I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story

I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story

by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2021)

Review by Valerie Ooka Pang

This review was originally published in the International Examiner and is
republished with permission.

Has anyone questioned your citizenship? Has anyone ever said to you, “You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from!”? Meaning you are not an American and should go back to where you came from. This happened to me often in Eastern Washington where I grew up, yet if I was to go back to where I came from, that would have been Seattle, Washington, where I was born. Why didn’t other youngsters think of me as an American? I could also be an immigrant who became an American like Wing Luke, who was the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council.

Race is a powerful element of American society. People judge others based on their skin color, physical characteristics, stature and cultural practices. I am Japanese American and many of the young people I grew up with did not think of Japanese Americans as Americans. I was seen as a foreigner and so did not belong in the United States, though I lived in the state of Washington all of my
life. I wish there had been a book like I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story so their teachers could read it to their students. The book is about how Wong Kim Ark went to court and fought for his right as an American citizen.

In 1873, Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, California to parents from China.
Chinese immigrants suffered much prejudice living in California. His parents left San Francisco in 1890 to go back to China while he stayed with relatives in California. Wong Kim Ark visited his parents in 1894 on a temporary trip. When he returned to San Francisco, he was not allowed to enter the United States because officials said he was not a citizen. He was put in prison because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law that did not allow Chinese workers into the United States. Lawyers sued to get him out of prison in district court.

At that time Wong Kim Ark was about 21 years old. He argued that since he was born in San Francisco, he was a citizen. Members of the Chinese community pooled their finances and hired several lawyers to represent Wong Kim Ark. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that due to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, since Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States, he was a citizen even though his parents were from China.

The Supreme Court decision of Wong Kim Ark is important because often race is used as an obstacle in establishing citizenship for other Asian Americans and people of color. The Supreme Court ruled that birth in the United States establishes citizenship. The Wong Kim Ark case supports his statement of “I am an American.” Even after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kim Ark, he had to carry a certificate of identity “to prove he was an American.” Racism was still strong in the United States.

This is an excellent story to read to children to show that the United States is a diverse country, and its citizens are members of many different ethnic and racial groups. Every student and teacher should know who Wong Kim Ark is and how he
helped to establish citizenship rights for people of color in the United States. Most learners and educators do not know about the contributions that many Asian American and Pacific Islander people have made to our civil rights.

Consider purchasing this book for your children or educators. There should be more AAPI role models presented in school. This book is an exceptional resource. There is additional information about the case at the end of the text. The timeline of historical events is especially informative. It includes dates about Wong Kim Ark’s life and different immigration legislation. As Wong Kim Ark said, “I am an American.”

Teaching Asian American History

Teaching Asian American History

Alan Singer

This article was originally published in History News Network https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183088

Corporal George Bushy holds the youngest child of Shigeho Kitamoto as she and her children are forced to leave Bainbridge Island, Washington. In 1942, the Kitamoto family was sent to an internment camp. (LOC)

The focus of Critical Race Theory has been on the treatment of people of African ancestry as the United States has been pressed to come to terms with its racist past and lingering racism today. It also should include the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination in this country. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May is a time for teachers and students to highlight the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans on the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

Ex-President Donald Trump exacerbated anti-Asian hostility in this country with specious statements blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and the calling it the  “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” for the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican Party has tried to divide potential Democratic Party voters by arguing that affirmative action programs and school reforms addressing past discrimination against African Americans and Latinos are anti-Asian.

Recent deadly attacks on Asian Americans, in San Francisco, New York City, and one in Atlanta where six women were murdered, have been committed by very disturbed people who were agitated by a climate that allows anti-Asian stereotypes to go largely unchallenged. An article in the journal Education Week calls on schools to play a larger role in combatting the stereotypes and anti-Asian racism by making Asian immigrants and their experience more prominent in the United States history curriculum. This would be an important corrective.

On the 2020 Federal Census, people who identified as Asian or of Asian ancestry made up approximately 6% of the U.S. population or almost 20 million people. The Asian American population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. Another 4 million Americans identified as mixed ancestry with a partial Asian heritage. The three largest groups were Chinese, about 5.4 million people, South Asians from India, 4.6 million, and Filipinos, 4.2 million. Chinese are the second largest immigrant group in the country. In 2019, California had the largest Asian American population, about of 6.7 million people followed by New York (1.9 million), Texas (1.6 million), and New Jersey (958,000)

The first large influx of people from Asia into territories that would become the United States occurred during the California gold rush starting in 1849. Chinese contract workers were brought to the United States to take low paying, dangerous jobs in mining and railroad construction. Most were male and planned to return home after earning enough money to buy land and start a family. In 1850, the Chinese population of the United States was only 3,227 people. It increased to 35,000 in 1860, a little over 60,000 in 1870, and just over 100,000 in 1880, when anti-Asian laws blocked new Chinese arrivals. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly reported, “The immigration of Chinese into California has attracted the attention of Congress. It appears that the Chinese immigrants, on settling there, persist in maintaining their allegiance to China; and under these circumstances the Senate voted on a resolution, December 19, making inquiry into the propriety of discouraging such emigration.”

From the 1850s through the 1870s, the California state government systematically discriminated against Chinese. Among other actions, it required special licenses for Chinese owned businesses and Chinese were not permitted to testify in court against a white person. In 1875, Congress passed and President Grant signed the Page Act, the first federal immigration law. It prohibited immigrants considered “undesirable” including any individual from Asia who was coming to the United States as a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years. It was the first law in American history to place broad restrictions on immigration and the first law to ban a specific ethnic group. The law remained in effect until 1943.

Japanese Americans are a small immigrant group that has had a major role in United States history. In 1870, there were only 55 Japanese in the United States, not counting Hawaii which was not yet an American colony. In 1900, there were still only 24,000 Japanese in the continental United States, but Japanese were the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. By 1960, when Hawaii was admitted as a state, there were 464,000 Japanese in the United States. In 2019, under 1.5 million Americans claimed partial or full Japanese ancestry, less than 1/2 of a percent of the US population. The largest Japanese American communities are in California and Hawaii.

In Hawaii, Japanese immigrants labored on sugar and pineapple plantations where they were subject to harsh rules and exploitation by armed European American overseers. On the plantation, Japanese workers had three to five year binding contracts and were jailed if they tried to leave. Those who eventually migrated to the mainland were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. California passed a law in 1913 banning Japanese from purchasing land.

Under the notorious Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 between the United States and Japan, Japanese officials stopped issuing passports for new laborers. Federal legislation in 1924 completely banned any immigration from Japan.

The situation worsened with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and U.S. involvement in World War II. Dr. Seuss posted racist caricatures of Japanese and Japanese Americans as part of wartime propaganda and Executive Order 9066 which eliminated all civil rights for Japanese immigrants and their families living on the West Coast. An estimated 120,000 people were branded as risks and forced to abandon homes and businesses and relocate to concentration camps, mostly in inhospitable areas of the Rocky Mountains. This action was taken despite the fact that there was not a single case of espionage ever established against Japanese Americans or Japanese immigrants living in the United States. Over two-thirds of those forced into concentration camps were American born citizens. The fenced in camps were located in harsh terrain and patrolled by armed guards. Ironically, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not imprisoned because they were needed to rebuild areas destroyed by the attacks. Young Japanese American men were permitted to leave the concentration camps if they enlisted in the U.S. military. Japanese American soldiers served in a segregated unit, the 442nd, stationed in Italy and France. It was the most decorated American combat unit during World War II.

In 1944, in Korematsu vs. United States, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-3 that the detention of Japanese Americans was a “military necessity” and not based on race. In a dissent, Justice Robert Jackson called the exclusion order “the legalization of racism” and a violation of the 14th amendment. Fred Korematsu, who challenged the evacuation order and forced internment, was “convicted of an act not commonly thought a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived.” In 1983, a federal judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction and in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act compensating more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the World War II concentration camps.

Since 1965, the United States has large immigrant populations from Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Each group has its own history in the United States, however all have faced stereotypes and discrimination and been stereotyped. South Asian Americans, often identified as Moslems even when they are not, were targeted after the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. A case involving an immigrant from India in the 1920s, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, established that people from the Indian sub-continent could not become naturalized citizens of the United States because they were not a “white person” in the sense intended in the Naturalization Act of 1790.

One of the most important constitutional decisions about citizenship was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark was a Chinese American born in San Francisco, California in 1873. His parents were Chinese immigrants who returned to China about 1890. In 1894, Wong Kim Ark traveled to China to visit them and was not allowed to reenter to the United States because officials at the arrival center claimed he was not a citizen. In 1898, the Supreme Court in a 6-2 decision ruled that he was a citizen of the United States because he was born in this country.

Despite decades of prejudice, Asian Americans have made major contributions to life in the United States. They include Vice-President Kamala Harris whose mother was an immigrant from India, Eric S. Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, Steven Chen, co-founder of YouTube, Nobel Prize winning scientists Chen Ning Yang and T. D. Lee, physicistChien-Shiung Wu who worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb,U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye (Dem-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (Dem-Ill), film director Ang Lee, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, architect I. M. Pei, authors Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan, athletes Tiger Woods, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and actors Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Haing Somnang Ngor, George Takei (Mr. Sulu), and Bruce Lee.

