Do You Know The Poppy Lady?
Moina Belle Michael
While visiting my mom in Georgia last October, I searched for famous people buried in Monroe, and I discovered the name of Moina Belle Michael, aka The Poppy Lady; I became intrigued to learn about the Poppy Lady and found her name popping up everywhere around Monroe. The next morning as we drove through Good Hope, I discovered a Poppy Festival in progress; sadly I couldn’t stop as we were meeting with family in Union Point. On our return, I noticed a marker near Good Hope, and it was for The Poppy Lady. We did a turn around so I could photograph it… and in stopping, I discovered the side road was named the Moina Michael Road. On our trip to Athens the next day, via Highway 78, I discovered a section of the highway named for her also. Miss Moina seemed to be haunting me! I was almost out of time on my trip in Monroe and before leaving, I went in search for her gravestone…. which I did not find, but I never forgot.
Four months later I returned to Monroe and again went in search of Miss Moina’s grave…. I don’t give up easily! After studying the photos and information on FindAGrave, I began walking along the fence area and finally found it. The information had listed it as enclosed in a fenced in area along Spring St., but instead, it lies along North Madison Avenue; often you just have to walk a cemetery to find what you’re looking for.
Moina was born on August 15, 1869, in a wood-frame house in Good Hope, Georgia. She was the eldest daughter, and one of seven children born to the family of John Marion Michael and Alice Sherwood.
The Poppy Lady Marker
A marker placed at 3698 Moina Michael Road in Good Hope marks where her family home once stood. Coming from an affluent family, she was afforded an education at Braswell Academy in Morgan County, and at the young age of 15 she began teaching in her hometown of Good Hope at the persuasion of her mother; at this early age, she was feeling compelled to give back to the community. A few years later, her father fell on bad times due to conditions of drought that devasted his land, crops, and machinery. He was forced to sell his cotton plantation and Moina moved the family to a rented home she provided in Monroe, where she had found a paid teaching job.
In 1917, when the U. S. entered WWI, Moina was a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, but she soon took a leave of absence to join the only line of service available to her – War Work with the YMCA. She was devastated quickly to learn that she was ten years too old for eligibility in service abroad. Still pushing to be a part of the war work, she landed a job at the training headquarters at Columbia University in New York City; Moina worked there until the organization was moved to Paris in January of 1919.
That was the start which led her to create the national emblem of Remembrance.
In 1918, from the inspiration of a battle-front poem entitled “In Flanders Fields“, Moina wrote a poem “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She never forgot the opening line of Flander Fields… “In Flander fields, the poppies blow… Between the crosses row on row.” It was then that Miss Moina vowed to wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for the brave men and women who served in the war. It wasn’t until after the war did she realize that there was a need to help the service-disabled in building their lives back… by offering financial and occupational support. She began to pursue an idea of raising funds by selling silk poppies as a means of support. Moina Michael soon became known as the Poppy Lady and in later years, received numerous awards for her humanitarian efforts.
It was in 1924 that disabled servicemen began making and selling the red poppies through their VFW organization. Who hasn’t as a child, and an adult today, seen these men outside the local grocery store selling those poppies. There is no price – it is strictly by donation.
- In 1944, a Liberty Ship constructed in Georgia was named the SS Moina Michael.
- In 1948, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative 3-cent stamp to commemorate her life achievement.
- In 1969, the Georgia General Assembly named a section of U.S. Highway 78 the Moina Michael Highway.
- In 1999, she was named to the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame.
- In 2015, the first annual Good Hope Poppy Festival began to benefit the Moina Michael Project, a charity organization that looks to carry on the Moina Michael legacy of improving the lives of disabled veterans.
I remember seeing these men selling poppies all my life. From a small child, my father always brought poppies home – that’s how I first became acquainted with them and they made an impression on me. I always noticed when he came home with it twisted around a button. My father served in the Navy and belonged to the local VFW, so I’m sure that poppy had more meaning to him than I even knew at the time. Little did I know, at that time, what the poppy meant, how it had come to be, or even that its origin began in my home state of Georgia.
I’ve never been able to walk by one of those VFW men selling the red poppy without stopping to fish for money in my pocket to drop in their bucket. No matter what your donation is, the poppy is always handed to you with a smile and a Thank You…. but the Thank You should be said to them, as they are the ones who gave their life for us! Always as I walk away, I’m fumbling for a button to twist the wire around; the poppy is supposed to be worn close to your heart. Once it’s taken off my shirt, I’ve always attached it to my purse for saving until it’s eventually lost.
Whenever I buy a poppy today, I buy it in my father’s honor while remembering the little girl within me wanting the poppy that daddy wore twisted around his button.
So if you’re like me, and never knew who The Poppy Lady is, take some time to read more about this extraordinary woman and the achievements she made during her lifetime. I believe it was meant for me to make that first search and discover Moina so I might enlighten you about her life and the meaning of the symbolic poppy.
This post is dedicated to all the men and women who have given their life and time to serve our country… Thank You For Your Service!
© 2017, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved