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Title: Women of Belgium Turning Tragedy to Triumph
Author: Kellogg, Charlotte
Language: English
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    _Chairman of The Commission for Relief in Belgium_






    COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY


    [Printed in the United States of America]

    Published in April, 1917

    Copyright Under the Articles of the Copyright Convention
    of the Pan-American Republics of the
    United States, August 11, 1910.


    CHAPTER                               PAGE

    Introduction                           vii

    I. The Leaders                           1

    II. The “Soupes”                        11

    III. The Cradles on the Meuse           27

    IV. “The Little Bees”                   33

    V. Mrs. Whitlock’s Visit                49

    VI. The Bathtub                         55

    VII. The Bread in the Hand              61

    VIII. One Woman                         71

    IX. The City of the Cardinal            83

    X. The Teachers                         93

    XI. Gabrielle’s Baby                   105

    XII. The “Drop of Milk”                111

    XIII. Layettes                         117

    XIV. The Skating-Rink at Liége         123

    XV. A Zeppelin                         134

    XVI. New Uses of a Hippodrome          137

    XVII. The Antwerp Music-Hall           149

    XVIII. Lace                            158

    XIX. A Toy Factory                     167

    XX. Another Toy Factory                174

    XXI. The Mutilés                       179

    XXII. The Little Package               186

    XXIII. The Green Box                   190

    XXIV. The “Mother of Belgium”          204

    XXV. “Out”                             208

    XXVI. Farewell                         209



    CHILDREN                              _Frontispiece_

    READY FOR THE CHILDREN                            36
      A “Little Bees” cantine for sub-normal children.

    A MEAL FOR YOUNG MOTHERS                         112

    STATION                                          144

      Here hundreds of women are being saved by
      being furnished the opportunity to work
      two weeks in each month, on an average
      wage of sixty cents a week.

    TO 1,250,000 SCHOOL CHILDREN                     160

    TOYS CREATED BY WOMEN OF BELGIUM                 176

    WAR, WAITING FOR THEIR DINNER                    204



Belgium, after centuries of intermittent misery and recuperation as the
cockpit of Europe, had with a hundred years of the peaceful fruition of
the intelligence, courage, thrift, and industry of its people, emerged
as the beehive of the Continent. Its population of 8,000,000 upon an
area of little less than Maryland was supported by the importation of
raw materials, and by their manufacture and their exchange over-seas
for two-thirds of the vital necessities of its daily life.

When in the summer of 1914 the people were again drawn into the
European maelstrom, 600,000 of them became fugitives abroad, and the
remainder were reduced to the state of a city which, captured by a
hostile army, is in turn besieged from without. Thus, its boundaries
were a wall of bayonets and a blockading fleet.

Under modern economic conditions, no importing nation carries more than
a few weeks’ reserve stock of food, depending as it does upon the daily
arrivals of commerce; and the cessation of this inflow, together with
the destruction and requisition of their meager stocks, threatened the
Belgians with an even greater catastrophe—the loss of their very life.

With the stoppage of the industrial clock, their workpeople were idle,
and destitution marched day and night into their slender savings, until
to-day three and a half million people must be helped in charity.

The Belgians are a self-reliant people who had sought no favors of
the world, and their first instinct and continuing endeavor has
been to help themselves. Not only were all those who had resources
insistent that they should either pay now or in the future for their
food, but far beyond this, they have insisted upon caring for their
own destitute to the fullest extent of those remaining resources—the
charity of the poor toward the poor. They have themselves set up no cry
for benevolence, but the American Relief Commission has insisted upon
pleading to the world to help in a burden so far beyond their ability.

This Commission was created in order that by agreement with the
belligerents on both sides, a door might be opened in the wall of
steel, through which those who had resources could re-create the flow
of supplies to themselves; that through the same channel, the world
might come to the rescue of the destitute, and beyond this that it
could guarantee the guardianship of these supplies to the sole use of
the people.

Furthermore, due to the initial moral, social and economic
disorganization of the country and the necessary restriction on
movement and assembly, it was impossible for the Belgian people to
project within themselves, without an assisting hand, the organization
for the distribution of food supplies and the care of the impoverished.
Therefore the Relief Organization has grown to a great economic engine
that with its collateral agencies monopolizes the import food supply of
a whole people, controlling directly and indirectly the largest part of
the native products so as to eliminate all waste and to secure justice
in distribution; and, above all, it is charged with the care of the

To visualize truly the mental and moral currents in the Belgian people
during these two and a half years one must have lived with them and
felt their misery. Overriding all physical suffering and all trial
is the great cloud of mental depression, of repression and reserve
in every act and word, a terror that is so real that it was little
wonder to us when in the course of an investigation in one of the large
cities we found the nursing period of mothers has been diminished by
one-fourth. Every street corner and every crossroad is marked by a
bayonet, and every night resounds with the march of armed men, the
mark of national subjection. Belgium is a little country and the sound
of the guns along a hundred miles of front strikes the senses hourly,
and the hopes of the people rise and fall with the rise and fall in
tones which follow the atmospheric changes and the daily rise and
fall of battle. Not only do hope of deliverance and anxiety for one’s
loved ones fighting on the front vibrate with every change in volume
of sound, but with every rumor which shivers through the population.
At first the morale of a whole people was crusht: one saw it in every
face, deadened and drawn by the whole gamut of emotions that had
exhausted their souls, but slowly, and largely by the growth of the
Relief Organization and the demand that it has made upon their exertion
and their devotion, this morale has recovered to a fine flowering of
national spirit and stoical resolution. The Relief Commission stands
as an encouragement and protection to the endeavors of the Belgian
people themselves and a shield to their despair. By degrees an army of
55,000 volunteer workers on Relief had grown up among the Belgian and
French people, of a perfection and a patriotism without parallel in the
existence of any country.

To find the finance of a nation’s relief requiring eighteen million
dollars monthly from economic cycles of exchange, from subsidies of
different governments, from the world’s public charity; to purchase
300,000,000 pounds of concentrated foodstuffs per month of a character
appropriate to individual and class; to secure and operate a fleet
of seventy cargo ships, to arrange their regular passages through
blockades and war zones; to manage the reshipment by canal and rail
and distribution to 140 terminals throughout Belgium and Northern
France; to control the milling of wheat and the making of bread; to
distribute with rigid efficiency and justice not only bread but milk,
soup, potatoes, fats, rice, beans, corn, soap and other commodities; to
create the machinery of public feeding in cantines and soup-kitchens;
to supply great clothing establishments; to give the necessary
assurances that the occupying army receives no benefit from the food
supply; to maintain checks and balances assuring efficiency and
integrity—all these things are a man’s job. To this service the men of
Belgium and Northern France have given the most stedfast courage and
high intelligence.

Beyond all this, however, is the equally great and equally important
problem—the discrimination of the destitute from those who can pay,
the determination of their individual needs—a service efficient, just
and tender in its care of the helpless.

To create a network of hundreds of cantines for expectant mothers,
growing babies, for orphans and debilitated children; to provide the
machinery for supplemental meals for the adolescent in the schools;
to organize workrooms and to provide stations for the distribution of
clothing to the poor; to see that all these reliefs cover the field,
so that none fall by the wayside; to investigate and counsel each and
every case that no waste or failure result; to search out and provide
appropriate assistance to those who would rather die than confess
poverty; to direct these stations, not from committee meetings after
afternoon tea, but by actual executive labor from early morning till
late at night—to go far beyond mere direction by giving themselves
to the actual manual labor of serving the lowly and helpless; to do
it with cheerfulness, sympathy and tenderness, not to hundreds but
literally to millions, this is woman’s work.

This service has been given, not by tens, but by thousands, and it is a
service that in turn has summoned a devotion, kindliness and tenderness
in the Belgian and French women that has welded all classes with a
spiritual bond unknown in any people before. It has implanted in the
national heart and the national character a quality which is in some
measure a compensation for the calamities through which these people
are passing. The soul of Belgium received a grievous wound, but the
women of Belgium are staunching the flow—sustaining and leading this
stricken nation to greater strength and greater life.

We of the Relief have been proud of the privilege to place the tools in
the hands of these women, and have watched their skilful use and their
improvement in method with hourly admiration. We have believed it to be
so great an inspiration that we have daily wished it could be pictured
by a sympathizing hand, and we confess to insisting that Mrs. Kellogg
should spend some months with her husband during his administration
of our Brussels office. She has done more than record in simple terms
passing impressions of the varied facts of the great work of these
women, for she spent months in loving sympathy with them.

We offer her little book as our, and Mrs. Kellogg’s, tribute in
admiration of them and the inspiration which they have contributed
to this whole organization. This devotion and this service have
now gone on for nearly 900 long days. Under unceasing difficulties
the tools have been kept in the hands of these women, and they have
accomplished their task. All of this time there have stood behind them
our warehouses with from thirty to sixty days’ supplies in advance, and
tragedy has thus been that distance remote. Our share and the share
of these women has therefore been a task of prevention, not a task
of remedy. Our task and theirs has been to maintain the laughter of
the children, not to dry their tears. The pathos of the long lines of
expectant, chattering mites, each with a ticket of authority pinned
to its chest or held in a grimy fist, never depresses the mind of
childhood. Nor does fear ever enter their little heads lest the slender
chain of finance, ships and direction which supports these warehouses
should fail, for has the cantine ever failed in all these two and a
half years? That the day shall not come when some Belgian woman amid
her tears must stand before its gate to repeat: “_Mes petites, il n’y
en a plus_,” is simply a problem of labor and money. In this America
has a duty, and the women of America a privilege.






The story of Belgium will never be told. That is the word that passes
oftenest between us. No one will ever by word of mouth or in writing
give it to others in its entirety, or even tell what he himself has
seen and felt. The longer he stays the more he realizes the futility
of any such attempt, the more he becomes dumb. It requires a brush and
color beyond our grasp; it must be the picture of the soul of a nation
in travail, of the lifting of the strong to save the weak. We may,
however, choose certain angles of vision from which we see, thrown
into high relief, special aspects of an inexpressible experience.

One of these particular developments is the unswerving devotion of the
women of Belgium to all those hurt or broken by the tragedy within
and without her gates. How fortunate are these women, born to royal
leadership, to have found in their Queen the leader typifying the
highest ideal of their service, and the actual comrade in sorrow,
working shoulder to shoulder with them in the hospitals and kitchens.
The battle-lines may separate her wounded and suffering from theirs,
but they know always that she is there, doing as they are doing, and
more than they are doing.

Never were sovereigns more loved, more adored than Albert and
Elizabeth. All through these two years people have been borne up by the
vision of the day of their return. “But how shall we be able to stand
it?” they say. “We shall go mad with joy!” “We shall not be able to
speak for weeping and shouting!” “We shall march from the four corners
of the country on foot in a mighty pilgrimage to Brussels, the King
shall know what we think of him as man and leader!”

When they speak of the Queen all words are inadequate; they place her
first as woman, as mother, as tender nurse. They are proud, and with
reason, of her intelligence and sound judgment. Under her father,
a distinguished oculist, she received a most rigorous education;
she is equipped in brain as well as in heart for her incalculable
responsibilities. I was told the other day that she dislikes
exceedingly having her photograph as “nurse” circulate, feeling that
people may think she wishes to be known for her good works. But whether
she wishes it or not, she is known and will be known throughout history
for her good works—for her clear, clean vision of right, her swift
courage, and her utter devotion to each and all of her people. Albert
and Elizabeth, A and E, these letters are written on the heart of

If in the United States we have been too far away to realize in detail
what the work of the Queen has been, we have had on our own shores the
unforgettable example of her dear friend, Marie de Page, to prove to us
the heroism of the women of Belgium.

Before she came, we knew of her. After the first two months of
the war she had left her mother and father and youngest boy in
Brussels—realizing that she was cutting herself off from all news of
them—to follow her husband, who had himself followed his King to Le
Havre. She worked her way across the frontier to Flushing, and finally
to La Panne. The whole career of Doctor de Page had been founded on her
devoted cooperation, and one has imagined the joy of that reunion in
the great base hospital at La Panne, where he was in charge. Her eldest
son was already in the trenches, the second, seventeen years old, was
waiting his turn.

She worked as a nurse at her husband’s side, day and night, until she
could no longer bear to see the increasing needs of the wounded without
being able to relieve them, and she determined to seek aid in America.
This journey, even in peace time, is a much more formidable undertaking
for an European than for an American woman, but Marie de Page started
alone, encouraged always by her good friend, the Queen. And how
swiftly, how enduringly, she won our hearts, as from New York to San
Francisco she told so simply and poignantly her country’s story!

She was a Belgian woman; so, even in her great trouble, she could not
neglect her personal appearance, and after the fatiguing journey across
the Continent, she looked fresh and charming as we met her in San
Francisco. The first day at luncheon we were plying her with questions,
until finally she laughed and said, “If you don’t mind, I had better
spread the map on the table—then you will see more quickly all the
answers!” We moved our plates while she took the precious plan from
her bag, and smoothed it across her end of the table. Then with her
pencil she marked off with a heavy line the little part that is still
free Belgium: she drew a star in front of La Panne Hospital and we were
orientated! From point to point her pencil traveled as we put our eager
questions. We marveled at the directness with which she brought her
country and her people before us. We knew that her own son was in the
trenches, but she made it impossible for us to think of herself.

Then, tho there was much more to be done in America, she left. She must
return to La Panne; her husband needed her. She had just received
word that her seventeen-year-old son was to join his brother in the
trenches; she hurried to New York. She did not wish to book on a
non-neutral line, but further word showed her that her only chance to
see her boy lay in taking the fastest possible ship. Fortunately the
biggest, safest one was just about to leave, so she carried on board
the money and supplies she was taking back to her people.

We settled down to doing what we could to carry forward her work. Then,
on May 7, 1915, flashed the incredible, the terrible news—the greatest
passenger liner afloat had been torpedoed! The Lusitania had sunk in
twenty-two minutes, 1,198 lives had been lost. We went about dazed.

One by one the recovered bodies were identified, and among them was
that of Marie de Page.

We have found some little consolation in endowing beds in her memory
in the hospital for which she gave her life. She is buried in the sand
dunes not far from it; whenever Doctor de Page looks from his window,
he looks on her grave.


As the only American woman member of the Commission for Relief I was
permitted to enter Belgium in July, 1916.

I already knew that this country held 3,000,000 destitute; that over
one and one-quarter million depended for existence entirely on the
daily “soupes”; that between the soup-lines and the rich (who in every
country, in every catastrophe, can most easily save themselves) there
were those who, after having all their lives earned a comfortable
living, now found their sources of income vanished, and literally faced
starvation. For this large body, drawn from the industrial, commercial
and professional classes, from the nobility itself, the suffering was
most acute, most difficult to discover and relieve.

