. The news spread to the town of Haapsalu in the following fashion: “At 2:30 the American representative Lt. Andrew A. Granstedt appeared at the meeting… and announced that the American government has decided, instead of the promised food worth $20,000 a month to double this, in other words $40,000 a month for feeding Estonian children… In his finaal comments he stated that food in sufficient quantity will arrive from America so that not only the poor, but all children would receive some.” The latter prediction did not turn out to be true. Protocol of the Lääne Ühistöö Lastekaitse­toimkonna eestseisuse koosolek, No. 2, 7 May 1919. Eesti Riigiarhiiv (ERA), f 3020, n 2, s 1.

2. Actually Herbert Hoover was a man of many hats (titles and responsibilities) in Paris in 1919. For one, he continued to be the U.S. Food Administrator since 1917 which meant that, besides directing food policy in the U.S., he was in charge of policies to supply food on credit to the allied countries in Europe. At the same time he came to head the American Relief Administration in Europe which was to distribute food for credit to countries liberated from the occupation of the Central Powers. He was also the head of the Food Section of the Supreme Economic Council in Paris as well as a member of that Council and served as one of the economic advisers to President Wilson.

3. Letter of Hoover to Davison (22 February 1919) in Bane, S. L., Lutz, R. H. (eds). Organization of American Relief in Europe 1918–1919. Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 1943, 287–288. Hoover continued to use the term “Baltic States” in his reports on the activity of the Children’s Relief program and of the ARA in general. Two questions can be raised. What were the “Baltic States”? Hoover very definitely included Lithuania, hence Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The second question on whether or not this implied some kind of recognition by the U.S. of the Baltic States requires a more complex answer. It may be noted that the Baltic States are included in the Children’s Relief program at its inception.

4. Nash, G. H. The Life of Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies, 1917–1918. W. W. Norton, New York, 1996, 447.

5. Nash, G. H. The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian, 1914–1917. W. W. Norton, New York, 1988. The three volumes by G. H. Nash (the first: The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer, 1874–1914) provide the best scholarly treatment of Hoover’s life and career. Unfortunately Nash ends with November 1918.

6. The person behind this calorie-consciousness was Wilbur Atwater, Prof. of Chemistry at Weslyian College in Connecticut in the 1890’s and the turn of the century. After finishing his graduate studies at U.S. universities, Atwater spent two years in Germany studying and observing work being conducted at chemistry laboratories. Upon his return to the U.S., Atwater devoted his life to the study of nutrition by conducting experiments that measured metabolism and the calories of energy provided by different foods. He also propagated the importance of greater awareness of the nutritional value of food people were eating and that substitution of lower cost food need not lower the nutritional value of a meal.

7. The Act and the subsequent Executive Order may be found in Bane, S. L., Lutz, R. H. (eds). Organization of American Relief in Europe 1918–1919, 291–292.

8. United States Grain Corporation, Fiscal Report and Audit of One Hundred Million Dollar Appropriation Submitted to the President of the United States (25 September 1920), 6. The 1920 report places the figure at 11.9 million dollars. Later published figures, however, place it at 13.4 million. Surface, F. M., Bland, R. L. American Food in the World War and Reconstruction Period. Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 1931, 87.

9. Rothbard, M. N. Hoover’s 1919 food diplomacy in retrospect. – In: Herbert Hoover: The Great War and its Aftermath 1914–23. Ed. L. E. Gelfand. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa, 1979, 89–110. Rothbard does not credit Hoover with any humanitarian impulses, but argues that he used his control of American food to force European countries to buy the U.S. food surplus at high prices to cover the needs of U.S. producers and also to impose on Europe a “Wilsonian grand design for a reconstituted Europe”. There is reason to be skeptical of this assertion, since following the signing of the Versailles Treaty, Wilson began a withdrawal from political and economic involvement in Europe in anticipation of the creation of the League of Nations.

10. Hoover, H. Memorandum on the Economic Situation of Europe, 3 July 1919. – In: Link, A. S. (ed.). The Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Vol. 61, 389–395.

11. Hoover used different arguments for different audiences: humanitarian “feed the children” for soliciting private contributions; need to counter Bolshevism in order to gain political support.

12. Keynes, J. M. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Penguin Books, New York, 1988, 274. (First published in 1920.)

13. Surface, F. M., Bland, R. L. American Food in the World War and Reconstruction Period, 82. The figures that follow are taken from the Surface and Bland book.

14 Ibid., 179.

15. Patenaude, B. M. The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 2002.

16 In all probability the division is somewhat arbitrary since Hoover was adept at moving figures from one category to another to meet the needs of the moment.

