Monday, May 10, 2021

A Poppy for Your Lapel?

By Suzanne Norquist

Years ago, as a Girl Scout, I handed out Memorial Poppies at our local post office in exchange for donations for veterans. The artificial red flower could be worn on a lapel. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of the flower and knew nothing of Moina Belle Michael, the founder of the US poppy movement.

Born in 1869 in Georgia, she became a teacher at age fifteen. Over time, she rose to the rank of principal and eventually studied at Columbia University in New York. Although her career was respectable, it wouldn’t land her in history’s records. Yet, she is one of the women honored with a US postage stamp.

Moina was in Germany on a European trip when World War I broke out, forcing her to flee to Italy. While there she helped US tourists find passage across the Atlantic through mine-infested waters.

She had a heart for soldiers, and reports of battlefield carnage disturbed her. When the US entered World War I in 1917, she took a leave of absence from teaching and volunteered to assist in the New York training headquarters for overseas YMCA workers. There, she helped to coordinate the transportation of fallen soldiers from New York City to their hometowns.

In November of 1918, shortly before Armistice, Moina worked at a YMCA conference in New York. Between duties, she read the poem "We Shall Not Sleep" ("In Flanders Fields") by John McCrae in The Ladie’s Home Journal. She had read the poem before, but this time, a striking color picture accompanied it. The opening lines deeply touched her. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row.”

She vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war. The leaders of the conference learned of her commitment and shared the idea with everyone in attendance. Then and there, a movement was born.

Moina searched through New York City and found some artificial poppies for the men to wear. Afterward, she campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance.

Veterans' organizations began to adopt the red poppy. Disabled veterans produce these poppies at VA hospitals, allowing them to earn some money and contribute to a worthwhile cause.

Around the same time, in France, Madame Guérin founded Poppy Day with a similar purpose. So, it seems, both women took part in creating an international movement.

In 1923, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in the United States adopted the Buddy Poppy as its official symbol. Over the years, Hollywood’s biggest stars supported the program, including Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, and Natalie Wood.

Moina returned to her teaching career in 1919, occasionally offering special summer classes for disabled veterans. She always had a heart for the brave warriors.

She earned several awards in her lifetime, and a postage stamp was issued in her honor in 1948, four years after her death.

Moina Belle Michael’s life shows how passion for a single thing can change people’s lives.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here:

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.


  1. Very interesting. I had no idea how this got started. I love that her passion for those who served became a national movement. Thanks for sharing.
    Cindy Ervin Huff

  2. Thank you for posting. This was interesting. Her commitment to the soldiers and veterans is wonderful.

    1. You're welcome. It does show a great level of commitment.