I knew that at the beginning of the war the great organizing genius
of Herbert Hoover had seized the apparently unsolvable problem of
the _Relief of Belgium_, and with an incredible swiftness had forced
the cooperation of the world in the saving of this people who had
not counted the cost of defending their honor. That because of this,
every day in the month, ships, desperately difficult to secure, were
pushing across the oceans with their cargoes of wheat and rice and
bacon, to be rushed from Rotterdam through the canals to the C. R.
B. warehouses throughout Belgium. It meant the finding of millions
of money—$250,000,000 to date—begging of individuals, praying to
governments, the pressing of all the world to service.

I realized, too, that the Belgian men, under the active leadership
of Messieurs Solvay, Francqui, de Wouters and Janssen, with a joint
administration of Americans and Belgians, were organized into the
Comité National, whose activities covered every square foot of the
country, determining the exact situation, the exact need of each
section, and who were responsible for the meeting of the situation
locally and as a whole.

But I knew from the lips of the Chairman of the C. R. B. himself, that
despite all the work of the splendid men of these organizations, the
martyrdom of Belgium was being prevented by its women. I was to learn
in what glorious manner, in what hitherto undreamed of degree, this was
true—that the women of Belgium, true to the womanhood and motherhood
of all ages, were binding the wounds and healing the soul of their



I shall never think of Belgium without seeing endless processions of
silent men and black-shawled women, pitchers in hand, waiting, waiting
for the day’s pint of soup. One and one-quarter million make a long
procession. If you have imagined it in the sunshine, think of it in the

One may shut himself up in his house and forget the war for a few
hours, but he dare not venture outside. If he does he will quickly
stumble against a part of this line, or on hundreds of little children
guarding their precious cards as they wait to be passed in to one of
the “Enfants Débiles” dining-rooms, or on a very long line of women in
front of a communal store where “identity cards” permit the purchase
every week of limited rations of American bacon or rice and a few other
foods at fixt prices (prices set by American efficiency below those of
America itself); or on a group of black-shawled mothers waiting for the
dinner that enables them to nurse the babies in their arms.

The destitute must have a “supplement” to their daily ration of
carbohydrates and fat which will give them protein—says the C. R.
B., and thus we have “Soupes”;—but these dry statements of engineers
now become dieticians convey to no one the human story of these dumb,
waiting lines.

We can have little conception of what it means for just one city, the
Agglomeration of Brussels, for instance, to keep 200,000 out of its
1,000,000 people on the “Soupes,” not for a month or two, but for over
two years! Nor does this include the soup made by the “Little Bees,”
an organization which cares especially for children, for the thousands
in their cantines; or the soup served to the 8,500 children in sixty
communal schools of central Brussels at four o’clock each afternoon,
which is prepared in a special kitchen. These quantities are all over
and above the regular soup served to 200,000—and do not think of soup
as an American knows it, think more of a kind of stew; for it is thick,
and, in the words of the C. R. B., “full of calories.”

To make it for central Brussels the slaughter-house has been converted
into a mighty kitchen, in charge of a famous pre-war maître d’hôtel.
Ninety-five cooks and assistants from the best restaurants of the
capital have been transferred from the making of pâtés and soufflés
to the daily preparation of 25,000 quarts of soup! And they use the
ingenuity born of long experience, to secure an appetizing variety
while strictly following the orders of directing physicians. They had
been doing this over 700 days when I visited the kitchen, but there
was still a fresh eagerness to produce something savory and different.
And one must remember that the changes can come only from shifting
the emphasis from our dried American peas to beans, from carrots to
cabbages, from macaroni to rice. The quantity of meat remains about
the same, 1,200 pounds a day, which, tho the committee kills its own
cattle, costs almost fifty cents a pound. There must be, too, 10,000
pounds of potatoes. The great fear has been that this quantity might
be cut, and unfortunately, in November, 1916, that fear was realized
to the extent of a 2,000 pound drop—and then remedied by the C. R. B.
with more beans, more rice, more peas!

Personal inspection of this marvelous kitchen is the only thing that
could give an idea of its extraordinary cleanliness. The building
offers great space, plenty of air and light and unlimited supply of
water. The potato rooms, where each potato is put through two peeling
processes, are in one quarter. Near them are the green vegetable
rooms with their stone troughs, where everything is washed four or
five times. The problem of purchasing the vegetables is so great that
a special committee has been formed at Malines to buy for Brussels
on the spot. One of the saving things for Belgium has been that she
produces quantities of these delicious greens. In the smaller towns a
committeeman usually goes each morning to market the day’s supply. For
instance, the lawyer who occupies himself with the vegetables for the
Charleroi soup, makes his own selection at four o’clock each morning,
and is extravagantly proud of the quality of his carrots and lettuces!
The most important section, naturally, is that which cares for the
meat and unsmoked bacon or “lard” the C. R. B. brings in. The more
fat in the soup, the happier the recipient! With the little meat that
can still be had in the butcher shop, selling at over one dollar a
pound, one can imagine what it means to find a few pieces in the pint
of soup! Then there is the great kitchen proper, with the one hundred
and forty gas-heated caldrons, and the dozens of cooks hurrying from
one to another. There seem to be running rivers of water everywhere, a
perpetual washing of food and receptacles and premises.

The first shift of cooks arrives at two-thirty in the morning to start
the gas under the one hundred and forty great kettles, for an early
truck-load of cans must be off at 8 o’clock. That shift leaves at noon;
the second works from 8 till 5, on an average wage of four francs a day
and _soupe_!

There are ten of the large trucks and 500 of the fifty-quart cans in
constant use. As soon as the 8 o’clock lot come back, they are quickly
cleaned, refilled, and hurried off on their second journey. Mostly they
are hurried off through rain, for there are many more rainy than sunny
days in Belgium.

One passes a long line of patient, wet, miserable-looking men and women
with their empty pitchers, then meets with a thrill the red truck
bringing the steaming cans. The bakers have probably already delivered
the 25,000 loaves of bread, for a half loaf goes with each pint of soup.

By following one of these steaming trucks I discovered “Soupe 18,” with
its line of silent hundreds stretching along the wet street.

I was half an hour early, so there was time to talk with the local
committee managers who were preparing the big hall for the women who
would arrive in a few minutes to fill the pitchers with soup, and the
string bags with bread. These communal soupes are generally directed
by men, tho women do the actual serving. The enthusiastic secretary,
who had been a tailor before the war, said regretfully that he had been
obliged to be absent three days in the two years.

At the left, near the entrance, I was shown the office with all the
records, and with the shelves of precious pots of jam and tiny packages
of coffee and rice which are given out two or three times a month—in
an attempt to make a little break in the monotony of the continual
soup. No one can picture the heartbreaking eagerness in the faces of
these thousands as they line up for this special distribution—these
meager spoonfuls of jam, or handfuls of chopped meat.

We reviewed the army of cans stationed toward the rear, and the great
bread-racks of either side. The committee of women arrived; we tasted
the soup and found it good. I was asked to sit at the table with
two men directors, where I might watch them stamp and approve the
ration-cards as the hungry passed in.

One may hate war, but never as it should be hated until he has visited
the communal soupes and the homes represented by the lines. The work
must be so carefully systematized that there is only time for a word
or two as they pass the table. But that word is enough to reveal the
tragedy! There are sometimes the undeserving, but it is not often that
any of the thousands who file by are not in pitiful straits. That
morning the saddest were the very old—for them the men had always a
kindly “How is it, mother? How goes it, father?”

The “Merci, Monsieur, merci beaucoup,” of one sweet-faced old woman was
so evidently the expression of genuine feeling, that I asked about
her. She had three sons, who had supported her well—all three were
in the trenches. Another still older, said, “Thank you very much,” in
familiar English. She, too, had been caught in the net, and there was
no work. A little Spanish woman had lost her husband soon after the war
began, and the director who investigated the case was convinced that
he had died of hunger. An old French soldier on a crutch, but not too
feeble to bow low as he said “Merci,” was an unforgettable figure.

Some of the very old and very weak are given supplementary tickets
which entitle them to small portions of white bread, more adapted to
their needs than the stern war bread of the C. R. B.; and every two
days mothers are allowed additional bread for their children. One
curly-haired little girl was following her mother and grandmother,
and slipt out of the line to offer a tiny hand. Then came a tall,
distinguished-looking man, about whom the directors knew little—except
that he was absolutely without funds. They put kindly questions
to the poor hunchback, who had just returned to the line from the
hospital, and congratulated the pretty girl of fifteen, who had won
all the term’s prizes in the communal school. There were those who had
never succeeded; then there were those who two years before had been
comfortable—railway employees, artists, men and women, young and old,
in endless procession, a large proportion in carpet slippers, or other
substitutes for leather shoes. Many were weak and ill-looking; all wore
the stamp of war. Every day they must come for the pint of soup and the
bread that meant life—200,000 in Brussels alone; in Belgium one and a
half million! These are the lowest in the scale of misery—those who
“must have a supplement of protein,” for meat never passes their lips
but in soup.

The questions were always swift, admitting no delay in the reply, and
knowing the hearts of the questioners, I wondered a little at this.
Till in a flash I saw: if the directors wished to know more they would
go to the homes represented—but the line must not be held back! Every
ten minutes’ halt means that those outside in the rain must stand ten
minutes longer. On this particular day the committee put through a
line representing 2,500 pints of soup and portions of bread in fifty
minutes, an almost incredible efficiency, especially when you remember
that every card is examined and stamped as well as every pitiful
pitcher and string bag filled.

That day a woman who had not before served on the soupes offered her
services to the seasoned workers. They were grateful, but smilingly
advised her to go home, fill her bath tub with water, and ladle it
out—to repeat this the following day and the following, until finally
she might return, ready to endure the work, and above all, not to
retard the “Line” five unnecessary minutes! Two and a half years have
not dulled the tenderness of these women toward the wretched ones they


Belgium is small. Until now I had been able to go and return in the
same day. But on this particular evening I found myself too far south
to get back. I was in a thickly forested, sparsely settled district,
but I knew that farther on there was a great château belonging to the
family of A., with numerous spare rooms.

Tho I had been in Belgium only a short time I had already learned how
unmeasured is the friendship offered us, but I also knew that Belgian
etiquette and convention were extremely rigorous, and I hesitated.

It was thoroughly dark, when, after crossing a final stretch of
beechwood, I rang the bell and sent in my card, with a brief line.

After what seemed an endless time I saw the servant coming back through
the great hall, followed by three women, who, I felt instinctively, had
not come in welcome.

But there was no turning about possible now—some one was already
speaking to me. Her very first words showed she could not in the least
have understood. And I swiftly realized this was not surprizing since I
had been there so short a time, and there had not before been a woman
delegate. I explained that my sole excuse for sending in my stranger’s
card at that time of night was my membership in the C. R. B.—and I
uncovered my pin.

It was as if I had revealed a magic symbol—the door swung wide! They
took my hands and drew me inside, overwhelming me with apologies, with
entreaties to stop with them, to stay for a week, or longer. They would
send for my husband—as Director he must be sorely in need of a few
days’ rest—we should both rest. Their district in the forest had many
relief centers, they would see that I got to them all. A room was all
ready for me on the floor above—if I did not like it I should have
another. I must have some hot tilleul at once!

In the drawing-room I was presented to the other thirteen or fourteen
members of the family, and in pages I could not recount their beautiful
efforts, individually and together, to make me forget I had had to wait
for one moment on their threshold.

Still later, two American men arrived. They were known, and expected at
any hour of the day or night their duties might bring them that way.
One of them was ill, and not his own mother and sister could have been
more solicitous in their care of him than were these kind women.

Do Americans wonder that it hurts us, when we return, to have people
praise us for what we have given Belgium? In our hearts we are
remembering what Belgium has given us.



Dinant made me think of Pompeii. It had been one of the pleasure-spots
of Belgium; gay, smiling, it stretched along the tranquil Meuse, at
the base of granite bluffs and beech-covered hill-slopes. There were
factories, it is true, at either end of the town; but they had not
marred it. Every year thousands of visitors, chiefly English and
Germans, had stopt there to forget life’s grimness. Dinant could make
one forget: she was joyous, lovable, laughing. Before the tragedy of
her ruins, one felt exactly as if a happy child had been crusht or

I came to Dinant in September, 1916, by the way of one of the two
cemeteries where her 600, shot in August, 1914, are buried. This
burial-ground is on a sunny hill-slope overlooking rolling wheat
fields, and the martyred lie in long rows at the upper corner. A few
have been interred in their family plots, but mostly they are gathered
in this separate place.

Up and down I followed the narrow paths; the crowded plain white
crosses with their laconic inscriptions spoke as no historian ever
will. “Father, Husband, and Son”; “Brother and Nephew”; “Husband and
Sons, one seventeen, and another nineteen”; “Brother and Father”;
“Husband and Brother”; “Brother, Sons and Father”; “Father and
Son”—the dirge of the desolation of wives and sisters and mothers! War
that had left them the flame-scarred skeletons of their homes, had left
them the corpses of their loved ones as well!

Dinant was not entirely destroyed, but a great part of it was. A few
days after the burning, people began to crawl back. They came from
hiding-places in the hills, from near-by villages, from up and down the
river, to take up life where they had left it. Human beings are most
extraordinarily adaptable: people were asked where they were living; no
one could answer exactly, but all knew that they were living somewhere,
somehow—in the sheltered corner of a ruined room, perhaps in a cave,
or beside a chimney! The relief committee hurried in food and clothing,
hastily constructed a few temporary cottages; a few persons began to
rebuild their original homes, and life went on.

I was walking through a particularly devastated section, nothing but
skeleton façades and ragged walls in sight, when suddenly from the
midst of the devastation I heard the merry laughter of children. I
pushed ahead to look around the other side of a wall, and there was a
most incredible picture. In front of a low temporary building tucked in
among the ruins, was a series of railed-in pens for children to play
in. And there they were romping riotously—fifty-two golden-haired,
lovely babies, all under four! Along the front of the enclosure was a
series of tall poles carrying gaily painted cocks and cats and lions.
That is the Belgian touch; no relief center is too discouraging to be
at once transformed into something cheering, even beautiful. The babies
had on bright pink-and-white checked aprons. I let myself in, and
they dashed for me, pulling my coat, hiding in the folds of my skirt,
deciding at once that I was a good horse.

Then happened a horrible thing. One of the tiniest, with blue eyes
and golden curls, ran over to me laughing and calling, “Madame, mon
père est mort!” “Madame, my father is dead, my father is dead, he
was shot!” I covered my ears with my hands, then snatched her up and
silenced her. There were others ready to call the same thing, but the
nurses stopt them.

