The poppy as the memorial flower for the American war dead is a
tradition which began in the years following the first World War.
Veterans returning to their homes in this country remembered the wild
poppies which lined the devastated battlefields of France and Flanders,
and the soldiers of all nations came to look upon the flowers as a
living symbol of their dead comrades' sacrifice.
A Canadian officer, Colonel John McCrae who
was killed during the war, immortalized the flowers in his famous poem,
"In Flanders' Field." Its opening lines are familiar to
millions of people around the world,
"In Flanders' field the poppies blow,
Between the crosses row on row---"
Returning servicemen brought with
them memories of the battlefield poppies, and the flower soon took on a
sacred significance. The red blossoms became the flower of remembrance for
the men whose lives had been lost in the defense of freedom. As a memorial
emblem of the war dead, it underlined the plight of those men who did not
die, but returned permanently disabled. The poppy soon became a symbol of
honoring the dead and assisting the living victims of the war.
Soon after the Armistice,
patriotic organizations in different countries began conducting poppy
campaigns. The flowers, made by disabled servicemen, raised funds for
relief work among handicapped veterans and their families. Wearing a poppy
came to mean honor the dead and help the living.
Wearing poppies in honor of the
war dead first occurred in New York City on November 9, 1918. A YMCA staff
worker, Miss Moina Michael of Athens Georgia distributed poppies to a
group of men attending the 25th conference of her organization.
The homecoming of the 32nd
Division in Milwaukee in June, 1919 marked the beginning of the American
Legion Auxiliary's poppy program. A coffee and doughnut booth decorated
with paper poppies was stripped of its floral ornaments twice, and the
passers-by who took the poppies left contributions on the counter. Several
hundred dollars was contributed for the benefit of disabled veterans.
One of the Women in the booth,
Mrs. Mary Hanecy, proposed that distributing poppies on the street at the
time of Memorial Day would be a excellent way for American Legion post to
raise money needed for rehabilitation work. She presented her idea to
George F. Plant, a member of Post No. 1 in Milwaukee, and as result this
group conducted a poppy distribution on Saturday before Memorial Day.
1920. Post No. 1 distributed 50,000 poppies and netted $5,500 during the
first regular conduced Poppy Day on record.
Mrs. Hanecy was awarded a
Certificate of Merit during the American Legion Auxiliary's National
Convention in Portland, Oregon in 1932 for her Poppy Day idea.
When Miss Moina Michael returned
to her home in Georgia during the summer of 1920 she interested members of
The American Legion in wearing poppies as an annual memorial to the war
dead. The Georgia Department of The American Legion adopted the poppy as a
memorial flower at its 1920 convention. Then the Georgia delegation took
the idea to The American Legion National Convention at Cleveland in
September, 1920 and the poppy was adopted as the American Legion
Auxiliary's memorial flower.