The onset of World War I created unprecedented needs and new demands on American foundations. Several organizations were founded in direct response to the conflict. RAC holdings from the Rockefeller family, Rockefeller Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, and Near East Relief document US philanthropy’s relief efforts for Europe.

1914 July 28

World War I Begins

The Red Cross “Mercy Ship” set sail at the start of the war, carrying doctors, nurses, and necessary medical equipment. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. used his checkbook as well as his cultural influence to provide funds and garner support for the organization.


Rockefeller Foundation Begins War Relief Efforts

In the opening years of the war, American charitable organizations could be part of war relief efforts without any political ramifications, since the United States was not engaged in the conflict. The newly chartered Rockefeller Foundation, for one, responded to the humanitarian crisis in Europe by providing food and medical relief, and by working with organizations such as the Red Cross and its own War Relief Commission. By the time the US entered the war in 1917, the Foundation had spent $22 million on the effort — more than the US federal government would spend on relief.

Image: List of Available Relief Supplies Stored at Bush Terminal. Rockefeller Foundation records, RG 1, Series 100.N, Rockefeller Archive Center.
1914 November

Food and Supplies Shipped to Belgium

After the war broke out, the Belgian population was suffering heavily from food shortages. US Food Administration director Herbert Hoover founded the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) to solicit widespread support from the American public. As part of the CRB’s efforts, the Rockefeller Foundation chartered a fleet of cargo ships to deliver supplies. In November 1914, the SS Massapequa arrived in Rotterdam with flour, bacon, beans, and rice. In a gesture of appreciation, local school sewing classes embroidered flour sacks. Three of them were eventually given to the Foundation.

Image: Embroidered Flour Sack. Rockefeller Foundation records, Series 100.N: International – War Relief, Belgium, Rockefeller Archive Center.

American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR) Founded

The ACASR was founded to help people imperiled by wars throughout the collapsing Ottoman Empire. The ACASR later became Near East Relief and it raised the enormous sum of $100 million between 1915 and 1930 to help refugees fleeing conflicts in Armenia, Syria, and Greece.

Image: Orphanage, 1924, Near East Foundation records, Rockefeller Archive Center.
1917 April 6

The United States Enters the Conflict

With the US entry into war, the neutrality of American organizations working in Europe was no longer ensured. Consequently, the Rockefeller Foundation’s War Relief Commission ceased operations. From that point forward, the Red Cross administered RF relief funds.


Rockefeller Family Members Visit the Red Cross

Longstanding supporters of the Red Cross, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his family stepped up efforts to attract support for the Red Cross by visiting local volunteers and helping to roll bandages.

Image: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. family photographs, Series 1005, Rockefeller Archive Center.
Medicine & Public Health

Philanthropy’s Fight Against Tuberculosis in World War I France

What does it take to control the outbreak of a deadly disease?

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1918 November 11

Armistice Signed, Ending the War

1918 November 11

United War Work Campaign Launched

United War Work began as a massive, week-long fundraising campaign to support American troops. Several relief and charitable organizations came together to form the campaign: the American Library Association, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army, War Camp Community Service, Young Men’s Christian Association, and Young Women’s Christian Association. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was a major supporter and spokesperson for United War Work.

Image: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. family photographs, Series 1005, Rockefeller Archive Center.

The Commonwealth Fund Supports Armenian and Syrian Relief

The Commonwealth Fund, which was incorporated in 1918, made one of its first grants to the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief to help ameliorate the effects of the Armenian genocide and do something about the resulting refugee crisis.

Image: “American Committee on Armenian and Syrian Relief,” Commonwealth Fund records, Syria, Rockefeller Archive Center.
1919 June 28

Treaty of Versailles Signed

The Treaty of Versailles officially instituted peace among the formerly warring nations.


European Relief Council

The European Relief Council was founded to support European children orphaned by the global conflict. The Council was a collaboration among the American Friends Service Committee, American Red Cross, American Relief Administration, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, Joint Distribution Committee, Knights of Columbus, National Catholic Welfare Council, Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Young Women’s Christian Association. The Commonwealth Fund and several Rockefeller entities supported the Council via the American Relief Administration.

Image: Red Cross Vehicle, Rockefeller Foundation records, Series 100.N, Rockefeller Archive Center.
Arts & Culture

Rebuilding a Cathedral: The Media, American Money, and French Heritage

Stepping in to save French monuments without stepping on French pride.

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