17. Surface, F. M., Bland, R. L. American Food in the World War and Reconstruction Period, 78–80.

18 Surface, F. M. The Grain Trade during the War. The MacMillan Co., New York, 1928.

19. The American Relief Administration program officially ended with the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty. However, in the post-treaty “reconstruction period” Hoover’s effort to provide relief in eastern Europe continued on the basis of private funding.

20. Päevaleht, 26.5.1919.

21. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 2.

22. Atwater, W. O. Principles of Nutrition and Nutritive Value of Food. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1910, revised edition originally published in 1902. Since a public understanding of calories had not yet developed in Estonia during this period, calorie as a term was not used in public discussions on food policy or food in general.

23. Surface, F. M., Bland, R. L. American Food in the World War and Reconstruction Period, 48, 135–139.

24. Laaman, E. (ed.). Ühistöö Eesti riigi loomisel. Tallinna Õpetajate Selts, Tallinn, 1927.

25. For the bylaws of the Läänemaa county committee see: ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 1.

26. Indeed, initially some of the commune councils simply forwarded the composition of the council to the county society. They were issued fresh instructions to select a separate society. The protocols of Suuremõisa commune (on the island of Hiiumaa) Children’s Relief Society may be found in: ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 1.

27. In Läänemaa 4 of the 9 board members were women (ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 1). In Viljandi 3 of the 7 were women (ERA, f 3020, n 3, s 1). The Viljandi society decided to increase the size of its board to 9 members on 28 July 1919; five of the members on the new board were women.

28. Päevaleht, 16.8.1919. The statistics published in Päevaleht do not include the July number for Tallinn. From other sources, 10,000 is a reasonable estimate.

29. The archives of the other county children’s relief societies, if they exist at all, are much less complete.

30. ERA, f 3020, n 1, s 3.

31 One of the ARA conditions for receiving food aid was a pledge not to discriminate in its distribution because of religious or ethnic reasons. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 2.

32. ERA, f 3020, n 1, s 1.

33. ERA, f 3020, n 1, s 3. “…aid for my son, Walter Scheffel, who is mentally retarded. It is very difficult for me to support my children… it is true that I operate a store that sells used goods. But on some days I sell nothing…”

34. This is very different from procedures followed in Poland where children were given a quick physical examination. Underweight (taking into account the age and height of the child) and sickly children qualified for food aid. Children of normal weight and appearance did not qualify.

35. ERA, f 3020, n 3, s 1.

36. ERA, f 3020, n 4, s 2.

37. Päevaleht, 18.6.1919.

38. ERA, f 3020, n 4, s 2.

39. Päevaleht, 21.1.1920.

40. Päevaleht, 18.8.1919.

41. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 1.

42. ERA, f 3020, n 1, s 1.

43. Some examples: (1) Mother and one sickly child aged 8; husband killed in war; a laborer without steady income; main items of food: bread and potatoes. The child was placed in Category 1. (2) Mother and four healthy children aged 10, 9, 7, and 5; husband was a prisoner of war; a renter; main items of food: potatoes, bread, and small herring (silk). Three of the children were placed in Category 1; one in Category 2.

44. Statistics for each day (number of children served and the food that was served) were maintained on a biweekly basis. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 2.

45. The reference is to Russian pounds: a Russian pound is equal to 409.5 gr.; for comparison an English pound equals 453.6 gr.

46. Fisher, H. H. America and the New Poland. The MacMillan Co., New York, 1928, 228. “The strictest rule was that requiring the cooked daily meal to be served and eaten in the kitchens, and it was at first the most difficult to enforce.” Since most rural inhabitants in Poland lived in villages the setting up of kitchen feeding stations was feasible for the rural population, unlike in Estonia or Finland. It took time and pressure from American ARA personnel to bring this about in Poland, since Polish parents preferred to receive the food at home.

47. Päevaleht, 20.8.1919.

48. In the rural communes a parent signed a sheet that signified that he/she had received the food that was earmarked for a child.

49. ERA, f 3020, n 3, s 1.

50. Päevaleht,19.11.1919.

51. Päevaleht, 18.12.1919. As an example, Bulgaria was cited as a country in which the ARA had ended its Children’s Relief program, because of a failure to comply with the requirements of the program.

52. Päevaleht, 14.10.1919.

53. Päevaleht, 5.6.1919. Each feeding kitchen displayed an American and an Estonian flag.

54. Päevaleht, 21.10.1919.

55. The Suuremõisa commune society made decisions on distribution upon receiving each food shipment. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 1.

56. See the report of 15 November 1919 on the food warehoused in Haapsalu when a system of bookkeeping was established by the committee. ERA, f 3020, n 2, s 2.

57. Päevaleht, 19.12.1919; 8.1.1920.

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