The little ones went on with their romping while I passed inside to see
the equipment for caring for them. In a good-sized, airy room were long
rows of white cradles, one for each child, with his or her name and age
written on a white card at the top. After their play and their dinner
they were put to sleep in these fresh cradles.

They were brought by their mothers or friends before seven in the
morning, to be taken care of until seven at night. They were bathed,
their clothing was changed to a sort of simple uniform, and then they
were turned loose outside to play, or to be amused in various ways
by the faithful nurses. They were weighed regularly, examined by a
physician, and daily given the nourishing food provided by the relief
committee. In fact, they had the splendid care common to the 1,900
crèches or children’s shelters in Belgium. But this crèche was alone in
its strange, tragic setting.

In the midst of utter ruin are swung the white cradles. In front of
them, under the guardianship of gay cocks and lions, golden-haired
babies are laughing and romping. Further on more ruins, desolation,




Madame ... has charge of a Cantine for Enfants Débiles (children below
normal health) in one of the crowded quarters of Brussels. These
cantines are dining-rooms where little ones come from the schools
at eleven each morning for a nourishing meal. They form the chief
department of the work of the “Little Bees,” a society which is taking
care of practically all the children, babies and older ones, in this
city, who are in one way or another victims of the war. And in July,
1916, they numbered about 25,000.

The cantines have been opened in every section of the city, in a vacant
shop, a cellar, a private home, a garage, a convent—in any available,
usable place. But no matter how inconvenient the building, skilful
women transform it at once into something clean and cheery. In the
whole of Belgium I have never seen a run-down or dirty relief center.
In some the kitchen is simply a screened-off corner of the dining-room,
in others it is a separate and excellently equipped quarter. I visited
one crowded cantine where every day the women had to carry up and down
a narrow ladder stairway all the plates and food for over 470 children.
But they have so long ago ceased to think in terms of “tiredness,”
that they are troubled by the question suggesting it. And these are
the women who have been for over nine hundred days now—shoulder to
shoulder with the men—ladling out one and one-quarter million pints of
soup, and cooking for, and scrubbing for, and yearning over, hundreds
of thousands of more helpless women and children, while caring always
for their own families at home. If after a long walk to the cantine
(they have neither motors nor bicycles) madame finds there are not
enough carrots for the stew, she can not telephone—she must go to
fetch whatever ingredient she wants! Each cantine has its own pantry
or shop with its precious stores of rice, beans, sugar, macaroni,
bacon and other foodstuffs of the C. R. B., and in addition the fresh
vegetables, potatoes, eggs and meat it solicits or buys with the money
gathered from door to door, the gift of the suffering to the suffering.

The weekly menus are a triumph of ingenuity; they prove what variety
can be had in apparent uniformity! They are all based on scientific
analysis of food values, and follow strictly physicians’ instructions.
One day there are more grammes of potatoes, another more grammes of
macaroni in the stew; one noon there is rice for dessert, the next
phosphatine and now a hygienic biscuit—a thick, wholesome one—as big
as our American cracker.

It was raining as I entered the large, modern tenement building which
Madame had been fortunate enough to secure. I found on one side a group
of mothers waiting for food to take home to their babies, and on the
other the little office through which every child had to pass to have
his ticket stamped before he could go upstairs to his dinner. This
examining and stamping of cards by the thousand, day after day, is in
itself a most arduous piece of work, but women accomplish it cheerfully.


A “Little Bees” cantine for sub-normal children]

On the second floor, between two large connecting rooms, I found
Madame, in white, superintending the day’s preparation of the tables
for 1,662. That was the size of her family! Fourteen young women,
with bees embroidered in the Belgian colors on their white caps,
were flying to and fro from the kitchen to the long counters in the
hallway piled with plates, then to the shelves against the walls of the
dining-room, where they deposited their hundreds of slices of bread and
saucers for dessert. Some were hurrying the soup plates and the 1,662
white bowls along the tables, while others poured milk or went on with
the bread-cutting. Several women were perspiring in the kitchens and
vegetable rooms. The potato-peeling machine, the last proud acquisition
which was saving them untold labor, had turned out the day’s kilos
of potatoes, which were already cooked with meat, carrots and green
vegetables into a thick, savory stew. The big fifty-quart cans were
being filled to be carried to the dining-room; the rice dessert was
getting its final stirring. Madame was darting about, watching every
detail, assisting in every department.

It was raining outside, but all was white, and clean, and inviting
within. Suddenly there was a rush of feet in the courtyard below. I
looked out the window: in the rain 1,662 children, between three and
fourteen years, mothers often leading the smaller ones—not an umbrella
or rubber among them—were lining up with their cards, eager to be
passed by the sergeant. These kind-hearted, long-suffering sergeants
kept this wavering line in place, as the children noisily climbed the
long stairway—calling, pushing. One little girl stept out to put fresh
flowers before the bust of the Queen. Boys and girls under six crowded
into the first of the large, airy rooms, older girls into the second,
while the bigger boys climbed to the floor above. With much chattering
and shuffling of sabots they slid along the low benches to their places
at the long, narrow tables. The women hurried between the wiggling
rows, ladling out the hot, thick soup. The air was filled with cries
of “Beaucoup, Mademoiselle, beaucoup!” A few even said “Only a little,
Mademoiselle.” Everybody said something. One tiny, golden-haired thing
pleaded: “You know I like the little pieces of meat best.” In no time
they discovered that I was new, and tried slyly to induce me to give
them extra slices of bread, or bowls of milk.

In this multitude each was clamoring for individual attention, and
for the most part getting it. Very little ones were being helped to
feed themselves; second portions of soup were often given if asked
for. Madame seemed to be everywhere at once, lifting one after another
in her arms to get a better look at eyes or glands. Her husband, a
physician of international reputation, was in the little clinic at the
end of the hall, weighing and examining those whose turn it was to go
to him that day. Later he came out and passed up and down the rows
to get an impression of the general condition of this extraordinary
family. When for a moment husband and wife stood together in the middle
of the vast room, they seemed with infinite solicitude to be gathering
all the 1,662 in their arms—their own boy is at the front. And all the
time the 1,662 were rapidly devouring their bread and soup.

Then began the cries of “Dessert, Mademoiselle, dessert!” Tired arms
carried the 1,662 soup plates to the kitchen, ladled out 1,662 portions
of rice, and set them before eager rows. Such a final scraping of
spoons, such fascinating play of voice and gesture—then the last crumb
eaten, they crowded up to offer sticky hands with “Merci, Mademoiselle”
and “Au revoir.” The clatter of sabots and laughter died away through
the courtyard, and the hundreds started back to school.

The strong American physician, who had helped ladle the soup, tried to
swing his arm back into position. I looked at the women who had been
doing this practically every day for seven hundred days. Madame was
apparently not thinking of resting—only of the next day’s ration.

I discovered later that at four o’clock that afternoon she had charge
of a cantine for four hundred mothers and their new babies, and that
after that she visited the family of a little boy who was absent,
according to the children, because his shirt was being washed.

All attempts to express admiration of this beautiful devotion are
interrupted by the cry, “Oh, but it is you—it is America that is doing
the astonishing thing—we _must_ give ourselves, but you need not. Your
gift to us is the finest expression of sympathy the world has known.”


Before Madame ... was made director of the cantine for 1,662, she had
charge of one in a still poorer quarter of the city. I went to look for
it on Assumption Day, the day of the Ascent of the Blessed Virgin. I
knew the street, and as usual, the waiting line of children in front
told the number. Scrubbed cheeks, occasional ribbon bows and cheap
embroidery flounces showed the attempt of even these very poor mothers
to celebrate their fête day. Throughout the city, those fortunate
enough to be called Mary were being presented with flowers, which since
the war have been sold at extremely low prices, for the flowers still
grow for Belgium, who supplied the markets of Europe before she was

From early morning we had seen old and young carrying great sheaves
of phlox and roses, or pots of hortensia, to some favorite Mary.
But these little ones had no flowers, yet they were gay, as Belgian
children invariably are—always ready with the swiftest smiles and
outstretched hands, or with a pretty song if one asks for it. Little
tots of three know any number of the interminable chansons familiar in
France and Belgium. They chattered and laughed, caught my hand as I
went down the stairs—for this dining-quarter is below the sidewalk,
in rooms that are known as “caves.” I was prepared for something
dark and cheerless, instead I found the whitewashed walls gay with
nursery pictures and Belgian and American flags. The long tables were
covered with bright red-and-white checked oilcloth. The small windows
opening just above the sidewalk allowed sufficient light and air to
keep everything fresh. The kitchen was immaculate—shelves for shining
vessels, others for the sacks of sugar, boxes of macaroni. On a table
stood the inevitable scales—Thursday is weighing day, when one of
the best physicians of Brussels examines the children, recording the
weights that form the basis for judgment as to the success of the

The 430 bowls of milk were already on the tables. Madame ... was
hurrying about among her helpers—twelve faithful Belgian women. They
had all been there since eight o’clock, for this was a _viande_ day
(there are three a week) and when there is meat that must be cut into
little pieces for between four and five hundred children, it means an
early start. Two women were still stirring (with long wooden spoons)
the great tub full of savory macaroni and carrots—a test in itself for
muscle and endurance. The meat was in separate kettles. The bread had
been cut into over 400 portions. The phosphatine dessert (of which the
children can not get enough) was already served at a side table. The
“Little Bees” originated this phosphatine dessert, which is a mixture
of rice, wheat and maize—flour, phosphate of lime and cocoa. They have
a factory for making it, and up to August, 1916, had turned out 638,000

A gentleman in black frock suit and large hat came in to look about,
and then went back to the lengthening line. Madame explained that he
was the principal of the communal school of the quarter, and that he
came every day to keep the children in order. I learned, too, that on
every single day of the vacation, which had begun and was to continue
until the middle of September, he and one of his teachers went to
the school to distribute to all the school children the little roll
of white bread that they are allowed at eight-thirty each morning.
Many of these have but little at home. This roll helps them out
until the cantine meal at eleven-thirty, which can be had only on a
physician’s authorization. From now on a larger meal is to be given
in the schools—a joy not only to the pupils but to their teachers,
who everywhere are devoting themselves to this work of saving their
children. Several of the younger women helping Madame had been working
wearily all the year in the professional schools, but as soon as
their vacations arrived, begged to be allowed to give their time to
the cantines. They were all most attractive in their white aprons and
caps—most serious in their attention to the individual wants of that
hungry family.

A few minutes later the principal appeared again—all was ready
now. Then the little ones began to march in. They came by way of
an anteroom, where they had their hands washed, if they needed
washing—and most of them did—and quite proudly held them up as they
passed by us. They were of all sizes between three and fourteen. One
pale little fellow was led in by his grandmother who was admitted (tho
no mothers or grandmothers are supposed to come inside), because he
wailed the minute she left him. It was easy to see why mothers could
not be allowed, tho one was glad the rule could be broken, and that
this sad, white-faced grandmother could feed her own charge. It was
terrible, too, to realize what that plate of savory stew would have
meant to her, and to see that she touched no morsel of it. Even if
there had been an extra portion, the women could not have given it to
her: the following day the street would have been filled with others,
for whom there could not possibly be extra portions.

If a child is too ill to come for its dinner, a member of the family
can carry it home. Practically all the cantines have a visiting nurse
who investigates such cases, and keeps the number much lower than it
would otherwise be.

When I asked Madame how she was able to give so much time (from about 8
A.M. till 1 or 2 P.M. every day of the year), she smiled and shrugged
her shoulders: “But that is the least one can do, the very least!
One never thinks of the work, it is of the children—and we know
they love us—we see them being kept alive! Some of them are getting
stronger—these weaklings. What more can we wish?”



The second time, I visited Madame’s cantine with the wife of the
American Minister, and I found what it meant to be the wife of the
United States Minister in Belgium! From the corner above to the
entrance of the court the street was lined with people. At the gateway
we were met by a committee headed by the wife of the Bourgmestre
of Brussels. Within the court were the hundreds of children—with
many more mothers this time—all waiting expectantly, all specially
scrubbed, tho no amount of scrubbing could conceal their sad lack of
shoes. There were smiles and greetings and little hands stretched out
all along the line as we passed.

Inside there was no more than the usual cleanliness—for the cantines
are scrupulously kept. Madame and her assistants had tiny American
flags pinned to their white uniforms. In the corridors the American and
Belgian flags hung together. A special permission had been obtained to
take a photograph of their guest at the window.

The tables were laid, the lines began moving. As the little girls filed
in, one of them came forward, and with a pretty courtesy offered Mrs.
Whitlock a large bouquet of red roses. The boys followed, and their
representative, struggling with shyness, recited a poem as he gave
his flowers. All the children were very much imprest with this simple
ceremony, and under the two flags, as the quavering little voice gave
thanks to “those who were bringing them their daily bread,” there were
no grown-ups without tears in their eyes.

American flags of one kind or another hang in all the cantines, along
with pictures of President Wilson, mottos expressing thanks to America,
C. R. B. flour-sacks elaborately embroidered—on all sides are attempts
to express gratitude and affection.

That morning, as the Legation car turned a corner, a little old Flemish
lady in a white frilled cap stept forward and clapped her hands as the
American flag floated by. Men lift their hats to it, children salute
it. In the shop windows one often sees it draping the pictures of the
King and Queen!

This is not a tribute to the American flag alone, but also to the
personality of the man who has so splendidly represented this flag and
to the men who carried the American soul and its works into Belgium
through the C. R. B. Belgium will never forget its immediate debt
to Brand Whitlock and to these hundreds of Americans whose personal
service to this country in its darkest hour is already a matter
of history. Just as Mrs. Whitlock was leaving, Madame fortunately
discovered a shabby little girl who still squeezed a bedraggled bunch
of white roses—and made her happy by bringing her forward to present

These children, as I have said, are all in need of special
nourishment, they are those who have fallen by the wayside in the
march, brought down by the stern repression of the food supply. One of
the most striking effects of the war has been the rapid increase in
tuberculosis. Many of the thousands in the cantines are the victims of
“glands” or some other dread form of this disease.

However, in some respects the children of the very poor are better
off than they have ever been. For the first time they are receiving
nourishing food at regular hours. And this ration, along with the
training in hygiene and medical attention, is having its good effect.

One hundred and twenty-five physicians are contributing their services
to the “Little Bees” in Brussels alone, where, during the first six
months of 1916, infant mortality had decreased 19 per cent. It would be
difficult to estimate the time given by physicians throughout the whole
country, but probably half of the 4,700 are contributing practically
all their time, and almost all are doing something. It is a common
sight in the late afternoon to see a physician who has had a full, hard
day, rushing to a cantine to examine hundreds of children. Outside the
zone of military preparation, 200,000 sub-normal children of from three
to seventeen years, and over 53,000 babies under three months, are on
their “relief” lists, besides a large number of adults.

Outside Brussels, the cantines are conducted in much the same way as
those of the “Little Bees.” Committees of women everywhere are devoting
themselves to the children.



Way over in the northeast, in Hasselt, a town of 17,000 inhabitants,
there is an especially interesting cantine—only one of thousands in
Belgium, mind you! A year ago, when a California professor was leaving
San Francisco to become a C. R. B. representative, he was offered a
farewell dinner—and in the hall his hostess placed a basket, with
obvious intent! The money was not for the general fund, but to be spent
by him personally for some child in need.

He was assigned to Hasselt, for the Province of Limbourg, and there
he very soon decided that a splendid young Belgian woman who had
been giving her whole time to nursing wounded soldiers would be the
person to know which of their children was most in need of his little
fund. When he proposed turning it over to her, she quite broke down
at the opportunity it offered. She and her mother were living in a
rather large house, but on a limited income. She would find the sick
child and care for it in her own home. A few days later the professor
called to see her “child”—and he found twelve! She had not been able
to stop—most of them were children whose fathers were at the front.
They were suffering from rickets, arrested development, paralysis,
malnutrition. She was bathing them, feeding them, and following the
instructions of a physician, whom she had already interested. Her
fund was two hundred and fifty dollars, but in her hands it seemed
inexhaustible. She added children, one after another. Then, finally,
the Relief Committee came to the support of her splendid and necessary
work with its usual monthly subsidy, with which the women buy the
supplies most needed from the relief shops. She is now installed in the
middle of the town—with a kitchen and dining-room downstairs, and a
little clinic and bathroom upstairs. The forty-six centimes (less than
ten cents) a day which she received per child, enabled her to furnish
an excellent meal for each. But she soon found that her children could
not be built up on one meal, and she stretched her small subsidy to
cover a breakfast at eight and a dinner at four to 100 children. She
balances the ration, makes the daily milk tests, looks after every
detail personally. Upstairs in the prized tub devoted helpers bathe
the children who need washing, care for their heads, and for all the
various ailments of a family of 100 sub-normal children. Because of
the glycerine it contains, soap has been put on the “non-entry” list,
which makes it so expensive that the very poor are entirely without it.
The price has increased 300 per cent. since the war. Incidentally, one
of the reasons for the high price of butter is that it can be sold for
making soap, at an extraordinary figure.

This particular tub is a tribute to the ingenuity of the present
American representative—also a professor, but from farther East.
Before the terrific problem of giving children enough bread and
potatoes to keep them alive, bathrooms sometimes appear an unnecessary
luxury. The relief committee could not furnish Mademoiselle a bathroom!
But to those working with the sick and dirty children it seemed
all-essential. Hasselt is not a rich town, everybody’s resources had
been drained—how should the money be found? Finally the C. R. B.
delegate had an inspiration—there was a big swimming-tank in Hasselt.
To the people, the American representative, tho loved, is always a more
or less surprizing person. If it could be announced that by paying
a small sum they could see the strange American swim, everybody who
had the small sum would come—he would swim for the bathroom! It was
announced, and they came, and that swimming fête will go down in the
annals of the town! The cantine got its bathroom, and there was enough
left over to buy a very necessary baby-scales.

Mademoiselle took us to the houses where we saw the misery of mothers
left with seven, nine, eleven children, in one or two little rooms.
There was no wage-earner—he was at the front; or there was no work.
One woman was crying as we went in. She explained that her son, “a bad
one,” had just been trying to take his father’s boots. She pulled out
from behind the basket where the twins were sleeping under the day’s
washing, a battered pair of coarse, high boots. There were holes in the
hob-nailed soles, there was practically no heel left. The heavy tops
still testified to an original stout leather, but never could one see a
more miserable, run-down-at-the-heel, leaky, and useless pair of boots.
Yet to that woman they represented a fortune—there is practically no
leather left in the country, and if there were, how could her man, when
he came back, have the money to buy another pair, and how could he work
in the fields without his boots? There were eight children—eight had

And she wept bitterly because of the son who had tried to take his
father’s boots, as she hid them behind the twin’s basket. I had heard
of the sword as the symbol of the honor and power of the house; in
bitter reality it is the father’s one pair of boots!



I soon came to have the curious feeling about the silent stone fronts
of the houses that if I could but look through them I should see
women sorting garments, women making patterns for lace, women ladling
soup, painting toys, washing babies. Up and down the stairs of these
inconvenient buildings they are running all day long, back and forth,
day after day, seeking through a heroic cheerfulness, a courageous
smile, to hold back tears.

And chiefly I was overwhelmed by the enormous quantities of food they
are handling. The whole city seems turned into a kitchen—and there
follows the inevitable question: “Where does it all come from?” The
women who are doing the work connect directly with the local Belgian
organizations, by the great system of decentralization, which is the
keynote of the C. R. B. Just these three magic letters spell the answer
to the inevitable question.

At the C. R. B. bureau I had seen the charts lining the corridors.
They seemed alive, changing every day, marking the ships on the ocean,
the number of tons of rice, wheat, maize or sugar expected; and how
these tons count up! In the two years that have passed, 1,000,000 tons
each year, meaning practically one ship every weekday in the month;
90,000 tons at one time on the Atlantic! Other charts show the transit
of goods already unloaded at Rotterdam. Over 200 lighters are in
constant movement on their way down the canals to the various C. R. B.
warehouses, which means about 50,000 tons afloat all the time. I had
seen, too, the reports of the enormous quantities of clothing brought
in—4,000,000 dollars worth, almost all of it the free gift of the
United States.

In the director’s room were other maps showing the territory in charge
of each American. Back of every cantine and its power to work stands
this American, the living guaranty to England that the Germans are not
getting the food, the guaranty to Germany of an equal neutrality, and
to the Belgians themselves the guaranty that the gifts of the world
to her, and those of herself to her own people, would be brought in
as wheat through the steel ring that had cut her off. One had only to
think of the C. R. B. door in the steel ring as closed, to realize the
position of this neutral commission. The total result of their daily
and hourly co-ordination of all this organization inside Belgium,
their solitude for each class of the population, their dull and dry
calculations of protein, fat and carbohydrates, bills of lading, cars,
canal boats, mills and what not, is the replenishing of the life-stream
of a nation’s blood.

Thus, the food dispensed by the women is part of the constantly
entering mass, and between its purchase, or its receipt as gift by
the C. R. B., and its appearance as soup for adults, or pudding for
children, is the whole intricate structure of the relief organization.
The audible music of this creation is the clatter of hundreds of
typewriters, the tooting of tugs and shrieks of locomotives, but the
undertones are the harmonies of devotion.

Everybody who can pay for his food must do so—it is sold at a fair
profit, and it is this profit, gained from those who still have
money, that goes over to the women in charge of the cantines for the
purchase of supplies for the destitute. They often supplement this
subsidy through a house-to-house appeal to the people. For instance,
in Brussels, the “Little Bees” are untiring in their canvass. Basket
on arm, continually they solicit an egg, a bunch of carrots, a bit of
meat, or a money gift. They have been able to count on about 5,000 eggs
and about 2,500 francs a week, besides various other things. Naturally,
the people in the poorer sections can contribute but small amounts, but
it is here that one finds the most touching examples of generosity—the
old story of those who have suffered and understood. One woman who
earns just a franc a day and on it has to support herself and her
family, carefully wraps her weekly two-centime piece (two-fifths of a
cent) and has it ready when one of the “Little Bees” calls for it.


Monsieur ..., a committee leader in the Hainaut, once said to me,
“Madame, one of the big things Belgium will win in this war is a true
appreciation of the character and capacity (quite aside from their
idealism) of American young men.

“I’ll confess,” he continued, “that when that initial group of young
Americans came rushing in with those first heaven-sent cargoes of
wheat, we were not strongly reassured. We knew that for the moment
we were saved, but it was difficult to see how these youths, however
zealous and clear-eyed, were going to meet the disaster as we knew it.

“We organized, as you know, our local committees, and headed them by
our Belgians of widest experience; our lawyers of fifty or sixty, our
bankers, our leaders of industry. We could set all the machinery, but
nothing would work unless the Americans would stand with us. The
instructions read: ‘The American and your Belgian chairmen will jointly
manage the relief.’

“And who came to stand with us? Who came to stand with me, for
instance? You see,” and he pointed to splendid broad-shouldered C.
ahead of us, “that lad—not a day over twenty-eight—just about the age
of my boys in the trenches, and who, heaven knows, is now almost as
dear to us as they!

“But in the beginning I couldn’t see it; I simply couldn’t believe C.
was going to be able to handle his end of our terrific problem. But day
by day I watched this lad quietly getting a sense of the situation,
then plunging into it, getting under it, developing an instinct for
diplomacy along with his natural genius for directness and practicality
that bewildered me. It has amazed us all.

“We soon learned that we need not fear to trust ourselves to that type
of character, to its adaptability and capacity, no matter how young it

Of course there have been older Americans who have brought to their
Belgian co-workers equal years as well as experience, but one of the
pictures I like best to remember is this of Monsieur ..., a Belgian
of fifty-five or sixty, in counsel with his eager American délégué of
twenty-eight. To the partnership, friendship, confidence, the Belgian
added something paternal, and the American responded with a devotion
one feels is lifelong.

Between the visits to mills and docks, and the grinding over accounts,
orders of canal boats and warehouses, there are hours for other things.
I remember one restful one spent at this same Monsieur’s table—he is
an excellent Latin scholar and a wise philosopher—when he and his
young American friend for a time forgot the wheat and fat in their
delight to get back to Virgil and Horace.

Young D., a Yale graduate, furnished another example of these qualities
Monsieur stressed. If he had been a Westerner, his particular
achievement would have been less surprizing, but he came from the East.

He reached Belgium at the time of a milk crisis. We were attempting,
and, in fact, had practically arranged, the plan to establish C. R. B.
herds adjacent to towns, to insure a positive supply for tiny babies.
The local committees went at it, but one after another came in with
discouraging reports. Even their own people were often preventing
success by fearing and sometimes by flatly refusing to turn their
precious cows into a community herd. Then one day D., who, so far as I
know, had never in his career been within speaking distance of a cow,
put on something that looked like a sombrero and swung out across
his province. We had hardly had time to speculate about what he might
accomplish, before he returned to announce that he had rounded up a
magnificent herd, and that _his_ district was ready to guarantee so
much pure milk from that time on!

“What had he done, where we had failed?” asked Monsieur. “He had called
a meeting of farmers in each commune, and said: ‘We, the Americans,
want from this commune five or ten cows for the babies of your cities.
We give ourselves to Belgium, you give your cows to us. We will give
them back when the war is over—if they are alive!’ And he got them!”
They would have given this cheerful beggar anything—these stolid old
Flemish peasants.



The world will be incredulous when it is given the final picture of the
complexity and completeness of the Belgian Relief Organization. In all
the communes, all the provinces, in the capital, for over two years,
groups of Belgians have been shut in their bureaux with figures and
plans, matching needs with relief.

There must be bread and clothing for everybody, shelter for the
homeless, soup for the hungry, food boxes for prisoners in Germany,
milk for babies, special nourishment for the tubercular, orphanages
and crèches for the tiny war victims, work for the idle, some means of
secours for merchants, artists, teachers and thousands of “ashamed
poor”—665,000 idle workmen with their 1,000,000 dependents, 1,250,000
on the soupes, 53,000 babies and 200,000 children under normal health
in the cantines—how much of the story can these figures tell?

Yet the efforts of the organization have been so continuous and
comprehensive, the C. R. B. has been so steadily bringing to them the
vital foodstuffs, and holding for them the guaranty of their freedom to
act, that from the committee-rooms it has sometimes seemed as if there
were really nothing more to be done for Belgium!

But one has only to spend a few days at the other end, to get quickly
disabused of this idea! No amount of organization can truly meet the
needs of the seven and a half million people of a small industrial
country, suddenly and entirely cut off from all normal contact with the
rest of the world. Despite all the food that has been distributed, the
resistance of the people has been lowered. Tuberculosis has seized its
opportunity, and is making rapid strides. I have visited home after
home where a heartbreaking courage was trying to cover up a losing
struggle. Over and above all the organized “Relief,” there remains an
enormous task for just such splendid women as Madame....

Madame is the wife of a lawyer, with two sons at the front. As soon as
the war broke out she organized a Red Cross center. Then the refugees
came pouring into Brussels, and she felt that among them there must
be many to whom it would be torture to be crowded into the big relief
shelters. She said little, but by the end of August she had managed
to squeeze five families in with her own. From the day the Germans
abolished the Belgian Red Cross she gave her entire time to helping the
homeless who had been in comfortable circumstances before the war to
some quiet corner where they might wait its end. There was never any
announcement of her work, but the word spread like wildfire—many had
to be turned away daily. Then she found a big home on the Boulevard,
rather shabby inside, but conveniently arranged for suites of two or
even three rooms. Here a considerable number of families might have
space for a complete ménage; plenty of light and air, and room to cook
and sleep. Before long she was housing ninety-eight, but a few of
these were able to re-establish themselves, so when I visited her in
September, 1916, there were sixty-five. As her own funds were limited,
and fast disappearing, she had in the end to appeal to the “Relief” to
subsidize this “Home.”

On the first floor she had a little pantry-shop, where each family
received the permitted ration of bread, sugar, bacon and other
foodstuffs. One day a woman came to her, hungry. She was a widow with
two little girls, who, before the war, had earned a good salary in
the post-office. Somehow she had managed to exist for two years, but
now there was nothing left. She was given charge of the pantry at ten
cents a day. I have seen many processions of people descending long
stairways. I shall forget them. But I shall never forget this one of
the refugees from the upper floors winding down the stairways at the
shop hour, with their pathetic plates and bowls ready for the bacon and
bread that made living possible. They could, perhaps, add vegetables
and fruit, or an egg or two, to the ration to piece out the meal.
On the lowest shelf of this miniature shop were a few dozen cans of
American corn, which even yet the people have not learned to like.
Having been brought up to regard corn in all forms as fit only for
cattle and chickens, even disaster can not convince them that it is a
proper food for man!

Later we went upstairs to visit some of the apartments. They were
bright and clean, with cheery flower-pots on all the window-sills.
Every one showed a fine appreciation of what was done for him by making
the most of all he had; an attitude quite different from that of many
less used to comfort, less intelligent, who neither hesitate to demand
charity, nor to complain of what they receive. Each family had a small,
practical stove, which served for both cooking and heating.

One family of eight was content in its two rooms. They had had a
copper shop and a pension at Dinant; were very comfortably off, when,
suddenly, Dinant was struck. All their property was in flames, men
were being shot, their own grandmother, eighty-one years old, had
her leg broken, and, terror-stricken, they fled with her up and down
hill, over rocks and through brush till they reached Namur, and
finally arrived at Brussels where they heard of Madame’s “Home.” The
grandmother, whose leg is mended but still crooked, was sitting in
front of the red geraniums at a window, knitting socks. She knits one
pair a week and receives five cents for each pair from the clothing
committee. The young girls help Madame in various ways; the father
tries to work in copper, but if he earns fifty cents a week, considers
himself lucky. The particular struggle for this family is to get eggs
for the grandmother, who can not get along on the bacon and bread.
Eggs cost ten cents each. Happily, this is a kind of situation that
“special funds” from the United States have often relieved. Everybody
was courageous, trying simply to hold on till the terrible war should
be ended and he could go back to rebuild something on the ruins of his

There was another Dinant ménage next door, but a ménage for one. I
quickly read this poor woman’s story on the walls. On one was tacked a
large picture of Dinant, beautiful, smiling, winding along the river,
as in July, 1914. Above it was the photograph of her husband, shot in
August; on the other wall a handsome son in uniform. He was at the
front. She stopt peeling her potatoes to go over again those horrible
days. They had been so well-off, so happy, father, mother and son.
When they saw their city in flames, they were too bewildered, too
terror-stricken to realize what it meant. Her husband left to help
restore a bridge—he did not return. The son hurried to follow his
King; she somehow reached Brussels.

There was a fine young chap of about fifteen, whose father had been
killed at Manceau sur Sambre. He and his mother had found this haven,
but now she was in the hospital undergoing a capital operation. Madame
was trying to arrange a special diet for her on her return. They had
been in very comfortable circumstances; now everything was gone.

And so it was—the same story, and from all parts of Belgium. They had
come from Verviers, Aerschot, Dinant, from Termonde and Ypres—the
striking thing was the courage, the gentleness, the fine spirit of all.

This “Home,” as I said, has now been subsidized, but along with it
Madame still carries on another admirable work entirely on her own
responsibility. Some friends help her, but she really lives from day to
day! On the ground floor of this same building she has a restaurant,
also known only as the word passes from mouth to mouth, where any one
may come for a good dinner at noon. There is no limit to what one may
pay, but the charge is a franc, or twenty cents. The majority pay less.

It has quite the atmosphere of one of the little Paris restaurants of
the Latin quarter—two adjoining rooms bright with flowers and colored
cloths and gay china, separated from the kitchen only by screens. It
is frequented chiefly by artists and teachers, some young girls from
the shops, and a few business men. Madame does not go from table to
table as the Paris host does, greeting his guests, but they come to
her table to shake hands and chat for a minute. They linger over their
coffee—there is the general atmosphere of cheer and _bien être_. And
what this means in this time of gloom to the sixty or more who gather
there daily!

Young girls of the families of the refugees serve the meals. The cook,
herself a refugee, works for twenty francs a month.

I said any one might come, but that is, of course, not exact. Any one
may ask to come, but he must prove to Madame that he needs to come.
After he explains his situation, she has ways of checking up this
information and deciding herself whether the need is a real one. The
dinner consists of soup, a meat and vegetable dish, and dessert, with
beer or coffee.

I was looking over the meal tickets and noticed that while most of them
were unstamped (the one franc ones) a good number had distinguishing
marks. Then I learned that if a person was unable to pay a franc for
this meal, he might have it for fifteen or even ten cents, and his
ticket was stamped accordingly. I found one ticket with no stamp, but
with the “o” of “No” blotted out. This might be chance, but after
finding a half-dozen or more with this same ink blot, I suspected a
meaning. And the explanation revealed the spirit of Madame’s work.
“Yes,” she said, “there is a meaning. There are some so badly off that
they can pay nothing; to save them the pain of having to look at, and
to have others look at, a stamp registering this misery, I do not stamp
their tickets, but, since I must keep count, I blot that little ‘o,’
which at once suggests ‘zero’ to me!”

Choosing at random, I found registered for one day in July, 1916:

   1 dinner at 1 franc, 10 centimes.
  58 dinners at 1 franc.
  43 dinners at 75 centimes (15 cents).
  10 dinners at 50 centimes.
   4 dinners at 0.



Unquestionably the Belgian above all others the Germans would rid
themselves of if they could, is Cardinal Mercier. He is the exalted
Prince of the Church, but in the hour of decision, he stept swiftly
down and, with a ringing call to courage, took his place with the
people. Ever since that day he has helped them to stand united,
defiant, waiting the day of liberation. Others have been silenced by
imprisonment or death, but the greatest power has not dared to lay
hands on the Cardinal. He is the voice, not only of the Church, but of
Belgium heartening her children.

Malines has her cantines and soupes and ouvroirs, all the branches of
secours necessary to a city that was one of the centers of attack; but
these are not the most interesting things about Malines. It is above
all as the city of the Cardinal that she stands forth in this war. Her
“oeuvre” has been to give moral and spiritual secours, not only to her
own people, but to those of every part of Belgium.

Since under the “occupation” the press has naturally been “controlled,”
this secours has been distributed chiefly through the famous letters of
the Cardinal sent to priests to be re-read to their people. We remember
the thrill with which the first one was read in America. After the war
there will be pilgrimages to the little room where it was printed. I
had the privilege of having it shown me by that friend of the Cardinal
who was the printer of the first letter, and whose brother was at this
time a prisoner in Germany for having printed the second. The room was
much as it had been left after the search; books were still disarranged
on their shelves, papers and pamphlets heaped in confusion on the
tables. The red seals with which the Germans had closed the keyholes
had been broken, but their edges still remained. Standing in the midst
of the disarray, remembering that the owner had already been six months
in a German prison, and looking out on the shattered façade at the end
of the garden, I realized, at least partly, another moment of the war.

This quickening secours, then, is distributed chiefly by letter, but
continually by presence and speech in Malines itself, and occasionally
in other parts of the country. On the 21st of July, 1916, the
anniversary of the independence of Belgium, all Brussels knew that
the Cardinal was coming to celebrate high mass in Sainte Gudule. The
mass was to begin at 11 o’clock, but at 9.30 practically every foot of
standing-room in the vast cathedral was taken. In the dimness a great
sea of people waited patiently, silently, the arrival of their leader.
Occasionally a whispered question or rumor flashed along the nave. “He
has come!” “He has been prevented!” There was a tacit understanding
that there should be no demonstration—the Cardinal himself had ordered
it. Every one was trying to control himself, and yet, as the air grew
thicker, and others fought their way into the already packed transepts,
one felt that anything might happen! Almost every person had a bit
of green ribbon (color of hope) or an ivy leaf (symbol of endurance)
pinned to his coat. The wearing of the national colors was strictly
forbidden, but the national spirit found another way: green swiftly
replaced the orange, black and red.

We all knew that this meant trouble for Brussels, and the fact that
the shops (which had all been ordered to keep open this holiday) were
carrying on a continuous comedy at the expense of the Germans, did
not help matters. Their doors were open, to be sure, but in many, the
passage was blocked by the five or six employees who sat in stiff rows
with bows of green ribbon in their buttonholes, and indescribable
expressions on their faces. In the biggest chocolate shop, the window
display was an old pail of dirty water with a slimsy rag thrown near
it. There was no person inside but the owner, who stood beside the
cash register in dramatic and defiant attitude, smoking a pipe. There
were crowds in front of the window which displayed large photographs
of the King and Queen, draped with the American flag. Another shop had
only an enormous green bow in the window. Almost every one took some
part in the play. Not a Belgian entered a shop, and if a German was
brave enough to, he was usually made the victim of his courage. One was
delighted to serve him, but, unfortunately, peaches had advanced to ten
francs each, or something of the sort!

Finally, after an hour and a half, a priest made an announcement, which
from our distance we misunderstood. We thought he said that the mass
would be celebrated, but unfortunately not by Monseigneur, who had been
detained. A few of us worked our way, inch by inch, to the transept
door, and out into the street. There I found an excited group running
around the rear of the cathedral to the sacristy-door, and, when I
reached it, I learned the Cardinal had just passed through.

For no particular reason I waited there, and before long the door was
partly opened by an acolyte, who was apparently expecting some one.
He saw me and agreed that I might enter if I wished, for was I not an
American to whom all Belgium is open? So I slipt in and found room to
stand just behind the altar screen where all through the celebration I
could watch the face of the Cardinal—a face at once keen and tender,
strong, fearless, devout: one could read it all there. He was tall,
thin, dominating, a heroic figure, in his gorgeous scarlet vestments,
officiating at the altar of this beautiful Gothic cathedral.

The congregation remained silent, three or four fainting women were
carried out, that was all. Then the Cardinal mounted the pulpit at the
further end of the nave to deliver his message, the same message he had
been preaching for two years—they must hold themselves courageous,
unconquered, with stedfast faith in God and in their final liberation.
Tears were in the eyes of many, but there was no crying out.

From the pulpit he came back to the catafalque erected in the middle
of the nave for the Belgian soldiers dead in battle. It represented a
great raised coffin, simply and beautifully draped with Belgian flags,
veiled in crêpe. Tall, flaming candles surrounded it. As the Cardinal
approached, the dignitaries of the city, who had been occupying seats
of honor below the altar, marched solemnly down and formed a circle
about the catafalque. Then the Cardinal read the service for the dead.
The dim light of the cathedral, the sea of silent people, the memorial
coffin under the flag and lighted by tall candles, the circle of
those chosen to represent the city, the sad-faced Cardinal saying the
prayers for those who had died in defense of the flag that now covered
them—was it strange that as his voice ceased and he moved slowly
toward the sacristy-door by which he was to depart, the overwhelming
tide of emotion swept barriers, and “Vive le Roi!” “Vive Monseigneur!”
echoed once more from these ancient walls! We held our breath. Men were
pressing by me whispering, “What shall we do? We have necessity to cry
out—after two years, we _must_ cry out!” The Cardinal went straight
forward, looking neither to the right nor the left, the tears streaming
down his cheeks.

Outside, to pass from the rear of the cathedral to the Archbishop’s
palace, he was obliged to cross the road. As I turned up this road
to go back to the main portal, the crowd came surging down, arms
outthrust, running, waving handkerchiefs and canes, pushing aside the
few helpless Belgian police, quite beyond control, and shouting wildly
now, “Vive le Roi!” and “Vive Monseigneur!” I was able to struggle
free only after the gate had closed on the Cardinal.

This was the day when in times of peace all the populace brought
wreaths to the foot of the statue erected in honor of the soldiers who
died for the independence of Belgium. The Germans had placed guards in
the square and forbidden any one to go near it. So all day long throngs
of people, a constant, steady procession marched along the street
beyond, each man lifting his hat, women often their green parasols,
as soon as they came in view of their statue. All these things, I
repeat, did not help Brussels in the matter of the demonstration at the
cathedral. And a few days later a posted notice informed her that she
had been fined 1,000,000 marks!

But the people had seen their Cardinal—they had received their
spiritual secours—he had brought heavenly comfort to their hearts, put
new iron in their blood. They had dared to cry just once their loyalty
to him and to their King, and they laughed at the 1,000,000 marks!



One afternoon I happened by a communal school in another crowded
quarter of Brussels, and, tho it was vacation, and I knew the principal
had been sadly overworked for two years and ought to be in the country,
I decided to knock at the bureau to see if he were in.

I had my answer in the corridor, where rows of unhappy mothers and
miserable fathers were waiting to see him. Inside there were more. He
was examining a little girl with a very bad eye; and I realized why
there could be no vacation for the principal!

As I sat there, I heard the noise of marching in the court below,
and when I asked what it was, he opened the window for me to see.
There were 720 children between six and fourteen years, gaily tramping
round and round under the trees, making their “promenade” before the 4
o’clock “repas scolaire” (school children’s repast) which the Relief
Organization is now trying to furnish to each of the 1,200,000 children
in the free schools of Belgium who may need it—incidentally at an
outlay of $2,500,000 a month.

Over 8,500 children in the sixty communal schools of Brussels proper
receive this dinner. It is quite distinct from the eleven o’clock
meal furnished at the cantines for children below normal health—they
may have both—and it is served in the school building. Naturally
the school-teachers are carrying a large share in this stupendous

For the children, the “repas” is the great event of the day, and,
since the vacation, they gather long before the hour. One sees, too,
hundreds of little ones on the sidewalks before the Enfants Débiles
dining-rooms, as early as 8 A.M., clutching their precious cards and
waiting already for their eleven o’clock potatoes and phosphatine.

This school is also a communal soup center, tho the teachers have
nothing to do with the distribution. Every day from 2,500 to 3,000 men
and women line up—worn, white enamel pitchers in one hand, cards in
the other, to receive the family ration of soup and bread.

As I passed one morning, I saw a little bare-legged girl sitting on a
doorstep opposite. Her mother had evidently left her to guard their
portion, and she sat huddled up against the tall, battered pitcher full
of steaming soup, her little arms tight about four round loaves—which
meant many brothers and sisters. The father was in the trenches. She
sat there, a slim, wistful little thing, guarding the soup and bread,
the picture of what war means to women and children.

Monsieur was particularly happy because he had just succeeded in
sending fifteen children, who very much needed to be built up, to the
seacoast for fifteen days. It is his hope to establish homes, in the
country so far as possible, which shall be limited to from thirty to
forty children.

He has continually to arrange, too, for the care of those who may not
be in truth orphans, but who belong to the thousands of wretched little
ones set adrift by the war. I saw one little boy who had been found all
alone in a most pitiful plight beside a gun, in one of the devastated
districts. If his parents are still living, no one has yet succeeded in
tracing them.

That morning an old uncle had begged Monsieur to take charge of his
nephew and niece; he had not a penny left, they must starve unless
something were done for them. Some months before, the father had been
wounded at the front, and the mother had foolishly hurried away to try
to reach him, leaving the children with her brother. Months had gone
by—he had had no word from any one—and now he was quite at the end of
his resources. And so it was with case after case. Something _must_ be

Besides being the section kitchen and dining-room, this school has
become a social center. Every Sunday afternoon the children are invited
to gather there to have a good time. They are taught to play games,
each is given a bonbon, a simple sweet of some sort—“nothing of the
kind to encourage luxury!” They are occupied, happy, and kept off the
streets and out of homes made miserable through lack of employment.