New York Local History: Yonkers Sculpture Garden

New York Local History: Yonkers Sculpture Garden

For Juneteenth 2022, the City of Yonkers debuted a permanent art exhibit honoring the legacy of the nation’s first freed slaves. The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden includes five life-size bronze sculptures created by artist Vinnie Bagwell depicting formerly enslaved Africans. The sculpture garden is located along the Yonkers Hudson River esplanade. According to Bagwell, “Public art sends a message about the values and priorities of a community. In the spirit of transformative justice for acts against the humanity of black people, I am grateful for those who supported this collective effort. The strongest aspect of the Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden coming to fruition is that it begins to address the righting of so many wrongs by giving voice to the previously unheard via accessible art in a public place while connecting the goals of artistic and cultural opportunities to improving educational opportunities and economic development.”

In Yonkers, Philipse Manor Hall was the seat of the Philipsburg Manor, a colonial estate that covered more than 52,000 acres of Westchester land. The Philipse family was involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and probably as many as two-dozen enslaved African slaves worked and lived at the manor. The enslaved Africans were freed in 1799, one of the first large emancipations in the United States. New York State finally ended slavery in 1827.

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

by Dana Howell

Photo of the Marlpit Hall Family

For nearly a century, the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) has told the story of the Taylor family at Marlpit Hall, the c. 1760 historic house museum in Middletown, NJ. It is a fascinating story indeed, and speaks to the strife between Patriots and Loyalists in Monmouth County, a hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War. Until recently, however, a chapter of the house’s history had gone untold. In October of 2021, MCHA unveiled the exhibit 

Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall to include this forgotten chapter. This award-winning exhibit was the culmination of two years of extensive research done by curators Bernadette Rogoff and Joe Zemla to interpret the home to include the long-silenced voices of the enslaved who lived there.

Primary source documentation and discoveries of material culture were the foundations of the research done to uncover the lives of seven of the twelve known enslaved individuals at Marlpit. Birth, death and census records, wills, runaway ads, inventories, bills of sale, and manumissions (or freedom papers) shed light on the experiences of Tom, York, Ephraim, Clarisse, Hannah, Elizabeth, and William. In 2020, Joe Zemla discovered secret caches of artifacts hidden beneath the floorboards of the kitchen loft living quarters that spoke to their religion and protective rituals, while archaeological digs supervised by Dr. Rich Veit of Monmouth University provided further evidence to piece together what life may have looked like for the enslaved. Throughout the house, mannequins dressed in                        

historically accurate reproduction clothing bring each individual to life, supplemented by their carefully researched biographical panels. The artifacts they left behind are now on display; there is no longer a need for them to be hidden from view.

One of the most prevalent comments made by visitors is that they were unaware that slavery existed in New Jersey. For many years, our educational system had been complacent with the general notion that the northern states were free, while the South had enslaved labor. New Jersey has been referred to as the “most southern of the northern states,” second only to New York in the number of enslaved persons and the very last to legally abolish the institution on January 23rd, 1866.

Comparatively, little has been written about slavery in the North. We can read about
the facts of the matter, but the personal stories in the Floorboards exhibit make an impact that no textbook or blog can. The enslaved are presented without any form of politicization, but rather from an evidence-based and humanized lens. Students are able to connect with them, particularly with Elizabeth and William, who were born in the home and are represented as children – another sad fact of slavery that often goes overlooked. It is a unique opportunity to be able to mentally place these individuals in surroundings which are familiar to the student, albeit long ago. The students learn that we can make educated guesses about what life was like during the time in which the enslaved lived and explore the spaces they inhabited, but we can never truly understand their experiences as enslaved human beings. The only thing we can do is try to imagine it, using historical evidence from primary sources as our guide.

There is a sad deficit in age-appropiate classroom resources to teach slavery, and almost none that cover slavery in the North. This deficit creates roadblocks for public school teachers who are mandated to teach these topics as required by the NJ Department of Education’s 2020 Student Learning Standards, incorporating the 2002 Amistad Law.


While nothing can compare to the experience of actually visiting Marlpit Hall, the opportunity to do so poses challenges for many school districts. In order to make the fascinating information in the exhibit as accessible as possible to students, MCHA has created two NJ standards-based digital education resources adapted for the elementary and middle/high school levels. Created under the advisorship of respected professionals in the fields of education and African American history, both age-appropriate resources provide background on the system of slavery in New Jersey with a focus on the enslaved at Marlpit Hall. In it, they will be introduced to each individual, along with the primary sources that helped to build their stories. Dr. Wendy Morales, Assistant Superintendent of the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission, notes “The questions and activities included in this resource are standards-aligned and cross-curricular. This means students will not only learn historical facts, but will be challenged to think like historians, analyzing primary sources and making connections between historical eras.” Creative writing, art, music, and civics are all explored.

The section on the origins of slavery in New Jersey stress that the enslaved came here not as slaves, but as individuals who were taken from a homeland that had its own culture and civilization. Two videos, courtesy of slavevoyages.org, make a powerful impact. Students will get to view a timelapse of the paths of over 35,000 slave ship voyages, plotted in an animated graph. This visual representation helps students visually process the magnitude of the forced migration of the enslaved, while a 3-D modeling of an actual slave ship offers a uniquely realistic view of these vessels.

 Time lapse of plotted slave ships         Video featuring 3-D model of slave ship

Both grade level resources come with downloadable worksheets that can be customized to accommodate differentiated learning strategies, and submitted through Google Classroom. Teacher answer keys are provided for guidance as well. MCHA is proud to provide these resources free of charge to aid educators in their responsibility to teach slavery. The resources offer a guided approach to help educators navigate this sensitive and often difficult topic in the classroom. The new mandates are an excellent start to correcting the record on New Jersey’s history of enslavement, but it is truly New Jersey’s educators who will place their personal marks on bringing relevance and reverence to the topic in the classroom.

These resources can be found under the education tab at monmouthhistory.org/education-homepage. MCHA welcomes all questions and comments to dhowell@monmouthhistory.org.

New York Local History: Underground Railroad in the North Country

New York Local History: Underground Railroad in the North Country

Source: North Country Public Radio https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/45430/20220224/remembering-the-secret-history-of-the-underground-railroad-in-the-north-country

A few minutes outside the small town of Peru in New York’s Champlain Valley, there is a small farm that looks like any other in the area. A cluster of silos and red barns with fading paint are flanked by snow-covered fields and apple orchards, dormant for the winter. But this farm has something unique. A blue and yellow New York State historical marker identifies the property as a stop on the Underground Railroad, where “runaway slaves were concealed and protected on their way to freedom in Canada.”

There was no actual train involved in the network, explains Jacqueline Madison, the President of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. “It was a trail of conductors who helped them along the way [and] safe houses where they could stay,” she notes.

Communities from Watertown to Lake Champlain were part of that network of safe houses that helped people escape slavery in the American south during the decades leading up to the Civil War. Escapees typically traveled by foot or water. The railroad moniker was part of a secret code: safe places to stay were called stations and the owners of those properties were known as conductors. A full journey on the Underground Railroad typically took several months.

This is the history that Madison and the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association are dedicated to preserving. The group operates a museum in Keeseville, in the Champlain Valley south of Plattsburgh. It features the stories from both sides of the Underground Railroad: Black passengers and white conductors. One exhibit is dedicated to the former owner of that historic Peru farmhouse, a man named Stephen Keese Smith. The abolitionist Quaker purchased the property in 1851 and quickly established one of the barns as a hiding place for runaway slaves headed to Canada. There is no way to know with certainty exactly how many people Keese Smith aided while working as a conductor. But his later writings provide an estimate. “He talked about helping people get to freedom and he thinks he spent about $1000 doing that,” Madison explained. “And if we spent $2.50 per person, he would have helped over 400 people.”

Exact numbers are nearly impossible to come by in historical records because those helping escaped slaves often avoided keeping a paper trail. Involvement in the Underground Railroad was extremely dangerous for everyone, black or white. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that escaped slaves be returned to their former owners – and carried stiff penalties for anyone who aided them. “If you were caught helping someone get to freedom,” Madison noted, “you could lose your property, you could be jailed, you could be fined. Terrible things could happen to you, your family, and friends if they suspected them of helping as well.”

The North Star Underground Railroad Museum fills up the bottom floor of an old 19th Century house. It’s packed with maps, faded newspaper articles, and portraits of notable members of the North Country section of the covert network. Standing before a map, Madison explains the various routes freedom-seekers would have followed to reach Canada. A western path originating in Pennsylvania went through Buffalo, up to Watertown, and crossed the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg. Two escape routes followed Lake Champlain: one through Vermont and another running from Albany to Rouse’s Point along the lake’s western shore. To find their way, escapees used folk songs learned on the southern plantations. They worked as a kind of secret oral map; with coded lyrics guiding freedom seekers on their journey north. One such tune called Follow the Drinking Gourd referenced landmarks like certain rivers and offered hints for how to identify friendly conductors. Drinking gourd was code for the Big Dipper – a celestial constellation that can be used to identify the North Star.

Although details can be hard to piece together, some stories of those who passed through the North Country to freedom have been recovered. An article written in 1837 by Vermont-born abolitionist Alvan Stewart for an anti-slavery newspaper recounts the story of an anonymous man who travelled through the North Country on his way to Canada. “I was headed to Ogdensburg, on my way north to Canada from South Carolina,” an actor declares in a re-enactment exhibit at the North Star Museum. “I had come up through the Champlain Canal, and then gone through Clinton and Franklin County.” That unknown man did eventually reach freedom north of the border, but his quest nearly ended in disaster just a few miles from his destination.

