Georgia native Moina Belle Michael (1869-1944) started her career as an educator. She had enough family money to take a teaching job for a town (Goodhope, GA) that could not afford to pay a teacher. She eventually taught at the University of Georgia. She was on vacation in Europe when WWI broke out. While she was stranded overseas, she helped thousands of stranded Americans get safe passage back home then joined the YMCA Overseas War Worker because she was 48 years old and that was the only opportunity open to her as an “older woman”. In 1918 she read the poem “We Shall Not Sleep” by Col. John McCrae, M.D. (Later renamed “In Flanders Fields.”) and became inspired to write her own poem in honor of veterans.
In her 1941 autobiography, “The Miracle Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy”, she recalled, “It seemed as though the silent voices again were vocal, whispering, in sighs of anxiety unto anguish…I pledged to KEEP THE FAITH and always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of ‘keeping the faith with all who died.’”
From that day on she wore a poppy on her collar and became known as the “Poppy Lady.” She dedicated the rest of her life to promoting the wearing of poppies to remember veterans and inspired international campaigns selling poppies to raise money for veterans and their families. In 1921 the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as its memorial flower. The national Poppy Program was created in 1924 to protect the memorial poppy from being commercialized. (Official American Legion poppies are made by disabled or hospitalized veterans.)