American Relief Administration

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As World War I ended, the United States helped many countries around the world recover from the effects of war through the American Relief Administration (ARA). Herbert Hoover headed the ARA and had opened numerous missions in Europe by 1919. The primary goal of the ARA was to provide food relief, but it also provided medical aid, relocation services, and much else. The ARA attempted to open a mission in Russia in 1919 and 1920, but they were unsuccessful because the Bolsheviks suspected that the Americans had intervened in the Russian Civil War. However, after the horrible famine of the winter of 1920 and 1921, and after writer Maxim Gorky petitioned Vladimir Lenin to provide relief, the new Soviet government recognized the need for the ARA in Russia. By the summer of 1921, the ARA director for Europe, Walter Lyman Brown, and Soviet assistant commissar of foreign affairs Maxim Litvinov reached an agreement for an ARA mission in Russia. One of the primary concerns for the Soviets was the potential for American political activity in Russia. Brown assured Litvinov that their mission was solely to save as many lives as possible, and he appointed Colonel William N. Haskell to head the ARA in Russia.

The ARA opened kitchens in Petrograd and Moscow by September 1921, serving tens of thousands of children. The ARA spread into smaller cities and rural areas over the next several months, but in several places faced opposition from local village leaders and Communist Party officials. Most rural local committees consisted of a teacher and two or three other members who would serve the food to the children from the local schools. This fed the children, paid and fed the teacher, and continued some measure of education. In addition to feeding programs, the ARA employed thousands of starving and unemployed Russians to unload, transport, and distribute food to the most famine-stricken areas. The ARA also established a medical division that furnished medical supplies for hospitals, provided treatments to tens of thousands of people, and conducted sanitation inspections. It was estimated that the ARA provided about eight million vaccinations between 1921 and 1923.

By the summer of 1922, disputes within the ARA administration in the United States and between the ARA and the Soviet government placed the mission's future in doubt. Hoover and Haskell disagreed about the duration and tactics of the mission in Russia. In September 1922, the chairman of the All-Russian Famine Relief Committee, Lev Kamenev, announced that the ARA was no longer needed, despite the reports that showed many areas in worse condition than before. Over the next few months, the Soviet government urged the ARA to limit its operations, even though about two million children were added to those eligible for relief in 1922. Several leading Bolsheviks had taken a stronger anti-American stance during the course of the ARA operations, and Lenin was less integrally involved because of illness. The ARA was gradually marginalized and officially disbanded in July 1923, after nearly two years of work. The Soviet government

took over feeding its own starving and undernourished population, while also trying to dispel the positive impression the ARA had left among the Russian population.

See also: civil war of 19171922; famine of 19211922; united states, relations with


Fisher, H. H. (1927). The Famine in Soviet Russia 19191923: The Operations of the American Relief Administration. New York: Macmillan.

Patenaude, Bertrand M. (2002). The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Weissman, Benjamin M. (1974). Herbert Hoover and Famine Relief to Soviet Russia: 19211923. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

William Benton Whisenhunt

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American Relief Administration

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American Relief Administration