Outside of Ogdensburg, he stopped into a post office looking for work. Since New York had outlawed slavery in 1827, that would not necessarily have been out of place. However, slave owners offered rich rewards for the return for those who escaped, and slave catchers were permitted to operate even in anti-slavery states under the Fugitive Slave Act. When the anonymous freedom seeker entered the post office near Ogdensburg, the postmaster recognized him and explained that a reward for his capture had been posted. “I said to him, if you send me back then they’ll do terrible things to me,” the re-enactment continues. “Whip me. Hang me. Skin me alive. I begged him not to turn me in.” In this case, the postmaster ignored the reward, worth about $20,000 in today’s terms, and helped the man cross the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

Other escaped slaves decided to settle in North Country. In 1840, a Franklin County landowner named Gerrit Smith pledged to donate more than 120,000 acres of wilderness land in the Adirondacks to free black men. It would eventually become a settlement known as Timbuctoo. A man named John Thomas received 40 acres of un-cleared land from Smith. Thomas later sold that to buy a larger plot near Bloomingdale, NY, which he turned into a successful farm. Many years later, Thomas wrote his benefactor a letter, thanking Smith for the “generous donation” and revealing that he and his family greatly enjoyed the peace and prosperity of their “rural home.” Although Thomas was successfully established himself in the region, that was not the case for most recipients of Smith’s land. Harsh winters and tough soil drove many of the Black farmers to sell the land they had received and move away. The climate was not the only danger; at least once, slave catchers came to the area looking for Thomas. According to Madison, they first approached his neighbors seeking their help. As Madison tells it, Thomas’ neighbors informed the slave catchers that he was armed, would forcibly resist capture, and declared their intention to assist Thomas in repelling the catchers. The slave catchers are believed to have given up their pursuit.

In his later letter to Smith, Thomas hinted that his adopted community had begun to treat him as one of their own. “I have breasted the storm of prejudice and opposition until I began to be regarded as an American citizen,” he wrote. This may also be a reference to civic participation. At the time, New York State required men to own at least $250 worth of land to obtain the right to vote. Thomas’ obituary was published in the Malone Palladium in May 1895. It described him as “much respected in the community where he lived so long.” His descendants still live in that community. Through genealogy research, Madison and the North Star Museum discovered that two of John Thomas’ great-great grandsons still reside in the North Country. One of the descendants lives less than two miles from the cemetery in Vermontville where Thomas and his wife are buried.

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

Stephen Smith was the original owner and builder of a summerhouse in Cape May, New Jersey.

Although born in the late eighteenth century, Smith was a nineteenth century philanthropist. During his lifetime, he was said to be the wealthiest Black American in the nation. He established the first home in the United States for aged and indigent Colored people. This home is still in existence today.

An energetic businessman, Mr. Smith had a coal mine, stone quarry and lumber yards in Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania. His business activities led to many real estate holdings. He established Smith, Whipple & Co. with his cousin William Whipper. Stephen Smith was a devoted church and family man; married to Harriet Lee, they lived in a stone mansion on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The vacation house was built by him in Cape May, New Jersey using material from his lumber yard. This house is still standing except for the carriage house, kitchen and fireplace room once visible in the rear of the building. Not having children of his own, he welcomed the offspring of his wife’s secretary and friends; namely the Bascoms and Harlans. His secretary Anna Vidal, wife of Ulysses B. Vidal, brought their three children, Etienne, Marie and Anna Clorise to Cape May. Etienne engraved his name in a small glass windowpane with his diamond ring at this house. In later years Marie would point out the pane and recall the prank, for Etienne had long since emigrated to France. Stephen Smith was called “Daddy” Smith by the children and he relished the time consuming carriage ride to Cape May with them. Portraits of Stephen and Harriet were painted by the noted Black artist Edward Stridom and are today the property of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. An avid abolitionist and agent in the Underground Railroad, Mr. Smith was active in politics and church affairs. Records of the AME church attest to his generosity.

Stephen Smith was born October 13, 1795 in Columbia, PA. At the age of nine he was purchased by an officer who was a Revolutionary War general named Thomas Boude. His mother escaped from her owner, found her son, and was taken in by Boudes. Weeks later her mistress (owner) followed and demanded her property. The Boudes’ refused and were supported by the townspeople who believed in aiding a fugitive. Raised by the General Thomas Boude, in time, Stephen purchased his freedom. Before the general died, he set Stephen up in the lumber business. Stephen earned the respect and confidence of the people of Columbia, PA and they supported his endeavors. At age 21, he was inspired by the eminent minister, Richard Allen, founder of the AME church, and at age 31 became licensed to preach. He was a Teller in the election of every Bishop since Richard Allen until his death in 1873. Smith built a public hall in Philadelphia for the use of the “People of Color”; but this was destroyed by fire in the riots of 1842. Stephen Smith was one of the Signers of Frederick Douglas’ Men of Color to Arms appeal during the early part of the Civil War calling on Black Americans to join the Union Army.

How the First African American Doctor Fought for Women’s Rights in Glasgow

How the First African American Doctor Fought for Women’s Rights in Glasgow

Mathew D. Eddy

(This essay was originally published in The Conversation)

James McCune Smith was the first African American to receive a medical doctorate from a university. Born in 1813 to a poor South Carolina runaway slave who had escaped to New York City, he went on to attend Glasgow University during the 1830s. When he returned to America, he became a leading black physician, a tireless abolitionist, activist and journalist. McCune Smith led an amazing life. He exposed false medical data in the 1840 American census. He supported women’s suffrage alongside the noted feminist Susan B. Anthony. And he wrote the introduction to Frederick Douglass’s sensational 1855 autobiographical slave narrative, My Bondage and My Freedom. Now, for the first time, my research has revealed that McCune Smith was also the first African American known to be published in a British medical journal – and that he used this platform to reveal a cover-up by an ambitious medical professor who was experimenting on vulnerable women in Glasgow in the 1830s.

I am a historian of science and medicine. I study how people learned scientific skills and I am especially intrigued by the history of how scientists and physicians made discoveries and how that knowledge then circulated between the academy and the public. One way to track this process is to compare what students learned in educational settings to how they used their scientific training to solve problems and make decisions later in life. My forthcoming book, Media and the Mind (2020, Chicago University Press), for example, uses school and university notebooks to reconstruct how students historically learned to create, analyze and visualize scientific data in ways that helped them understand the human body and the natural world when they finished their education.

Several years ago, I decided to investigate the history of how the testimony of hospital patients was transformed into scientific data by physicians. I eventually stumbled across the 1837 case of a young Glasgow doctor who sought to expose painful experimental drug trials that had been conducted on the impoverished women of a local hospital. That doctor was James McCune Smith. He had written articles detailing how the women of a local charity hospital were being subjected to a painful experimental drug. It was a career changing moment for me because I had not encountered this kind of activism in my previous research on medical education.

Who was this doctor? What led him to speak out? Where did he learn to place his knowledge of science and medicine in the service of equality and justice? Upon closer examination, despite his many accomplishments, virtually nothing had been written about McCune Smith’s time in Glasgow or about his work as a practicing physician in New York. Like the children of many runaway slaves in New York, McCune Smith grew up in Five Points, Lower Manhattan, one of the poorest and most densely populated urban areas of America at that time. Though the state fully emancipated all former slaves in 1827,  when McCune Smith was a teenager, discriminatory educational policies, unsanitary living conditions, chronic illness and infectious diseases ensured that the prospects for a free African American teenager in the early part of the 19th century were limited. Indeed, in an article entitled “Freedom and Slavery for African-Americans,” published in the New York Tribune in 1844, McCune Smith observed that only six of the 100 boys who attended school with him from 1826 to 1827 were “still now living”. He noted further that they were “all white.”

Though technically “free,” the lives of African Americans in New York during the 1820s and 1830s were marred by the legacy of slavery and discrimination. Runaway slaves were openly hunted in the city’s alleys, streets and wharves. McCune Smith reflected on these events in an essay that he wrote about the life of his school classmate, Henry Highland Garnet. An abolitionist and Presbyterian minister, Garnet was the first African American to speak before Congress. McCune Smith recalled the trauma experienced by Garnet’s family in 1829 when they were tracked by slave-hunters. They barely escaped by jumping out of a two-story building and hiding in the house of a local grocer. When they returned to their home they found, in the words of McCune Smith: “The entire household furniture of the family was destroyed or stolen; and they were obliged to start anew in life empty-handed.”

Despite many challenges, New York’s African Americans founded their own businesses, churches, political associations, printing presses and more. In addition to receiving support and encouragement from a community of relatives and friends, McCune Smith’s path to becoming a doctor was significantly aided by his education at the African Free School. Older students were taught penmanship, drawing, grammar, geography, astronomy, natural philosophy and navigation. When American universities denied his medical school applications, the free school community played a role in raising funds for him to attend Glasgow University.

After sailing from New York to Liverpool, McCune Smith arrived in Glasgow in 1832. Thanks to maritime trade, it was one of the largest cities in the country and the university’s medical school was one of the best in Europe. Britain had prohibited the slave trade in 1807 and it fully abolished slavery the year after his arrival in 1833. Though there were not many African Americans in Glasgow, black writers, had been operating in Britain since the 1770s. Then, in 1809 Edinburgh University admitted William Fergusson who was from Jamaica and was the university’s first student of African descent. Though he took medical courses at the university, Fergusson did not stay to complete a medical doctorate. Instead, he received a license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1813. He then practiced as a surgeon in the British military and eventually became governor of the then-British colony of Sierra Leone. McCune Smith joined the ranks of these torchbearers and became the first African American known to graduate with a BA, MA, and medical doctorate from Glasgow University. By the time McCune Smith began his studies in Glasgow, opposition to slavery had moved beyond the walls of the university. There was an active abolitionist community and it founded the Glasgow Emancipation Society in 1833. McCune Smith, still only an undergraduate, was one of the founding members. After he graduated, a number of black students attended the university over the course of the century.