We see, then, that “every day” means literally _every_ day, and we
realize how arduous is the task of the thousands of devoted teachers
who are standing between the war and those who would otherwise be its

And as they tell us over and over again that the one thing that makes
them able to stand is their confidence in the love and sympathy of
the United States, we begin to realize our responsibility. It is not
only that the wheat and cloth are essential, the encouragement of the
presence of even the few (forty to fifty) Americans is the _great_

At 8.30 the next morning I visited one of the “Jardins
d’Enfants”—schools for children between two and a half and six years
of age. There were the teachers already busy in that new department of
their work—the war-food department; 460 tiny tots were being given
their first meal of the day—a cup of hot cocoa, and, during that
month, a little white bread bun. No American can understand what this
single piece of _white_ bread means to a French or Belgian child. I
am sure that if a tempting course dinner were set at one side, and a
slice of white bread at the other, he would not hesitate to choose the
bread. It is white bread that they all beg for, tho the brown war bread
made from flour milled at 82 per cent. is really very palatable, and
superior to the war bread of other countries.

A sheaf of letters sent from a school in Lille to thank the C. R. B.
director for the improved brown (not nearly white) bread gave me my
first impression of the all-importance of the color and quality of the

Amélie B. wrote:

“Before May 5, 1915, we had to eat black bread, which we preferred to
make into flowers of all sorts as souvenirs of the war! But after that
date we have had the good, light bread—so eatable. It is for this we
thank you.”

Another says:

“Since we have had the _good_ bread the happiest people are the
mothers, who before had to let their “chers petits” suffer from hunger,
because their delicate stomachs would not digest the bad, black bread.”


“The mothers of little children wept with joy and blest you, as they
went to get their good, light bread.”

One little girl wrote:

“When on the 5th of May, 1915, maman returned with the new bread, and
we all ran to taste it, we found it good. The bread we had been eating
long months had been dark and moist. Further, rice had been our daily
food. It is without doubt to show your gratitude to the French, who
went to drive the English away from you in 1783, that you have thought
to soften our suffering. Merci! Merci! Many died because of that bad
bread, and many more should have died, had you not come to our aid with
the good bread.”

Another little girl writes:

“If ever in the future America is in need, France will not forget
the good she has done and will reach a hospitable hand to her second
country, who has saved her unhappy children. It is you who have made
it possible for all mothers to give bread to their children. Without
the rice and beans, what would have become of us! You have helped us to
have coal and warm clothing against the cold. In the name of all the
mothers we thank you, and all the little children send you a great kiss
of thanks.”

The babies had all finished their cocoa and buns, so I went to the
Girls’ Technical Training School in the neighborhood. It was having
a particularly hard time because of the lack of materials and of
opportunity to sell the articles made by the children. But two
wonderful women—one the director, the other the art teacher—were
courageously fighting to keep things going.

The pupils are largely from poor families. When they were going through
the beautiful figures of their gymnasium exercise for me, I saw that
the bloomers were mostly made of odds and ends of cloth. The shoes,
too, quickly told the tale—all sorts of substitutes for leather,
patched woolen shoes or slippers, wooden soles with cloth tops, clogs.

In the room for design I was greeted with most cordial smiles as Madame
introduced me as her friend from America, the country which meant
hope to them. Then happened swiftly one of the things it is difficult
to prevent—the shouting in one breath of “Vive le Roi!” and “Vive
l’Amérique!” Who would doubt that a good part of the joy of shouting
“Vive l’Amérique” comes from the opportunity it gives them to couple
with it the cry of their hearts, “Vive la Belgique!”

By the time we returned to her bureau, Madame trusted me entirely,
and explained that this was the center of a kind of “Assistance
Discrète” she had established for her girls and their families. She
opened several cabinets, and showed me what they had made to help one
another. Certain women have been contributing materials—old garments,
bits of cloth, trimming for hats, all of which have been employed to
extraordinary advantage. What struck me most were the attractive little
babies’ shirts, made from the upper parts of worn stockings.

Madame opened a paper sack and showed me nine hard-boiled eggs that
were to be given to the weaker girls, who most needed extra nourishment
that day.

Her most precious possession was a record of the gifts of the pupils
and their friends for this “Assistance Discrète.” It is a list of
contributions of a few centimes, or a franc or two, given as thank
offerings for some blessing; oftenest for recovery from illness, or
for good news received. It showed, too, that the children had been
bringing all the potato peelings from home, to be sold as food for
cattle. Sometimes a girl brought as much as twenty-eight centimes (over
five cents) worth of peelings. But in May, 1916, the potato peelings
stopt—they were not having potatoes at home.



Before the war Madame was very close to the Queen. She lived in our
quarter of Brussels; we became friends. And how generous the friendship
between a Belgian and an American can be, only the members of the
Commission for Relief truly know! It is swift and complete.

I had been in Brussels five months when she said to me one day:

“My dear, I understand only too well the difficulties of your
position—the guaranty you gave on entering. As you know, I have never
once suggested that you carry a note for me, or bring a message—tho
I have seen you starting in your car behind your blessed little white
flag for the city of my daughter and my grandchildren! Nor have I,”
she laughed, with the swift play so typical of the Belgian mind,
“once hinted at a pound of butter or a potato! But lately I have been
suffering so many, many fears, that I am tempted just to ask if you
think this would be wrong for you—if it would, forget that I asked it:
I have a relation who has always been closer to me than a brother—we
were brought up together. He is eighty-two now, and, at the beginning
of the war, was living near X in Occupied France. He was important in
his district, his name is known. Now, if I should merely give you that
name, and, when you next see your American delegate from that district,
you should speak it, might it not be possible that he would recognize
it, and could tell you if my dear, dear M. is suffering, or if he is
yet able to care for himself? Would that be breaking your agreement?”

As she stood there—intelligence, distinction speaking from all her
person—fearfully putting this pitiful question, I experienced another
of those maddening moments we live through in Belgium. One swiftly
doubts one’s reason—the situation—everything! The world simply can
not be so completely lost as it seems!

Mercifully this would not be breaking any promise; and I begged for the

But even then I was rather hopeless that our American would know. In
the North of France he must live with his German officer; he is not
free to mingle with the French people.

Thursday, conference day, came, when all the little white flags rush in
from their provinces, bringing our splendid American men—their faces
stern, strained, but with that beautiful light in them that testifies
they are giving without measure the best they have to others.

Never will any one, who has experienced it, forget the thrill he felt
when he saw those fifteen cars with their forty-two men rushing up,
one after the other to 66, rue des Colonies, nor the line of them all
day on the curb with their fluttering white flags carrying the red C.
R. B.! There were no other cars to be seen. Each person, as he passed,
knew that these fifteen white flags meant wheat and life to 10,000,000

As I stood there I heard a band. I looked up the street and saw the
German soldiers goose-stepping before their guard mount. This happens
every morning, just a square above our offices. The white flags and the
goose-step—they pretty much sum up the situation!

I hurried inside, hoping fervently to hear the longed-for answer, as I
put the name and my question.

But the name was strange to S., he could tell me nothing, tho he felt
sure that by keeping his ears open that week, he might learn something.

How often through those days I thought of these two, caught in this
war-night of separation. For two and a half years neither had been
able to call across it even the name of the other. And then of the word
thrown into the night with hope and prayer!

On the next meeting day, as he hurried toward me, I could see from S.’s
face that he had news. “Yes,” he said eagerly, “he is still there, he
draws his ration—he is not suffering from want, he has enough left to
pay for his food. But when he heard that somebody would possibly carry
this news to his dearest living relation, he cried: ‘Oh! Would it
not be possible to do just one thing more! I am eighty-two; I may die
before this terrible war is ended. In pity will not somebody tell me
before I die if any of my nieces has had a little baby, or if any one
of them is going to have a little baby?’”

“And now,” S. said, “you and I know that if the Relief stops, we’ve
got to find out for that poor old man that there is a baby!”

And I went about it. On Thursday, when he rushed over to me I could
call: “Yes, there _is_ one! It’s Gabrielle’s! A little girl, five
months old and doing beautifully!”

“Hurrah!” he shouted, and hurried back to his tons and calories.

It is four months since then, and I do not know if there are any more
babies, or if that old gentleman of a distinguished house has had any
other than this single connection with the loved ones of this family in
over two and a half years.



Belgium is succoring her weak children, but she is going deeper than
this: she is trying to prevent weak children. All through the country
there are cantines where an expectant or young mother without means may
receive free a daily dinner, consisting usually of a thick soup, a meat
or egg dish with vegetables, a dessert with lactogenized cream, and
a measure of milk. Light service, like the peeling of vegetables, is
often required in return. The mother may come as early as three months
before the birth of her child, and if she is still nursing it, may
continue nine months after its birth. About 7,000 mothers are receiving
this dinner, and 6,000 more come to the affiliated consultation
cantines for advice.

Of course, there are always those who can not nurse their children, or
who can carry them through but a short period, when the question of
pasteurized milk becomes all-important. The “Goutte de Lait” (drop of
milk) sections meet this problem by offering the necessary feedings of
pure milk. The mother may pay for the bottles, and have them delivered,
or she may, if necessitous, receive them free by calling or sending for


In Antwerp, where this work has assumed unusual proportions, a
big-hearted president of the Belgian Provincial Committee got
permission to purchase 100 cows in Holland and to hold them without
danger of requisition. He installed a model dairy on his place, and
now gives all the baby cantines pure milk. He is always most anxious
to finish his arduous day’s work at the bureau, so that he may return
to his dairy, examine the milk tests, and review his fine herd.
One of his daughters, in addition to hours spent in the cantines,
takes the entire responsibility of the management of this dairy. Other
towns are less fortunate, and must struggle continually to get the
milk they require. There is a beautiful development of the work of a
“Goutte de Lait” in Hasselt, in a cantine occupying part of a maternity
hospital. There they have an admirable equipment for sterilization and
pasteurization. At 7 o’clock in the morning I found the women directors
already busy with the preparation of the milk. Each feeding has its
separate bottle, and may be kept sealed till the baby receives it.
After seven months, white phosphatine, a mixture of the flour of wheat,
rice and corn, with salt, sugar and phosphate of lime, is furnished; at
fourteen months, cocoa is added, and after two years, soup and bread.

I happened to arrive on the weekly weighing day. One hundred mothers
were gathered in a large, cheery room, their babies in their arms,
many of them gay in the pretty bonnets the doctor’s wife had made for
those who had the best records. They passed, a few at a time, into
the smaller room where the doctor and his wife examined, weighed,
counseled, while two assistants registered important details; the three
young nurses generally aided the mothers and their chiefs.

Then I was shown an adjoining room, where, in the corners, there were
heaps of little white balls rolled in wax paper. From a distance they
looked more than anything else like tiny popcorn balls. What could
they mean? I took one in my hand and saw that they meant that the most
precious prize that can be offered a Belgian mother to-day is a tiny
ball of white lard! With the more ignorant, this prize-system is the
swiftest means of opening the way. The doctor laughed as he recounted
his struggle with one obstinate woman, who argued stoutly that because
the cow is a great, strong creature, while she herself is but small
and frail, undoubtedly its milk would be infinitely more strengthening
to her child than her own! Where argument failed, the prize convinced.
If a mother can nurse her baby but neglects to, she is forced to feed
it regularly before some member of the committee. Nurses visit all the
homes registered.

The attempt is being made everywhere to induce mothers who are not
actually in want, to enroll in these cantines, while paying for
their food, that they may have the benefit of the pure milk and the
physician’s care. The “Relief” is not counting the cost of this
fundamental work—the baby cantines are the promise of the future.
They are already closely watching the development of 53,000 babies.
The educational value alone can not be measured; women who had not the
faintest conception of the simplest laws of hygiene are being trained,
forced to learn, because their own and their children’s food can come
to them only from the hand of their teacher. While the war has brought
unutterable misery, it has also brought extraordinary opportunity, and
Belgium is seizing this opportunity wherever she can.



And babies must be clothed, as well as fed! I visited one of the
Brussels layette centers with the C. R. B. American advisory physician,
whose interest in children had brought him at once face to face
with what women are doing to save them. We went to a little cantine
consisting of a room and anteroom on the ground floor, and, I might
add, the sidewalk—for before we reached it we saw the line of hatless
mothers with their tiny babies wrapt in shawls in their arms, waiting
their turn. This was a depot where they might receive the articles
for the lying-in period and clothing for babies under six months of
age. We passed through the anteroom, where a number sat nursing their
babies (young mothers mostly, and many of them pretty), into the

Here we found three directors very busy at their tables with the
record-cards, books and other materials of their organization, and
three younger women rapidly sorting out the tiny bibs, slips and sheets
heaped high on the counters along the walls. From the miscellaneous
piles they produced the neat little layettes—each a complete wardrobe
for an expectant or young mother, and comprising 4 squares, 2 swaddling
cloths, 3 fichus, 4 brassieres, 2 shirts, 2 bands, 2 pair socks, 2
bonnets, 3 bibs, 1 hooded cloak. The packages for children from three
to six months held 3 squares, 2 pantaloons, 2 bibs, 2 fichus, 2 shirts,
2 brassieres, 2 dresses.

As the mothers came in, the babies were carefully weighed and examined,
the records added to, through direct, effective questioning—always
gentle and encouraging. The young women turned over the needed
garments, with advice about their use, chiefly regarding cleanliness.
To support this advice, they attempted to have the materials white as
far as possible.

When I asked what they most needed, they said, “Cradles, Madame,
cradles. We could place fifty a week in this cantine alone, and white
materials for sheets and blankets—and oh, hundreds of yards of rubber
sheeting or its equivalent!” For very evident reasons, the C. R. B. is
not allowed to bring in rubber materials of any kind. Many mothers,
as the babies arrive, appeal for beds for the older children and for
mattresses for themselves. “We can still get ticking in Brussels if we
have the money, but nothing to stuff it with.”

Every morning since the beginning of the war these women have been
there, on their feet most of the time—sorting, arranging packages of
garments, and keeping in their minds and hearts the hundreds of mothers
and babies who depend on them. They often visit the homes after cantine
hours. Madame smiled as she explained the necessity of a personal
investigation of each case. “For instance,” she said, “if at the
children’s cantine I gave a youngster a pair of shoes simply because he
seemed to have none, and without personally proving that he had none, I
should undoubtedly have an entire barefoot family the next day!”

It was with this particular kind of work that the Petites Abeilles or
“Little Bees” started five years before the war. A group of young women
banded together to help children, and organized centers in Brussels
for the distribution of needed clothing. Their efforts at once won the
enthusiasm of the people. Poets wrote songs to “The Little Bees,” the
Queen and the adored Princess Marie-José were their patronesses—they
were probably the most popular organization of their kind in Belgium.

