One century ago the United States entered World War I. This Veteran's Day, as we reflect and mourn the horrific deaths and causalities that occurred 100 years ago and since, as well as honor all those who have served, we would like to honor one very important woman who is often overlooked: Moina Belle Michael. Michael was a UGA professor and humanitarian who became known as America's Poppy Lady. Her claim to fame was her effort to make the Flanders Field Memorial Poppy the international symbol of remembrance for those who served in WWI.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Stephen Mulqueen, an artist from New Zealand who began making brass poppies from WWI gun cartridges about 12 years ago. Since starting his business over a decade ago, he has become extremely interested in the life of Moina Belle Michael. He has spent the last 14 years traveling to Ireland, the UK, Belgium, Canada and lastly, Athens, Georgia, researching Michael's life. Mulqueen is determined to have this woman remembered for her contributions, her testament, and her legacy to the international culture of remembrance that has touched many communities around the world.
Mulqueen told me about Michael's background and ties to Athens. Michael was born near Athens in Good Hope, Georgia and was educated at the Lucy Cobb Institute and Georgia State Teacher's College, both in Athens, before joining the faculty at the University of Georgia. She was awarded the American Legion Auxiliary's Distinguished Citizen's Medal and the Distinguished Citizen citation of the Georgia legislature. She was also nominated for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award in 1934. As a pioneer of veteran's care she contributed to the growing social practice which later became what we know now as occupational therapy. Michael established a number of rehabilitation programs and was a fierce advocate for supporting WWI veterans in Athens. During her tenure as a teacher at UGA she campaigned tirelessly for the their care and well being. This spirit and tradition has set standards which continue to this day across many U.S. Veteran service organizations.
Visiting Mulqueen's current studio at Lamar Dodd School of Art was incredible! The walls of the studio were covered in photos, clips and scribbles of information from his travels all over the world. With no hesitation, he started telling me all about Michael's legacy and why he feels so passionate about her story. He urged me to help him gain awareness of this wonderful woman from Athens. He is interested in forming a foundation to better serve this purpose. If you are interested, you can find more information at his website here.