Despite living in a foreign country, McCune Smith excelled at his studies and received several academic awards. The Glasgow medical faculty placed equal emphasis on scientific rigor and hands-on clinical experience. In addition to learning chemistry, anatomy and physiology from some of Britain’s leading doctors, he witnessed cutting-edge experiments and new medical technologies being demonstrated in his lectures. He graduated with honors in 1837 and was immediately given a prestigious clinical residency in Glasgow’s Lock Hospital. He worked there alongside the eminent Scottish obstetrician and gynecologist, William Cumin, treating women who had contracted venereal diseases.

The difficulty in pursuing a project of this nature is that many of the scientific papers and publications of black physicians have been lost to the sands of time. Unlike the many collections that university libraries have dedicated to preserving the legacy of white doctors who were alumni or donors, there is no “James McCune Smith Medical Collection” where scholars can go to study his medical career and scientific ideas. No one has yet told the full story of how African Americans like McCune Smith became doctors or how they used their knowledge of medical science to fight injustice and prejudice. The hidden histories of these black physicians based in countries spread around the Atlantic Ocean led me to start my current research project on how they used their scientific training to counter the rise of racist medical theories -theories which erroneously suggested that black bodies were physically different from other bodies and could more easily withstand the stress, pain and labour of enslavement.

Though a number of McCune Smith’s articles were republished several years ago, the whereabouts of his personal medical library, clinical notebooks, patient records, office ledgers and article drafts are unknown. Likewise, his manuscript Glasgow diary and letters have been lost. Though aspects of his career have received attention from historians in recent years, a biography of his extraordinary life has not been written.

This was the situation when I discovered his efforts to expose the harmful drug trials that were being conducted on the women of the Glasgow Lock Hospital. The evidence consisted of two articles that he had published during the spring and summer of 1837 in the London Medical Gazette, a weekly journal with articles about medicine and science.

I originally came upon these articles by reading page after page of medical journals housed in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. When I found them, they immediately stood out because they took the testimony of poor female patients seriously. When I realized that McCune Smith was the first African American to graduate from a Scottish university, I could not believe what I had discovered.

New discoveries

Discovering McCune Smith’s articles was momentous because they are the first currently known to have been published by an African American medical doctor in any scientific journal. Scientists in the 19th century published articles for many reasons. Some wanted to popularize their research in a way that advanced their careers. Others hoped their research would benefit the general public.

The fascinating aspect about McCune Smith’s articles in relation to the historical emergence of the scientific journal is that they were published to expose the unethical misapplication of scientific experiments. This means that they offer new insight into how he learned to combine the power of the press with his medical training to fight inequality and injustice in Britain prior to returning to New York.

The story they tell is extraordinary. The events occurred in the spring and summer of 1837 while McCune Smith was serving in the Glasgow Lock Hospital as a resident physician in gynecology. The hospital was a charity institution set up by the city for impoverished women suffering from acute venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis.

After consulting the ward’s records and speaking with the patients, McCune Smith discovered that Alexander Hannay, a senior doctor in the hospital, was treating women suffering from gonorrhea with an experimental drug called silver nitrate, a compound that a handful of doctors used as a topical treatment for infected skin tissue or to stop bleeding. But it was normally used in low concentrations mixed into a solution, with doctors emphasizing that it should be applied with caution and as a last resort.

But Hannay was administering the drug in a solid form, which meant that it was highly concentrated and caused a terrible burning sensation. He fancied this usage to be innovative and was relatively unfazed when his patients repeatedly asked for less painful forms of treatment. After speaking with the women and further consulting the hospital’s records, McCune Smith realized that Hannay was effectively treating the women as guinea pigs – as non-consenting participants – in an experimental trial that involved a very painful drug.

At that time, silver nitrate was a newly available substance and its long-term effects were relatively unknown. There were a handful of military doctors who used it experimentally to cauterize skin ulcers or wounds of soldiers that would not stop bleeding. But some medical books classified it as a poison. Glasgow’s medical students, particularly those who studied with Prof William Cumin, avoided using it on internal organs due to its unknown effects. Instead, when it came to gynecological cases involving ulcers or infections, students learned to use an alum solution because its effects were generally considered to be effective and less painful.

Hannay went beyond using the silver nitrate on the skin. He applied it to the internal reproductive organs of women, at least one of whom was pregnant. McCune Smith’s article pointed out that the baby subsequently died through complications surrounding a miscarriage. It also intimates that a few women died after the application of silver nitrate. Since the drug’s effect on internal organs was unknown, he believed that that the deaths could not be treated as a separate occurrence.

In addition to being McCune Smith’s superior, Hannay was a medical professor at Glasgow’s newly established Anderson University. The easiest thing for McCune Smith to do was to say nothing. The plight of the Lock Hospital patients would not have been a major concern for many medical men at the time. The patients were impoverished women and most doctors assumed they were former prostitutes.

But McCune Smith’s perspective was different. Unlike his peers, he had spent his early years in New York City witnessing the pain and suffering caused by poverty, inequality and exploitation. So he decided to place his knowledge of medical science in the service of these women.

McCune Smith knew that there were other effective treatments for gonorrhea. This allowed him to see that Hannay was more interested in bolstering his reputation with a pharmaceutical discovery than helping his patients. But his studies had given him another equally powerful tool – data analysis. His ability to use this tool can be seen in his London Medical Gazette articles. The gazette was a journal of some repute, serving the British medical community as well as physicians based in Europe and America. In his article, he wrote: “The materials of my paper on the subject of gonorrhea of women were collected whilst I held the office of clerk to the Glasgow Lock Hospital.”

He made his case against the experiments by extracting figures from handwritten registers that recorded the condition of patients being treated in the hospital over an entire year. He had learned to collect, categorize, and analyze data in the clinical lectures that were required for graduation. This method was part of the new science of “vital statistics” that used medical data to predict or prevent disease in people, cities and even countries. Known as “medical statistics” today, it was becoming more commonly used in journals that published articles on medical science.

McCune Smith’s articles showed that the drug trials were ineffective and presented an unwarranted risk. They also revealed that Hannay and his team of assistants had attempted to cover up data in the hospital records that damaged their claims about the drug’s efficacy and their position that its side effects were minimal. McCune Smith did not mince his words. He wrote: “By this novel and ingenious mode of recording the Hospital transactions for 1836, [Prof Hannay’s team] keeps out of view the evidence of the severity of the treatment, and the amount of mortality, while, at the same time, the residence of the patients in the house seems shorted, the cost of each diminished, and the treatment made to appear more than usually successful.”

Accordingly, he called for the trials to stop immediately. But McCune Smith was not happy to simply cite statistics. He wanted to give these women a voice too. To achieve this, he emphasized the extreme pain that they were experiencing. Their suffering had been played down by those conducting the experimental trials. Hannay even suggested that the women were dishonest and unreliable witnesses. To counter this suggestion, McCune Smith quoted the women themselves, some of whom said that the drug felt like it was “burning their inside with caustic”. This was strong language. They were effectively saying that the drug felt like a flame being applied to their bodies.

McCune Smith’s decision to use this kind of visceral language on behalf of impoverished women in a scientific article was rare at the time. Nor was it common in the lengthy, fact-laden lectures given at Glasgow’s medical school. So where did McCune Smith learn to write like this? Finding an answer to this question has been difficult because hardly any of McCune Smith’s manuscripts from his Glasgow years are known to have survived. But thanks to a recent discovery that I made with the rare books librarian Robert MacLean in the Archives and Special Collections of Glasgow University, a better picture is starting to emerge.

Based on my previous research on Scottish student notekeeping, I knew that Glasgow University kept handwritten registers of books borrowed by students from its libraries during the 19th century. Luckily, it turned out that McCune Smith’s manuscript library borrowing record did, in fact, still exist. It was a gem that had remained hidden for the past two centuries in the dusty pages of Glasgow’s library registers.

The discovery was historic because it revealed that he definitely took the university’s moral philosophy class. The course was taught by James Mylne and it encouraged students to judge the accuracy of statistical data when making moral decisions. The registers also showed that McCune Smith consulted the Lancet, the leading medical journal of research and reform that promoted the same kind of public health activism evinced in his 1837 Gazette articles.

Finding the student reading record for any historical figure is like striking gold. In McCune Smith’s case it was doubly exciting because so little is known about his intellectual development. In addition to literature relevant to his studies, he checked out several 1835 issues of the Lancet which regularly identified links between pain and maltreatment.

It is likely these accounts inspired him to use a similar approach in his gazette articles. But even the Lancet’s references to pain and cruelty barely addressed the plights of impoverished women, let alone those who had been regularly subjected to experimental drugs. In this respect McCune Smith’s concern for the Lock Hospital patients surpassed the reform agenda promoted by Britain’s most progressive medical journal.

Further investigations have revealed that there were many other black physicians who lived in America in the decades after McCune Smith became a doctor. As revealed in research by the Massachusetts Historical Society, there was, for example, John van Surly DeGrasse. He studied at Bowdoin College in Maine, received a medical doctorate in the 1840s, set up a practice in Boston and became the first African American member of the Massachusetts Medical Association.

