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The Poppy Lady – Moina Bell Michael and Memorial Day

Ms. Michael started the tradition of wearing red poppies to support soldiers, earning her the nickname Poppy Lady.

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Moina Belle Michael spent much of her adult life to helping wounded soldiers. She began the tradition of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day.

Moina’s Early Life was Carefree – Until the War

Moina’s family lived a life of privilege as a young girl. At age 13, she started studying at the Martin Institute in Jefferson, Georgia. Two years later, she went home to find her town and her family had fallen into poverty. At the young age of 15, Moina Michael began teaching to support the family.

In 1914, she went on a tour of Europe and was in Germany when World War I broke out. She had to flee to Italy to get on a ship headed for the U.S. The journey took 16 days, and passed through waters patrolled by enemy submarines.

The Poppy Lady

On November 9, 1918, just two days before the war ended, a young soldier entered the Y.M.C.A. in New York where Moina worked. He left a copy of the November Ladies Home Journal on her desk. In it, she discovered Colonel John McCrae’s poem, “We Shall Not Sleep,” which was later renamed “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae’s poem described the poppies he saw growing from the graves of fallen soldiers in Flanders, Belgium.  Moina wrote a reply to the poem called “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She decided to always wear a red poppy to honor the soldiers who had died.

Three soldiers had donated some money to decorate Moina’s quarters. Instead, she took that money and bought 25 silk poppies. Others saw how she had pinned the red flower to her lapel in memory of a fallen soldier, and the tradition was born.

Today, the little red poppies are sold to raise money for wounded soldiers, veterans, and their families. This is not just an American custom, either. In the United Kingdom, for example, people display a red poppy on Remembrance Day, which is similar to the U.S. holiday Veterans Day.

“We Shall Keep the Faith”

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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