Then the war came, and the mothers quickly took charge. They
established a vast home for refugees, where they housed over 5,000.
Later they appealed to the Relief Committee to be allowed to develop
their work to meet the terrible emergency. Their offer was only too
gladly accepted, and one after another cantine for feeding, as well
as clothing, was opened in the various sections of the city; where
to-day practically all the work for the children is carried on by these
wonderful “Little Bees” and their mothers. By July, 1916, their 124
Brussels sections were caring for about 25,000 children, and between
2,500 and 3,000 women were giving a great part of their time to the
work. Social barriers disappeared. All classes rallied to the need.
Four hundred telephone girls out of work were doing their best, side
by side with countesses.

As we were leaving, Madame explained that the woman who founded this
particular cantine was a prisoner in Germany. The three beautiful young
girls sorting the layettes were the daughters, carrying forward their
mother’s work. I was to learn that almost invariably at some moment of
my visit, the veil would be withdrawn and the tragedy revealed.



To the world Liége is the symbol of Belgium’s courage. During eleven
days her forts withheld an overwhelming force, reckless of its size or
her own unpreparedness, determined to save the national integrity of
Belgium. And well Belgium knew to what point she could count on the
brave Liégeois; through all her troubled history, they had been the
ardent champions of her freedom.

This beautiful city on the Meuse escaped the ruin visited on other
parts of her province. In fact, all the four largest cities of
Belgium escaped, in each case a smaller neighboring town, especially
picturesque, stands as an example of destruction and warning. Belgians
ask if it was not with the obvious intent of cowing the near-by
capital, that Dinant was made an example to Namur, Nimy to Mons,
Louvain to Brussels? They point out that tho only the ghost of lovely
Visée remains, Liége itself has lost but about 100 buildings. After
the final inevitable surrender of her forts, the attacking army passed
on, leaving her under powerful control. But tho the material damage
was small, as the populous center of a great industrial region, this
city was one of the first to realize the distress that followed the
occupation and isolation of Belgium. One by one her famous firearm
factories and glass mills closed their doors, and poured their
thousands of workmen into the streets. In many cases the factories were
dismantled, the machinery taken to Germany to make munitions. And this
was happening all through the province, so that by 1915 it counted
90,000 idle workmen (chômeurs), and in the capital alone, fully 18,000.
Ordinarily (among her 180,000 inhabitants) Liége lists 43,000 skilled
workmen; so for her the proportion of idle was almost one-half; with
their families they represented but little less than one-quarter of
the entire population. The 4,000 employed in the coal mines, which,
fortunately, were able to keep open, were the one saving factor in the

The question of chômage, or unemployment, is the most serious the
relief organization has had to face. It has been most acute in the
two Flanders; but in Antwerp, with its 25,000 idle dock hands, in
the highly industrial Hainaut, in Namur and Brabant, as well as in
Liége, there have been special circumstances developing particular
difficulties. Over 665,000 workmen without work, representing millions
of dependents, would present a sufficiently critical problem to a
country not at war. One can imagine what it means to a country every
square foot of which is controlled by an enemy so hated that the
conquered would risk all the evils of continued non-employment rather
than have any of its people serve in any way the ends of the invader.
Better roads, better railways, mean greater facility for the Germans.

None of the leaders I have talked with have been satisfied with the
system evolved, but no one has yet been able to substitute a better.

A scheduled money allowance for the chômeur was quickly adopted, but
as a friend from Tournai said, this enabled a man simply to escape
complete starvation, but not to live. Three francs a week for the
workman, one franc and a half for his wife, fifty centimes for each of
his children, or one dollar and ten cents a week for a family of four,
just about the war price of one pound of butter or meat! Obviously
the chômeur and his family must draw on the soupes and cantines, and
this they do. They form a considerable part of the one and one-quarter
millions of the soup-lines. Every province has tried to reduce its
number of unemployed by providing a certain amount of work on roads
and public utilities. Luxembourg has been conspicuous in this attempt,
reclaiming swamps, rebuilding sewer systems and roadways, employing
about 10,000 men. In fact, Luxembourg has so far almost avoided a
chômeur class.

Throughout the country, too, the clothing and lace committees are
furnishing at least partial employment to women. In a lesser way
various local relief committees are most ingenious in inventing
opportunities to give work. In the face of the whole big problem they
often seem insignificant, but every community is heartened by even the
smallest attempt to restore industry. I have seen fifty men given the
chance to buy their own food by means of a “soles work.” All the needy
of the village were invited to bring their worn shoes to have a new
kind of wooden sole put on for the winter, and the men were paid by
the committee for putting them on. In one city the owner of a closed
firearm factory has opened a toy works where 100 men and 30 women are
kept busy carving little steel boxes and other toys. If these articles
could be exported, such establishments would quickly multiply, but
every enterprize must halt at the grim barrier.

In Liége I came upon a most picturesque attempt at an individual
solution. I had been much interested in Antwerp and Charleroi and other
cities, in the “Dîner Economique” or “Dîner Bourgeois,” conducted by
philanthropic women. These are big, popular restaurants, where because
of a subsidy from the relief committee, and because almost all of the
service is contributed, a meal can be served for less than it costs.
For a few centimes, about ten cents, usually, one may have a good soup,
a plate with meat and vegetables, and sometimes a dessert.

Wonderful Belgian women come day after day, month after month, to serve
the thousands that flock to these centers that save them from the
soup-lines. If they can add this dinner to their relief ration, they
can live. And they are not “accepting charity!” The dining-rooms are
always attractive, often bright with flags and flowers, the women are
cheery in their service. Priests, children, artists, men and women of
every class sit at the tables. Once I saw a poor mother buy one dinner
for herself and her two children, and fortunately, too, I saw a swift
hand slip extra portions in front of the little ones. There are ten
such restaurants in Antwerp (five conducted by the Catholics, and five
by the Liberals) that serve on an average over 10,000 dinners a day.
The one in Charleroi serves from 400 to 900 daily.

In Liége the work is consolidated. I found the once popular
skating-rink turned into a mighty restaurant, gay with American
bunting. The skating floor was crowded with tables, the surrounding
spectators’ space made convenient cloak-rooms, the one-time casual
buffet was a kitchen in deadly earnest, supplying dinners to about
4,000 daily.

When I arrived, there was already a line outside; each person had to
present a card on entering to prove him a citizen of Liége. If he
could, he paid 75 centimes (15 cents) for his dinner. If unable to, by
presenting a special card from the Relief Committee, he might receive
it for 60, or even 30 centimes—a little more than 5 cents.

Inside the tables were crowded, sixty-five women were hurrying between
them and back and forth to the directors who stood at a long counter
in front of the kitchen, serving the thousands of portions, of soup,
sausage, and a kind of stew of rice and vegetables.

In the kitchen and meat and vegetable rooms there was the constant
clamor of sifting, cutting, stirring, of the opening and shutting
of ovens. While the sausages of the day were being hurried from the
pans, the soup of the morrow was being mixed in the great caldrons;
250 men were hard at work. Somehow they did not look as tho they had
been peeling carrots and stirring soup all their lives—there was an
inspiring dash in their movements that prevented it seeming habitual.

The superintendent laughed: “Yes,” he said, “they are chiefly railroad
engineers, conductors, various workmen of the Liége Railroad Company!
I myself was an attorney for the road, and I am really more interested
in this oeuvre from the point of view of these men, than because of the
general public it helps. Here are 250 men who are giving their best
service to their country. In working for others they have escaped the
curse of being forced to work for the Germans! The sixty-five women
serving the 4,000 were once in the telephone service. They also offered
to devote themselves to their fellow-sufferers, and they are so proud,
so happy to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other women in
this black hour.”

I asked if each worker were given his dinner. “Ah! there was a
problem!” he said. “The meals which we furnish for from 30 to 75
centimes, cost us an average of 63 centimes.” To supply this to 250
assistants was quite beyond the subsidy allowed the Relief. And yet the
workers certainly must be fed. Finally he admitted that he and a group
of friends were contributing the money necessary to supply these meals.
He added that in the beginning the men were hardly able to give more
than two hours’ hard work a day, but that after a few months of proper
nourishment their energy was inexhaustible.

On another day I found there were no potatoes, and that the number of
meals served had in consequence dropt fully 1,000; 743 at 75 centimes,
820 at 60 centimes, 1,473 at 30 centimes. If there are no potatoes
to be had in the city, and they are known to be on the carte of the
restaurant, there is not standing-room. Hundreds have to be turned away.

This kind of double oeuvre is quite the most interesting of all the
varied attempts to meet the staggering problem Belgium has daily to



I went down the road toward Verviers. I stopt at a farmhouse to talk
with the farmer about the pitiful ration of the Liége coal miners. They
travel many miles underground, and there is no way of getting hot soup
to them. His wife gave me a glass of sweet milk. Then we went into the
courtyard where he had a great caldron of prune syrup simmering.

The summer had been wet and gray, but September was doing her best to
make up for it. Suddenly I heard the soft whirr-whirr of a Zeppelin.
I ran out into the road. The farmer left his prunes to join me. We
watched the great strange thing gliding through the sunshine. It was
flying so low that we could easily distinguish the fins, the gondolas,
the propellers. It looked more than anything else like a gigantic,
unearthly model for the little Japanese stuffed fishes I had often
seen in the toy shops. Its blunt nose seemed shining white, the rest
a soft gray. The effect of the soothing whirring and its slow gliding
through the air was indescribable; that it could be anything but a
gentle messenger of peace was unbelievable. “Ah, Madame,” said my
companion, “four years ago _I_ saw _my_ first Zeppelin! It seemed
a beautiful vision from another world, like something new in my
religion. We all stood breathless, praying for the safety of this
wonderful new being; praying that the brave men who conducted it
might be spared to the world. And to-day, Madame, may it be blown to
atoms; if necessary may its men be cut to bits; may they be burned to
ashes—anything—anything! With an undying hate I swear it shall be
destroyed! Madame, that is what war does to a man! War, Madame, is a
horrible thing!”



The cereal and fat reserves are divided between Rotterdam, the mills,
warehouses and moving lighters in Belgium and Northern France, so that
one can never see the dramatic heaping up in one place of the grain
that is to feed 10,000,000 for six days, or months. But the greater
part of the clothing reserves are held in the one city of Brussels.
Their housing furnishes another of the bewildering contrasts wrought
by the war; what was two years ago a huge, thrilling Hippodrome is
now filled with the silent ranks of bolts of cotton and flannel. And
not far away, the once popular skating-rink is piled to the ceiling
with finished garments; stage boxes, galleries, dressing-rooms,
stairways—all are heaped with cases and stacked with racks. The
ceiling is the only part of the edifice still visible; along the rear
wall, for instance, runs a big sign, “Garments for Babies,” and they
mount to the skylights. Stocks are accumulating in both these buildings
and other sub-centers during the summer, and in the autumn the work
of distribution against the approaching winter begins, October 1st
registering the high-water mark of assets. At that time there were
three and a half million pieces, yards and pairs, on the shelves of the
Hippodrome, and already hundreds of thousands of garments assembled in
the skating-rink.

The Rink is not more than a few yards and minutes from the Hippodrome,
but a bolt of flannel may travel many miles and occupy several weeks
in going from one to the other. That journey explains the marvelous
development of the clothing organization. One may go even further, and
trace the cloth from the donor in America, to the recipient in Mons or
Tournai! In fact, I once thought I recognized a finished blouse, as
plaid flannel contributed in San Francisco. I may have been mistaken,
but I let my mind follow that flannel from the hand of the little
school-teacher on the Pacific, to the unhappy mother in Tournai!

For when the C. R. B. sent out a call for new clothing materials in
January, 1916, somehow it reached a weather-beaten school-house on a
lonely stretch of coast 30 miles south of San Francisco. The teacher
hurriedly got together some wool, and began showing her eight pupils
(they happened all to be boys), how to knit caps for other boys of
their own size. Their few families gathered what they could, and on
her first free Saturday, the teacher started in an open buggy in the
rain for the C. R. B. Bureau in San Francisco. This meant 30 miles
over wretched roads, up hill and down, with her precious box. When we
opened it we found eight knitted caps, one small sack of rice, one
pair of fur-lined gloves, a bag of beans, a lady’s belt, plaid flannel
for a blouse, and 40 cents for eight five-cent stamps for the letters
the boys hoped to receive in answer to those they had carefully tucked
inside the caps. They did not know that our orders were to remove all
writing from all gifts, tho once in a while a line did slip in. I saw a
touching example of what these slips meant when I was leaving Brussels.
A group of women came to me to say, “Madame, we hear you are going
to California—is it true? And, if you are, may we not send a message
of just a single word by you? Will you not tell Margery Marshall, of
Saratoga, that the pretty dress she sent over a year ago, made a little
girl, oh, so happy! She has waited all these long months hoping to find
a way to thank Margery—and we _want_ to thank Margery. Will you tell

These offerings then were freighted to New York with the month’s
contributions, and there consigned to a C. R. B. ship, starting for
Rotterdam. In Rotterdam they were unloaded into the enormous C. R. B.
clothing warehouse, a corrugated zinc structure as big as a city block.
After the examinations, valuings and listings, they were reloaded on to
one of the C. R. B. barges that ply the canals constantly, and finally
deposited for the Comité National in the Hippodrome at Brussels. There
the women’s work began—in fact, to one woman especially is due the
credit for the completeness of the organization of this clothing

On a certain day the flannel for the blouse was piled into a big gray
truck and hauled across the city to one of the most interesting places
in Brussels. This is at once the central workroom for the capital,
and the pattern and model department for all Belgium. Madame ... has
500 women and men working continually, to prepare the bundles of cut
garments that go out to the sub-sections and homes in Brussels. If the
seamstresses have children they may receive one bundle of sewing a
week; if not, but one in a fortnight. In the ouvroir itself the work is
divided between shifts who are allowed to come for a fortnight each.
This is, of course, the great sorrow of the committees. If only there
were enough work to give all the time to those whose sole appeal is
that they be allowed to earn their soup and bread! But every hour’s
work encourages somebody, and the opportunities are distributed just
as widely as possible. In this way about 25,000 are reached in Greater
Brussels alone.

The business of preparing these little packages of cut-out blouses
and trousers and bibs is amazing. The placing of patterns to save
cloth in the cutting is the first consideration; the counting off of
the buttons, tapes, hooks and necessary furnishings for millions of
garments—can we conceive the tediousness of this task? Instructions
must be carefully marked on a card that is tied across the top of the
completed bundle, everything being made as simple for the sewer as
possible. They travel from one counter to another, from one room to the
next, even up and down stairs, before compact, neat and complete, they
are finally registered and ready to go to the waiting women, who will
make them into the skirts or baby slips or men’s shirts or suits that
the relief committees will distribute.