There was also Alexander Thomas Augusta, who, despite Virginia laws that banned free blacks from learning to read, was educated by a minister, moved to Toronto and graduated from Trinity College’s medical school in 1856. Notably, both Augusta and DeGrasse served in the union army as physicians with the rank of major during the American Civil War.

After McCune Smith returned to America in the autumn of 1837, he served as a professional role model for African Americans who studied medicine from the 1840s onward. By the time younger black physicians such as DeGrasse and Augusta began their studies, McCune Smith had already opened a practice that served patients from both sides of the color line and had published several scientific articles. For the rest of his career his name was a frequent byline in articles about health and society published by the African American press, as well as larger newspapers with mixed readership, like the New York Tribune.

An excellent example of McCune Smith’s later medical activism is the collection of articles that he published during the 1840s about the national census. The main issue was that slavery advocates had noticed that the mortality rates of African Americans in northern asylums were higher than those of black people in the southern states. This led them to conclude, erroneously, that freedom somehow damaged their mental and physical health.

Rather than engage with their desire to co-opt convenient data, McCune Smith used his knowledge of medical statistics to skillfully undermine their attempts to find scientific data that fit their discriminatory world view. He conducted his own investigation and proved that the original collection of the figures on site in the northern asylums had been flawed and that, as a result, the data was incorrect and could not be used to accurately determine the health of black asylum patients.

McCune Smith did not stop there. He turned the tables on slavery advocates by transforming the new accurate mortality statistics into a tool that could be used to fight inequality. His 1844 New York Tribune article about the census concluded: “These facts prove that within 15 years after it became a Free State, a portion of the Free Black Population of New York have improved the ratio of their mortality 13.28% – a fact without parallel in the history of any People.”

Put simply, the correct data revealed that the health of African Americans unburdened by the deprivation and forced labour of slavery thrived once they left the south and lived lives as free citizens in the north.

McCune Smith’s publications are a significant early chapter in the history of how black activists have worked tirelessly over the past two centuries to disentangle erroneous interpretations of scientific data from discriminatory claims about poverty, gender and race. They provide crucial historical insight into the relationships between race, science and technology that exist today.

In many respects McCune Smith’s desire to locate and publicize correct data about asylum patients built on the approach that he had developed in his articles about the mistreatment of women in Glasgow’s Lock Hospital. He continued to publish articles throughout his career that challenged those who sought to use science to justify discrimination and inequality. In 1859 he even went so far as to challenge former President Thomas Jefferson’s discriminatory racial assumptions when he wrote: “His arrangement of these views is so mixed and confused, that we must depart from it.”

McCune Smith’s activism showed aspiring African Americans that becoming a professional black physician could be more than simply treating patients. For him, being an expert in medical science also included using his training to fight injustice and inequality.

His publications are an indispensable chapter in the American history of science and medicine. But they are an important part of British history too. Because it was in Britain where he first published articles that placed his knowledge of medicine in the service of equality and justice. It was the libraries of Glasgow University – which now has a building named in his honor – and the wards of the Lock Hospital, which fed his towering intellect and fired his passion for medical knowledge, as well as the pursuit of justice for the powerless and oppressed.

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

Daniel S. Levy

 (originally published in History News Network)

After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and the druggists busily occupied in … specifies and prescriptions.” Little, though, could slow its advance, and six days later a Mr. Fitzgerald who lived on Cherry St. became ill. While he recovered, his wife, Mary, and children, Margaret and Jeremiah, soon died. The disease progressed quickly. When Dr. John Stearns jotted down his observations on his visit with John Coldwell on Maiden Lane, he noted how the patient reported that “The attack was sudden & violent—his impression was that ‘he fell as if knocked down with an ax.’”

Churches, offices, warehouse and shops shuttered as 100,000 residents, half the city’s population, fled. Departing carts, carriages and people jammed the streets. Passengers packed ferries, and the Evening Post wrote on July 3 how “Almost every steamboat which left New York yesterday was crowded with a dense mass of fugitives flying in alarm from the imaginary pestilence.” But what they ran away from proved to be far from chimerical. Those who remained cowered at home. James Riker Jr. wrote that his family “scarcely ventured farther than the apothecary’s opposite to obtain drugs, or examine the daily report of deaths by cholera.” Like others, the Rikers didn’t know what to do. Then his grandmother took sick on July 15. “As the day passed on she grew worse notwithstanding the efforts of a number of physicians to check the disease, and died in the night.” Riker’s uncle also perished “that gloomy night,” and the family “packed furniture enough to serve us… closed the house, and left the city in several wagons.”

Many believed cholera sprang from moral faults, drinking, depravity and filthy living. A report by hospital physicians noted how, “The disease fell in a very remarkable degree upon the dissolute and the intemperate.” The New York Mercury blamed places of “infamy,” commenting on a prostitute on Mott St. “who was decking herself before the glass at 1 o’clock yesterday, was carried away in a hearse at half past 3 o’clock.” And yet, pillars of society—doctors, alderman, clergymen and businessmen, along with Magdalen Astor Bristed, the eldest child of John Jacob Astor, the richest man in America—also died. Playwright William Dunlap wrote how “we begin to be reconciled to being killed.”

Ministers preached throughout that only the righteous would be saved, with Episcopal Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk imploring citizens to pray “in a truly devout and Christian frame of mind, with deep repentance for your sins.” While their congregations scattered, many religious figures stayed, with those like Father Félix Varela and the Sisters of Charity caring for the physical and spiritual needs of their flocks.

People had no concept of cholera’s origins or how to treat such a plague. Most did sense the existence of a link between filth and sickness. Yet unbeknownst to the most learned doctors and scientists of the time, a microscopic comma-shaped bacterium called Vibrio cholerae caused the malady. The devastating sickness spreads through water tainted by human waste and brings on nausea, vomiting, leg cramps and diarrhea. The victim’s blood pressure drops, their eyes assume a hollow, sunken look and their skin wrinkles. Subsequent dehydration bestows on the flesh a bluish hue, thus earning cholera the name the “Blue Death.”

Even though they lacked real knowledge of what to do, doctors did their best. The Board of Health set up hospitals, while physicians searched for treatments. Most proved brutal. The evangelist Rev. Charles Grandison Finney recalled how “the means used for my recovery, gave my system a terrible shock.” The most widely attempted remedy was calomel, a chalky mercury-chloride compound, and when doctors saw their patients developing pus on the gums—a sign of mercury poisoning—they believed that their treatment had worked. Physicians also did bloodletting, applied mustard poultices, immersed patients in icy water, administered powdered camphor and had patients inhale nitrous oxide and drink brandy.

Homemade cures circulated around town. The Evening Post recommended that their readers drink strained gruel, sago or tapioca. Some businesses offered disinfecting solutions, and the chemist Lewis Feuchtwanger sold cholera lamps to purify rooms by spreading “Perfumes, Scents, Essences, Aromatic Vinegar, Chloride of Soda and Lime.” And while physicians and pharmacists tried to save people, E.T. Coke commented on how quacks “flocked into the city from all quarters.”

Unfortunately, little that doctors, citizens or hucksters tried had positive effects. Death came painfully, often in just two days to a week. The minister Henry Dana Ward wrote of a friend named Maynard who “took the cholera bad.” Ward’s wife Abigail was “very attentive to him. And we were able to soothe the last moments of an invaluable life.” Yet “in the morning we buried him cold in the grave.” As painter John Casilear would note, “There is no business doing here if I except those done by Cholera, Doctors, Undertakers, Coffin makers.” Cemeteries became overwhelmed. So many bodies filled the areas that grave diggers found it easier to simply dig large trenches. In untended parts of the city, corpses lay in gutters. By the time the cholera had run its course in late August, the city of more than 200,000 residents saw the death of 3,513.

It would take years before doctors and researchers understood the cause of the disease. In 1854 Dr. John Snow studied the pattern of deaths during a cholera outbreak in London. By mapping out the location of the stricken, he showed that the disease originated from a specific polluted street water pump. When officials closed the source, cases dropped. At the same time, the Italian microbiologist Filippo Pacini first identified the cholera bacterium, and in 1885 the Spanish physician Jaime Ferrán created the first vaccine. Yet despite newer and more effective vaccines, the sickness still takes the lives of some 120,000 people around the world each year.

While cholera continued to visit New York into the late 19th century—in 1849 it killed 5,071 citizens—New York always recovered. On August 25, 1832 merchant John Pintard wrote of his relief that the disease had finally quit the city. “The stores are all open, foot walks lined with bales & Boxes & streets crowded with carts & porters cars… Now all life & bustle, smiling faces, clerks busy in making out Bills, porters in unpacking & repacking Boxes, joy & animation in every countenance.”

Reframing How to Become More Inclusionary in Social Studies: An Educator and an Expert Reflect

Reframing How to Become More Inclusionary in Social Studies: An Educator and an Expert Reflect

Casey T. Jakubowski

The inclusion or exclusion of people, places, and events from history and a state’s designated social studies curriculum is a political decision, made fraught with what makes the final cut is telling about a system or society (Osler, 2009).  As a New York State certified social studies teacher, and now a teacher educator, I recognize the need to broaden the State’s inclusion of so many different people, events, and history. Usually the addition of underrepresented voices to the predominant narrative focuses on peoples from outside European backgrounds. With the recent passing of my great aunt, and her connection to our family, and my exploration of genealogy, I was wondering  why does Poland not appear as a large empire, and its accomplishments not recorded in the New York State Social Studies Standards? I am also concerned that Poland’s narrative is cast as a victim of world history, and its large and cohesive diaspora ignored?

I was concerned, due to the positionality that I hold as a member of the educated elite (Camicia,2015) raising this exclusion as a “minor complaint” since my ethnic backgrounds (Polish, Irish, and other European nations) are robustly included in the state standards. Yet, I was bothered, remembering what I knew, and what I taught in 9th and 10th grade social studies, and when I was an adjunct college professor teaching introductory world history and United States History (Jakubowski, 2016). Most American students do not know “their history” (Heafner & Fitchett, 2018). As I now have an opportunity to teach future elementary teachers with responsibility to implement social studies, my students and I are partially aware of European history, and the diaspora of most Euro- American Immigrant history, so our pasts are not excluded from most classrooms. Yet  Poles and Polonia have often been treated as “others” due to their Eastern European backgrounds, Catholic and Jewish religions, and the tragedy of the Polish nation forced into the Soviet Sphere of influence after World War II (Davies, 2005). 

In the historiography of the empire, and its diaspora, Poland, has since 1066, leaned west with its culture, language, and religion (Davies, 2005). The nation of Poland uses Latin script, and adopted Western Christianity (Davies, 2005). Historically, its rulers, when not native Polish, have originated from France, the Holy Roman Empire, and western leaning states (Davies, 2005)

The Polish military, from the Siege of Vienna to World War II, have fought valiantly, and often against foreign aggressors (Davies, 2005).  With the Cold War ramping up, and  a desire by the US and the UK to appease Stalin, Poland’s government in exile, its historical contributions to the Western War effort in World War II, and other places were erased from the textbooks (Olsen & Cloud, 2003).

Unfortunately, in New York’s social studies curriculum and framework, a real exclusion of a large and resilient ethnic culture is missing. The importance and impact of Poland and Polonia to the growth and development of the United States needs telling, and it is really concerning that there is a large gap in the curriculum (Thompson, 2005).  This paper serves as a review, from my lens as an ethnically identifying Polish American (Polonia) to examine one of the five largest states (by population) treatment of a large ethnic minority in its history education curriculum.

Literature review

This is a two part brief literature  review. First is a brief introduction to some texts which may help teachers understand the significance of Poland and Polonia in history. The second part is a brief discussion of how exclusion from curricula can impact students. It is important to note, that while all history is significantly political, a question emerges: with almost 1 million Poles and Polonia in New York State, why is such a significant percentage of the population excluded from the social studies curriculum?

Poland and Polonia’s history is robust, and reflects many advances and challenges. Polonia is defined as the diaspora of the Polish Ethnic population into the world (Davies, 2005).  Very little of this profoundly engaging history, culture, and society is intentionally included in the New York State K-12 social studies frameworks. As I have written elsewhere (Jakubowski, 2021; 2020), teacher’s backgrounds are critical and crucial to understanding their professional pathways. Further, the exclusion of Polish and Polonia’s impact on world and US history is very disconcerting, especially as the role which the Pope, the nation, and its American diaspora played in ending the western-eastern cold war (Ubrico, 2006; Weigel, 2010).  I would recommend that we create a more balanced approach to European history, and offer additional opportunities for students to learn about places beyond France, Britain, and Germany.  One place to start is the extraordinary readable work by Bukowczyk (2017) which examines the Polish diaspora to the United States.  Recently published (Bukowczyk, 2021) work concerning Polish and Polonia women is a short, yet extraordinarily useful resource for teachers.

From the  American Revolution (Pulaski & Kosciuszko) Polish nobility heroically assisted Washington and others to fight for American independence.  Marie nee Sklodowska Curie, became the only winner of the Nobel prize in Chemistry and Physics. Poland was viewed as the breadbasket of Eastern Europe, and provided significant grains to Europe. After the division of Poland and the late 1800s uprisings, millions of Poles immigrated to the United States, where they became workers and leaders in the industrialization of cities in the Northeast. Through their ancestors’ hard work, and creation of religious and cultural communities, especially in urban areas, Polonia anchored the rise in industry and community architecture with the soaring churches and foods which are hearty and now part of American foods.  Dr Francis Fronczak, the first Polish American awarded a medical doctor degree, and became the Commissioner of Health, and led efforts during World War I and II for relief both in Europe and in the United States for displaced persons (Dabrowski, 2018).

When called upon to serve its adopted homeland in the trenches of World War I and II, as well as Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, Polonia produced statesmen, leaders,  heroes, like LT. COL.  Matthew Urban, and General John Shalikashvilli (Bukowicz, 2017). With so much history to select, it is upsetting that Poland and Polonia are not a greater part of New York State’s social studies curriculum (Jakubowski, 2016).

Literature review: Exclusions

There has recently been significant national debate on who, what, and why certain aspects of teaching are acceptable.  As revealed by the debate over critical race theory, slavery, and under represented communities, many conservative state legislatures have enacted legislation banning the teaching of controversy. The public debate has led to a number of critiques of not only state legislatures, but of state standards in social studies, and who is included, who is excluded, and the politics behind the decisions (Popp, et al, 2021)

As one leading article reported (Au & Apple, 2009), all curriculum is designed to include or exclude people, events and memory for a multitude of reasons. With the current debates concerning Critical Race Theory, and what the term means, and the legality of teaching the topic in schools, many social studies teachers and elementary educators are concerned that a heritage crusade is emerging from the conservative powers to limit exposure to a wide range of topics, including slavery in the United States’ schools (Giroux, 2021).   Harris & Reynolds, (2014) in their review and study of history curriculum discovered that  “feel a lack of personal connection to the past, as they do not see themselves in the history they are taught.”  The need to ensure students understand history is crucial and critical. It is even more important that as the United States, and New York diversify, the increase of historically marginalized groups are included in the curriculum.  In a profoundly important study, Levstik (2008), investigated and found how absences in the state sponsored curriculum extended into the textbook, and classroom repertoire of teachers. Barton & Levstik (2018) also found this phenomena in a second study, and discovered that adolescents who are excluded from the curriculum as an identity group seek to understand what happened, both positively and negatively.

 Where there is absence, there is silence. And silence, especially among Polonia, has historical roots in discriminiation. As Pula (1995) and many others have reported, early Polish immigrants, and then later  Polish Americans faced significant discrimination from the more settled white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and others. The anti-Eastern European, anti-Catholic, and other forms of bigotry in the nation created burdens within the communities. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and New York City, many Polonia members created their own communities, civic societies, and schools, as the education system was charged with creating Americans, and recruiting for the Protestant churches through public bible readings. As Bukowczyk (1998) revealed in his work, the Polish American Community was othered deeply and with true discrimination across the north eastern United States, as labor looked upon these post 1890 immigrants as obsticles towards increasing pay, benefits, and unionization.

Therefore, a rich historical tradition is missing from the United States and world, with the exclusion of this literature. And, with significant numbers of Polish Americans in the New York State cities, suburbs, and rural areas, we now turn to the actual study of New York State’s Social Studies Curriculum.

The study

Utilizing critical discourse analysis (Gee, 2014) this paper examines the New York State Social Studies framework.  Critical Discourse Analysis is the examination of the materials and resources within a document. Critical Discourse Analysis further asks why documents were created, and what the significant purpose for the communication to a broader range of people beyond the initial stakeholders who created the document. The framework is crucial, as New York is one of the largest states in the United States, and is influential in publishing classroom resources such as textbooks. Further, many New York teachers are part of larger, national professional groups in the teaching of education majors, and social studies groups. This study reviewed the 2021 updates of the New York State Social Studies frameworks, or (NYSSSF, 2021) the guiding document for teachers and students in the 600+ school districts in New York State. 

The genesis for the latest social studies framework was the desire of the New York State Education Department, in the Board of Regents action plan to update the framework after the release of the Common Core State Learning Standards, identified the need to include more “history” post 9-11.  It was decided in 2014 to empanel a list of experts in multiple fields to create a more robust social studies curriculum, and a new set of Regents Exams, which are the penultimate end of course exams. With significant criticism of past regents exams by scholars (Dozono, 2020; Grant, 2001; Hursh, 2001; Maestri, 2006) the decision was made to implement new regents exam format, and mandate teachers and students, alike, focus on content specifications which was explicitly spelled out under broader  key ideas and  conceptual understandings (NYSSSF, 2021, p. 10).  The new framework retained the 10 areas of core knowledge and skills from the National Council for the Social Studies, and implemented five skills of an engaged scholar, as part of the national College, Career, and Civic Life standards (Swan & Griffin, 2013). An Inquiry Arc suggested to teachers that the C3 Standards, along with state specific content, would create a “ better social studies” experience for students (Swan & Griffin, 2013).

Undertaking Discourse Analysis, I started with an overall read of the K-12 New York State Framework. From the initial read, I explored for specific words related to Poland, the grade level of their first appearance, and then their frequency.


Poland specifically appears once in the entire 150+ page document. In 11th grade United States history and geography, Poland is included as a “throwaway” to the cold war, specifically how decisions were made to impact people following World War II. The point of the specific bullet is focused on America, and its Cold War conflict with the USSR. While 11th grade is focused on the United States, the unit wants students to understand how the previously “insulated” United States was forced onto the world stage as an emerging superpower. What does this significant lack of content mean? An over 1000 year old empire, the home to a number of scientific, political, religious, cultural, environmental and archeological treasures is absent. 


How can teachers be helped, educated, and resourced when there is a glaring and profound absence of one of the more significant ethic groups in the state? First, throughout the document, there are “latitudes’ ‘ given to teachers to allow them to focus on “local history” as necessary.  In the 2000 census, almost one million Polish and Polonia lived in New York State. Polish Americans are local to the State. Therefore, it is up to teachers in the classroom to include the Polish and Polish Americans across the curriculum, with little formal resources and training.

Second, the state of the current curriculum must be revised. With the (renewed) rise of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and the continued immigration of Poles to North America as the European Union and the United Kingdom have reduced acceptance of Polonia migrants. The state education department’s curriculum office must ensure that in their next revision to the state social studies scope and sequence, the Polish and Polish American community is represented in the topics covered.

Third, most students are unprepared with understanding the role of Eastern Europeans in US and American culture from the second great immigration wave post 1890. While the Irish, Armenian, Bosnian, and other tragedies are included, why are the achievements, and repression of the Polish not? Why does the 9th and 10th grade World history and Geography curriculum not include mention of the founding of Jagiellon University, the Liberal Veto by the Sejim? Why are the Western  names of the scholars, such as Copernicus and Curie included, but not their Polish ones?  The Polish Americans contribution to US history is profoundly lacking as well. Many immigrant Poles were part of the farming communities, the second industrialization in the United States, and the suburbanization following World War II. Many Polish American communities in the Northeast built the large churches which dot city skylines. The laborers, families, and homesteaders contributed to the growth and economic prosperity of the post World War II era. The Polonia community actively sent monetary aid to relatives in Poland suffering under communism. These Americans witnessed, supported and thrived, using their limited influence to help Pope John Paul II end communism in the Eastern European nations. Their Polish Language newspapers spread the business advertisements of local entrepreneurs, and their choices of houses, often vacated by previous immigrant communities enlivened downtowns, until the Post World War II suburbanization efforts and red lining led to the decay we see today. Yet the Polish culture and tradition of many communities is rebounding, and there is hope that the revitalization of historic Polonia will lead to more knowledge and understanding (Pienkos, 2019). 


History and Social Studies are an ever evolving part of the New York State school curriculum and standards. As literature reviewed above explains, excluding students from the curriculum leads to disengagement, and disassociation. In New York, one of the largest ethic groups, the Polish and Polish Americans, are de facto excluded from over 99% of the curriculum. In reviewing the 2021 New York State Social Studies Frameworks, the total number of times Poland, Polish Americans, or related content is explicitly covered is once. Therefore, the State of New York is excluding one of the largest and most significant groups from study. The lack of inclusion of Polish and Polish American history effectively excludes future generations an opportunity to explore the contributions, interdisciplinary, of one of the largest empires, and important immigrant communities to the United States. It is imperative that the New York State Education Department right this wrong, in order to increase the inclusivity in its guide to teaching and learning for the fourth largest state in the nation.


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Soldiers of Peace in Wartime: A Lesson from World War I

Soldiers of Peace in Wartime: A Lesson from World War I

Charles F. Howlett

American Friends Service Committee Bulletin Detailing the First Year of War Relief Service, 1917-1918. Available online.

Humanitarian relief efforts in time of war have their own important message to tell. While so much attention is devoted to soldiers in combat, campaigns, and military victories, students of history are entitled to know more about the other side of the story: heroes who risked their own lives within earshot of cannons to save and assist innocent victims of the horrors of war. It is the other side of history most know little about, but should. Even in the throes of war’s damnation there are humans out there willing to demonstrate why peace should be valued above all else.

Human civilization’s first total war began in 1914 and ended in 1918, barely one hundred and four years ago. That war traversed the globe, ravaged the European landscape, tumbled dynastic empires, and brought death and destruction to millions of people. Some 8.5 million combatants were killed alone, and nearly twice as many casualties. The civilian death toll was even more staggering as disease and starvation, let alone the bombing of cities, sucked the lifeblood from those caught in the crossfire of opposing armies. At that time no one could even imagine such an outcome. But while the war was raging on in the fields and valleys of northern Europe, the Middle East, and on the high seas, the Religious Society of Friends in America (or Quakers as they are more popularly referred to) teamed up with the Red Cross to provide aid and comfort to those directly impacted by the war. American Friends decided to take a more active role by performing noncombatant service in the theater of war. They truly risked their lives in the name of peace.

The establishment of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was inspired by a similar organization in Great Britain, the British Friends Service Committee. The British committee was already performing relief work since the war in Europe had been raging almost three years prior to U.S. military involvement. What is most impressive about the American Friends overseas adventure is how quickly they mobilized their efforts and logistically carried out in impressive fashion their own relief efforts. 

During the war the Committee sent many young men and women to feed and care for refugees, build maternity hospitals, and repair and even rebuild destroyed homes. Reconstruction and medical care highlighted a major part of the Committee’s relief efforts. As religious pacifists many draft-eligible Quaker men refused induction into the military, but were willing to perform alternative civilian service, including dangerous humanitarian work in war zones. Similarly, Quaker women volunteers, although not subject to conscription (draft), willingly enlisted in overseas relief and reconstruction work. In France, in particular, these noncombatant volunteers drove ambulances, rebuilt damaged homes, roadways, and villages; they also were instrumental in assisting refugees fleeing from war zones as well as providing funds to staff and supply maternity hospitals and relief stations.

AFSC Volunteers in France, 1917, AFSC Archives, Philadelphia

All told, close to six hundred, mostly male, volunteers worked endlessly in France where most of the fighting took place within the shadow of aerial bombing and roaring cannons. Even when the war ended the Committee extended its work in Russia where relief workers helped fight famine and disease; in Serbia and Poland where they assisted in agricultural development and constructed orphanages; and, finally, into Austria and Germany where they fed hungry children.

In the spirit of Florence Nightengale, the subject of many biographies for her courage and training of nurses during the Crimean War in the nineteenth century, these relief workers in World War I became notable crusaders for humanitarianism. They worked in combat zones with courage, conviction, and compassion. As soldiers of peace their equipment was first aid kits, shovels, buckets, hammers, and nails.

At the same time, the actions of AFSC highlight as very important distinction between an antiwar movement and a peace movement—a distinction students and scholars should understand. An antiwar movement is a short-lived crusade aimed specifically at ending military hostilities and lasts only as long as the conflict endures. A peace movement, however, is continuous and extends well beyond simply ending the conflict—it seeks social justice and reform as well as calling for war to be abolished. That is why it is ever present and has existed in the United States as an organized endeavor since the early nineteenth century—in fact the first established peace society in  world history was founded in New York City in 1815 by the merchant, David Low Dodge. Indeed, AFSC, is an excellent example of what a peace movement is because its work continued long after the “guns of August” were silenced at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of 1918.   

The following excerpts from the letters and accounts written by Friends can be used by teachers for Document Based Questions explaining the other side of war. They help demonstrate how humanitarian relief work plays a vital role in restoring the lives and stability of those directly impacted by the horrors and costs of war.

Document 1: Letters from Katherine W. Elkington to Parents (August-September 1917)

[Katherine W. Elkington grew up in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She worked at the hospital at Chalons-sur-Marne, in the Champagne-Ardenne region and wrote these letters from the Mission de la Société des Amis in Chalons-sur-Marne]

August 10, 1917: American nerve should count for something, and as I am the only one in all the town as far as I can make out, and there are 40,000 people here—I will have some responsibility. There are about thirteen workers all together here, counting those in the Maternity Ward, those in the creche, and those with older children. Just at present my work lies with the babies whose mothers are here, or who are refugees or something of that stripe. The oldest is three and the youngest a few months, and so as there are about thirty in between, you can see we have some job to keep all fed and clean….Not far away is a factory that tourns out machine guns, and every hour you can hear the pop, pop, pop of the new ones being tested. Besides this there is the never ending trial of soldiers and camions [trucks] going to the front, so one feels quite in the atmosphere of la guerre.     

August 17, 1917: This morning…for just as we were feeding the kids their dinner we heard the anti-air guns in the field next to us go pop, pop, pop, and as this is the signal to rush the children under cover we were all on the run. As soon as they were safe we flew out…and there way up above the clouds was our “Boche” foiled of his prey, and turned homeward by the quick work of the gunners. The smoke from the bursting shells hung in the air like little white puff-balls, perfectly still, five in a row. This, I am assured, is only a teaser and nothing to what they have had.

August 27, 1917: You can’t imagine the ruin, which after three years is still almost untouched. The little church has been patched up and we struck the 1st Mass held there since the catastrophe in 1914. We took several pictures of the wreck, and one of an old woman standing in the door of a new little shanty that has been raised over the cellar of the old home….{W]e stopped to photo one of the numerous wayside crosses that mark the last resting place of some fleeing Germans, and found near it a hastily dug grave apparently abandoned before their man could be interred. It is a gruesome reminder of the shadow that lies over these bright and sunny fields, and one cannot help but feel suddenly shivery as one turns away.

September 20, 1917: For the past few nights there has been a never ending grumble of cannon just out of sight over the hills, and all night long from the windows. I could see the flashes of light that preceded the boom. Also the star bombs were much in evidence, shooting up to consort with their brothers in the sky….

Boom! There the guns are beginning again—big fellows this time whose reverberations shake these walls fifteen miles away….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1917: Foreign Country—France, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia.


  1. How does Elkington contrast her work in the maternity ward with a nearby factory making guns for the war?
  2. What does she mean by feeling “quite in the atmosphere of las guerre”?
  3.  What do you think her feelings were when coming upon a makeshift grave of German soldiers?
  4. How many miles away were the big guns, which rattled her windows?
  5. Do you think she was proud of the work she was doing and did she feel that her contributions would further the cause of peace?
  6. Who did she refer to as “Boche” and what new weapon of war was first introduced during this conflict?

Document 2: Joseph H. Haines, Letter to his Father (April 6, 1918)

[Joseph Haines, like Elkington was a member of the Germantown Monthly Meeting (Quaker Meeting House) and a graduate of Haverford College in 1898. He served in a Reconstruction Unit at Gruny (Somme), France, where he built and repaired houses and schools and assisted local citizens]

When night came we were naturally tired; so tired that I can hardly remember who was there or what we did. All this time others were securing the country side with automobiles to evacuate threatened villages, and they were often under shell fire. We had to load the trains with old people women and children, decrepit, sick or dying….

I could not think of the loss of our material work that has come but only of the tremendous gain we have made in friendship and goodwill among a people to whom we cannot even yet speak plainly. There is one thought ingrained in every one of us, and that is that we must go back to help them set their homes in order and begin life anew as soon as we can. If the people back of us in America give us half a chance, we can, when we do so, accomplish, I think twice the good that we have in the past….

We found the town we were to help clear up entirely deserted—I mean this literally. There were perhaps half a dozen civilians left and the Red Cross was in possession of the Hotel which they were running for themselves. I set to the next morning—after the town had been shelled and we had all taken refuge in the wine cellar down fifty steps and cut out of solid rock where most of the hotel (it was full of Red Cross workers) slept. But I went back to bed after having helped fit up a camion as ambulance to carry the dead and wounded from the shelling….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1918: Foreign Service Country—France Individuals: Joseph Haines to L. Ralston, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia.


  1. How did Haines demonstrate his courage under fire? As a noncombatant did he see himself as a brave soldier without arms?
  2. Did he believe that his example would inspire Americans critical of those who were conscientious objectors to reconsider their opinion?
  3. Why did he want the people back in America to give him half a chance when it came to accomplishing good over evil?
  4. What was the one thought ingrained in each and every one of these volunteers?

Document 3: Edward C.M. Richards, “Reminiscences of Wartime Relief Work in Persia [n.d.]

[During World War I Richards performed missionary and relief work in Persia (now Iran). In 1923, he published a longer account of his experiences; this excerpt is from his unpublished reflections]

At that time, April 1917, many sincere men believed that the most Christian thing to do was to give their lives in the front trenches, believing that in that way they were helping to do away with the evil of war. To hold my position honestly, and meet such men face to face, it was necessary for me to be willing to do something at least as disagreeable and dangerous, and to do it with the motive of keeping people alive, of bringing reconciliation and good will between hostile factions, and to do it using only methods which were uplifting and helpful and beneficial to everybody concerned. I had to be willing to get killed, but to do so living everybody and trying to help everybody, including the Germans and the Turks, and all other people….

At that time, 1917, there was in West Persia a combination of war, racial antipathies and religious fanaticism which had come down through hundreds of years. That area had been the fighting ground of the Turkish and Russian armies since the beginning of the war. Massacres and flights of people had taken place, and were liable to occur at any time….There were only a few hospitals run by American missionary doctors, and most of the worst diseases were continually present: smallpox, cholera, typhoid, typhus, malaria, etc…

In July I arrived in Urumia (now Rezaiah) West Persia, where I was made secretary of the Relief Committee. During the summer , autumn, and early winter, I was busy riding from village to village over the plains, visiting, classifying, and arranging for feeding, clothing, and general care of the 500 odd orphans scattered through this stricken area. I organized some of the refugee Assyrians into a cloth-industry, giving several hundred women work weaving the native cloth which for countless generations had been an important material for men’s clothing in the high mountains of Kurdistan….

Later on, I took charge of cleaning up the streets of the city of Urumia. This included one very unpleasant task; namely, the collecting and reburying of bodies dug up by the dogs in the graveyards, and partly eaten. The cleaning-up and keeping clean…of the yards filled with refugees also fell on my shoulders, as did the care of the relief-transportation equipment of autos, horses, carts, harness, and the rest….

Source: American Friends Service Committee, Collected Records, CDG-A, Box 1, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.


  1. What position did Richards take that he believed was honest and “unpleasant”?
  2. Why were the Turks fighting the Russians when most of the battles took place in northern Europe?
  3. What do you think was Richards’ most difficult assignment?
  4. In terms of history, did Richards’ work also highlight the tragedy associated with the Armenian genocide that occurred as a result of World War I?

Document 4: Ruth Rose Hoffman, “Report to the Friends Committee of the Year’s Work Done in Siberia under the American Red Cross {July 1919]

[During the Russian Civil War Siberia was a battle zone between Bolshevik and anti-Red forces. The United States, Japan, and several European nations sent troops to support the anti-Bolshevik forces. Hoffman , a nurse working with the American Red Cross, apparently with Friends Committee support, reported on her work in public health and with refugees in the Siberian port city of Vladivostok]

As there were no available doctors in the unit at that time for giving medical assistance, I began to visit these barracks, August 15, 1918; I had done as much as I could in the way of making the lives of these refugees healthier, mostly first aid treatment and taking the very sick into the hospitals….

My work was very difficult but most interesting….All the temporary lodging houses and prisons had to be investigated periodically. We had the most sick cases in the poorest Russian, Chinese and Korean sections of the city….

From January 1st up to July 26 I had located and admitted to the hospital five hundred (500) patient of whom two hundred and seventy-six (276) were Typhus fever cases. Nine hundred and seventy-five visits were made, mostly with the ambulance; six hundred (600) were instructed in the prevention and isolation of disease; four hundred and sixty-seven (467) patients were sent to clinics; clothing given to one hundred and fifty-five (155) bedridden patients, the other being referred to the city office. Medications, eggs and milk were taken to the home of one hundred and seventy-six (176). I also visited many city institutions, which asked for help and made recommendations as to what they really needed.

AFSC Volunteers in France, 1917, AFSC Archives, Philadelphia

As I did not have a physician in my work I had to diagnose and treat some quite serious patients.

In the Spring epidemic of measles, I had a small isolation war of eight (8) beds with a Russian girl in charge of it, whom I trained for the work. We had about thirty (30) cases of measles. The Russian girl proved to be very good along this line and she obtained work after the clinic was closed in the American Red Cross Hospital. Right along in my work I tried to teach child Hygiene to the Russian mothers, who listened to me eagerly but in their everyday struggle for existence they could not remember it very long….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1919: Foreign Service Country—Germany to Russia, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia]


  1. How did Hoffman feel about her work in Russia?
  2. How difficult was it for her to communicate with so many patients speaking different languages?
  3. Did she mind assuming the role of physician under most difficult circumstance and why was she willing to do so?
  4. Why did she feel so compelled to try to teach Russian mothers the importance of child hygiene?
  5. What happened to cause Russia to leave the war and how did this impact the Allied war effort against the Central Powers.

Document 5: Carlton McDowell, Motives of Humanitarian Service (1918)

[McDowell, a Quaker zoologist and relief worker explains his reasons why he and his companions sought to promote understanding, reconciliation, and peace through humanitarian service]       

We went to mend houses; but the reason we wanted to mend houses was that it would give us a chance to try to mend hearts. Much of our work on houses has been lost; but I do not believe that any amount of cannonading will break down whatever influence we had on these people’s hearts. We cannot say how much cheerfulness, hope and love we brought them—surely some reached them. I believe it possible that even now, when their troubles are keener than ever, their experience with us boys may somehow be giving them a little mental comfort. However that may be, the whole perplexing question of our coming will remain in the back of their minds. From time to time it will claim attention until finally a light dawns, until they finally realize why we came—why we crossed the ocean voluntarily, why we worked without pay, why in order to do this we were willing to leave our homes and our professionals and take up jobs we never tried before. And when this answer comes to them it will never be forgotten; in the intimate traditions of these families will be handed down the account of the little group of men who worked for strangers because of their belief in the Great Brotherhood.

Source: Rufus Jones, A Service of Love in War Time: American Friends Relief Work in Europe, 1917-1919. New York: Macmillan Co., 1920, p. 226


  1. What did McDowell consider the greater good to civilization? 
  2.  What did he hope his service without pay would eventually accomplish?
  3. What did he mean by the Great Brotherhood?
  4. What legacy did McDowell wish to convey to those who question his true motivations?

Essay Question

Based on your knowledge of history and events surrounding World War I, what lessons can be learned from the role that noncombatant humanitarian relief workers played when assessing the consequences of war on innocent civilians? How important is humanitarian relief efforts in times of war? Cite specific examples from the documents above where heroes of peace risked their lives to help others.

Further Reading

Bennett, S.H. and Howlett, C.F.(2014). Antiwar dissent and peace activism in World War 1 America: A documentary reader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.

Chatfield, C. For peace and justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1971.

Hirst, M. E. (1923). The Quakers in peace and war. London: The Swarthmore Press.

Jones, M. H. (1937). Swords into ploughshares: An account of the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1937. New York: Macmillan & Co.

 Jones, R.(1920).  A service of love in war time: American Friends relief work in Europe, 1917-1919. New York: Macmillan Co.