That is the Brussels side of the work; the national side appears in
the pattern and model department. Madame has developed this to an
extraordinary degree. Here dozens of people are bending over counters,
folding, measuring, cutting heavy brown paper into shapes for every
particular article that is to be given to every particular man, baby
and woman in Belgium. There are patterns for children of every age,
and for grown-ups, of every width and length—hundreds of patterns
for all the workrooms in all the provinces. Then there are sample
picture-charts showing how the patterns must be placed for the most
advantageous cutting. Along with every type of pattern goes one
finished model for exhibition in the workroom. In the models the women
may see just how the little bundles that started originally from the
Hippodrome should look, when they are shipped back as garments to the


And it was for one of these models for a blouse that the
school-teacher’s plaid was used! As sample blouse it traveled from the
Brussels pattern center to an ouvroir in the Southern Hainaut: it hung
in a workroom in Mons! After hundreds of blouses had been copied from
it and distributed in the province, the pattern department decided to
change the blouse model, and the old one was sent back to Brussels
to the skating-rink, to be apportioned again, as it happened, to the
relief committee in Tournai, which knew the need of the mother who wore
it the day I saw her! Too much system, you will say. But there should
be no such criticism until one has seen with his own eyes several
millions depending entirely on a relief organization for covering
(blankets and shoes, too, are a necessary part of the aid given),
and realize the terrible obligations to divide the work among as many
as possible of the thousands of unemployed, the necessity of a high
standard of work, and of justice in division among the nine provinces.

The scraps from the floors of the ouvroirs are carefully hoarded in
sacks, in the hope that the Germans may grant the committee the right
to use a factory to re-weave them into some rough materials in the
absence of cotton and wool. Some of these cuttings are at present being
used as filling for quilts.

The constant contributions of time and service at the strictly
business ends—in the warehouses, or depots like the Hippodrome, or
the skating-rink—seem more generous than all others. In these places
the committees are shut away from that daily contact with misery that
evokes a quick response. The business there has settled down to a
matter of lists and accounts: one must work with a far vision for
inspiration. It is quite a different matter in the actual ouvroir,
where grateful women come all day and sew, and are sometimes allowed to
keep their little children beside them. There you have their stories
and know their suffering; you are able, also, to teach them, while
they sew, how to care for their bodies and their homes, even to sing,
and all the while you realize that the very garments they are putting
together are to go to others even more unhappy—these are the places
where service has its swift and rich rewards! I have visited just such
blessed workrooms in Namur and Charleroi and Mons, in Antwerp and
Dinant, in fact in dozens of cities up and down the length of Belgium.
If they could be gaily flagged as they should be, we should see all
the country dotted with these centers of hope. And we should know that
they meant that thousands of women in Belgium are being given at least
a few days’ work every month.



Before the war the big music-hall in Antwerp offered a gay and
diverting program. Every night thousands drifted in to laugh and
smoke—drawn by the human desire for happiness. Here they were
care-free, irresponsible; tragedy was forgotten.

To-day it is still a music-hall. As Madame opened the door—from the
floor, from the galleries, from every part of the vast place floated a
wonderful solemn music—1,200 girls were singing a Flemish folk-song
that might have been a prayer. We looked on a sea of golden and brown
heads bending over sewing tables. Noble women had rescued them from
the wreckage of war—within the shelter of this music-hall they were
working for their lives, singing for their souls!

And all the time they were preparing the sewing and embroidery
materials for 3,300 others working at home. In other words, this was
one of the blessed ouvroirs or workrooms of Belgium.

Off at the left a few tailors were cutting men’s garments. High on
the stage, crowded with packing-cases, sat the committee of men who
give all their time to measuring the goods, registering the income and
output of materials and finished garments. On the stage, too, was an
extraordinary exhibit. Three forms presented three of the quaintest
silk dresses imaginable, elaborately trimmed with ribbons and velvets
and laces, and all designed for women of dainty figure. I laughed and
then rather flushed, as I remembered the stories of the white satin
slippers and chiffon ball gowns that had been included in our clothing
offering of 1914. I murmured something of apology, and referred to
the advance the Commission had made in 1915, when it had sent out the
appeal for new materials only.

But Madame protested: “Oh,” she said, “these are here in honor! And we
know that somebody once loved these dainty dresses, and for that reason
gave them to us. We love your old clothes! Our only sadness is that we
can not have them any more. One old dress to be made over gives work
for days and days, while the new materials can be put together in one
or two. What will become of all my girls now that I shall have no more
of your old clothes to furnish them? How shall they earn their 3 francs
(60 cents) a week? At best we can allow each but eight days’ work out
of fifteen, and only one person from each family may have this chance.”

“But these three dresses we shall not touch!” And she smiled as she
looked again at her exhibit.

Here the whole attitude toward the clothing is from the point of view,
not of the protection it gives, but of the employment it offers.
Without this employment, without the daily devotion of the wonderful
women who have built up this astonishing organization, thousands of
other women must have been on the streets—with no opportunity (except
the dread, ever present one) through these two years to earn a franc,
with nothing but the soup-lines to depend on for bread. Of course,
there is always dire need for the finished garments. They are turned
over as fast as they can be to the various other committees that care
for the destitute. Between February, 1915, and May, 1916, articles
valued at over 2,000,000 francs were given out in this way through this
ouvroir alone.


Here hundreds of women are being saved, by being furnished the
opportunity to work two weeks in each month, on an average wage of
sixty cents a week]

But one could endure cold—anything is better than the moral
degradation following long periods of non-employment. So it is not of
the garments, but of the 9,500,000 francs dispensed as wages, that
these women think. The work _must_ go on. “See,” Madame said, “what
we do with the veriest scraps!” A young woman was putting together an
attractive baby quilt. She had four pieces of an old coat, large enough
to make the top and lining, and inside she was stitching literally
dozens of little scraps of light woolen materials. Another was making
children’s shoes out of bits of carpet and wool.

In one whole section the girls do nothing but embroider our American
flour sacks. Artists draw designs to represent the gratitude of Belgium
to the United States. The one on the easel as we passed through,
represented the lion and the cock of Belgium guarding the crown of
the king, while the sun—the great American eagle—rises in the East.
The sacks that are not sent to America as gifts are sold in Belgium
as souvenirs. Each sack has its value before being worked. Many of
them—especially in the north of France—have been made into men’s
shirts, and tiny babies’ shirts and slips.

Before July, 1916, in the Charleroi ouvroir, over 30,000 sacks had been
made into 15,000 shirts at a cost of 25 centimes per sack, and a sewing
price of 30 centimes each.

Each Monday the women may work on their own garments, and on Tuesday
all the poor of the city bring their clothing to be patched or darned.
A shoe section, too, does what it can for old shoes. Such shoes and
such remnants of socks and of shirts as we saw! But the more difficult
the job, the happier the committee!

During the week, courses are given in the principles of dressmaking
and design. In the evening there are classes for history, geography,
literature, writing, and very special attention is given to hygiene,
which is taught by means of the best modern slides. These things are
splendid, and with the three francs a week wages, spell self-respect,
courage, progress all along the line. The committee has always been
able to secure the money for the wages, but they can not possibly
furnish the materials—sufficient new ones they could never have.

They are living from day to day on the hope that the C. R. B. may be
able to make an exception for the Antwerp ouvroir, and appeal once more
for her precious necessity—“old clothes!” This the C. R. B. may be
able to do—but will England feel equally free to make an exception to
her ruling that since the Germans have taken the wool from the Belgian
sheep, no clothing of any kind can be sent in?

As I was leaving, a thrilling thing happened. Picture this sea of
golden and brown heads low over the heaped tables—every square foot of
pit, galleries and entry packed, lengths of cotton and flannel flung
in confusion over all the balconies and from the royal box like war
banners—and then suddenly see a man making his way through the crowded
packing-cases on the stage to the footlights! He was the favorite
baritone of this one-time concert hall, and he has come (as he does
twice a week) to stand in the midst of the packing-cases behind his
accustomed footlights to sing to this audience driven in by disaster,
and to teach them the beautiful Flemish folk-songs. They sing as
they work. For several minutes neither Madame nor I spoke. Then she
smiled swiftly and said: “Yes, it is sadly beautiful—and you know,
incidentally, it prevents much idle chatter!”



A full account of the struggle of the lace-workers would take us
straight to the heart of the tragedy of Belgium. At present it can only
be intimated. The women who are back of this struggle represent a fine
intelligence, a most fervent patriotism and most unswerving devotion to
their people and their country.

Before the war, her laces were the particular pride of Belgium.
Flanders produced, beside the finest linen, the most exquisite lace
known. The Queen took this industry under her especial patronage and
tried in every way to better the condition of the workers, and to
raise the standard of the output. We need to remember that when war
broke out, 50,000 women were supporting themselves, and often their
families, through this work; we need to remember the suddenness with
which the steel ring was thrown about Belgium—all import of thread,
all export of lace, at once and entirely cut off. In a few weeks, in
a few days, thousands of women were without hope of earning their
bread—at least in the only way hitherto open to them. The number grew
with desperate swiftness. And we need most of all to remember that the
chief lace centers were in the zone under direct military rule.

Women like Madame ... grappled with this situation, trying to save
their workers (most of them young girls) from the dread alternative,
trying by one means and another to give them heart, and hoping always
that America could make a way for them, till finally that hope was
realized—the C. R. B. had gained the permission of England to bring in
a certain amount of thread, and to take out a corresponding amount of
lace for sale in France and England, or elsewhere.

A fever of effort followed. Everywhere those who had been trying to
keep the groups of lace-workers alive were given thread. They organized
centers for the control of the output. The thread must be weighed as it
was given out, and paid for by the worker as a guaranty that it would
not be sold to some one else; the weight of the lace turned in must
tally. Much thought must be put in the selection of designs, into the
choice of articles to be made—things that would interest the people of
England and France and America.


Certain parts and kinds of these laces are made in certain districts
only. I am told that the very fine Malines lace, made now only in
a restricted area, will not be found much longer. All these separate
parts must be brought to the central depot to be made into tea-cloths
and doilies and other articles for export. The finest and most
necessary laces and the linen for the cloths are made in or about
Bruges and Courtrai and in other towns in Flanders, in what is known as
the “Étape,” or zone of military preparation, with which it is almost
impossible to communicate.

The C. R. B. is made absolutely responsible to England that no lace
will be sold in the open market in the occupied territory (altho it
was allowed to be sold in October and November, 1915, at exhibitions
in several of the large cities of Belgium), and that all of it be
exported. If it is not sold, it must be held at Rotterdam.

One can imagine the meaning of the first export of lace to those
whose hearts were in this work. It was not only that they saw the
lace-workers kept alive, but they saw their country reunited with the
outside world. Her beautiful laces were going to those who would buy
them eagerly, her market would be kept open.

Of necessity, the work became strongly centralized. The Brussels
bureau, where three noble women especially were giving literally every
day of their time and every particle of their energy and talent, became
the official headquarters, and 45,000 lace-workers were employed under
orders sent out by this central committee. Every day they came to
plan, to design, to direct. They were handling thousands of articles,
and hundreds of thousands of francs. They carefully examined every
yard sent in, rejecting any piece below the standard, encouraging
excellence in every possible way. Never in recent times have there
been such beautiful laces made, and they are being sold at about half
what was asked before the war. Many of the designs are copies of the
best ancient models, other lovely ones turn on the present situation,
having for motive the roses of the Queen, the arms of the provinces,
the animals of the Allies.

Madame ... made an unforgettable picture—tall, golden-haired,
exquisite, arranging and re-arranging the insets for her cloths and
cushions—and recounting, as she set her patterns, the steps in the
struggle for the lace-workers. There had been dangers, some were in
prison. As I listened I felt the fire within must consume her. I
understood why there were women in prison, why martyrdom was always a
near and real possibility.

There were always discouragements of one kind or another. At the
bureau, one day, Madame’s eyes were red when she came downstairs. She
had just had to turn off a group of workers; there was no thread to
give them. At best, in order that all may be helped a little, no one
person may work more than 30 hours a week, nor receive more than 3
francs (or 60 cents) a week as wages!

But on the whole the lace committees are overwhelmingly grateful for
the opportunities they have had. Up to November, 1916, they have
dispensed 6,000,000 francs in wages. They have given two weeks’ work a
month to 45,000 women, 25,000 of whom are skilled, 10,000 of average
ability, and 10,000 beginners. There will be a deficit when the war is
over. “But what of that?” they say, “if only we can keep on! On the
Great Day we shall give back to the Queen her chosen industry, fully
three years ahead of where she left it. She will find all the standards
raised, her women better trained and equipped to care for themselves,
and to re-establish Belgium as the lace-maker of the world.”

It has been extremely difficult for the C. R. B. to handle the lace in
the United States. Its great value necessitates much more machinery and
time than could be spared from the all-important ravitaillement duty.
The orders from England and France are much easier to take care of. On
one happy day Paquin wrote for all the Point de Paris and Valenciennes
they could supply. Certain friends in London and New York are every
now and then sending in individual requests. On a red-letter day the
Queen of Roumania ordered, through her Legation, three very beautiful
table-cloths, and quantities of other fine laces. And it is the hope of
the committee that the number of these friends will grow. Needless to
say, hardly a C. R. B. representative leaves Belgium without taking
with him some example of this exquisite work, a testimony to others of
the splendid devotion of the women of these lace committees.



I was reminded again to-day of how constant work must be the only thing
that makes living possible to many of these women. We were at lunch,
when suddenly the roar of the German guns cut across our talk. We
rushed into the street, where a gesticulating crowd had already located
the five Allied aeroplanes high above us. Little white clouds dotted
the sky all about them—puffs of white smoke that marked the bursting
shrapnel. Tho the guns seemed to be firing just behind our house, we
believed we were quite out of danger. However, Marie ran to us quite
white and with her hands over her ears. “Oh, Madame!” she cried, “the
shrapnel is bursting all about the kitchen!” She had experienced it.
She had told me once that her sister had died of fright three days
after the war began, and I realized now that she probably had. Our
picturesque Léon slipt over to assure me that this was not a real
attack, but just a visit to give us hope on the second anniversary of
the beginning of the war, to tell us the Allies were thinking of us,
and that we should soon be delivered. Without doubt they would drop a
message of some sort.

I thought of our United States Minister and his proximity to the
Luxembourg railroad station. He had several times smilingly exprest
concern over that proximity.

I remembered, too, the swift answer of Monsieur ... who lives opposite
the railroad station at Mons. Bombs had just been dropt on this
station—one had fallen in front of his house, and when I asked if he
and his wife would not consider moving he replied, “Madame, our two
sons are in the trenches—should we not be ashamed to think of this as

All the while the aeroplanes were circling and the guns were booming.
Then suddenly one of the aviators made a sensational drop to within
a few hundred meters of the Molenbeek Station, threw his bombs, and
before the guns could right themselves, regained his altitude—and
all five were off, marvelously escaping the puffs of white before and
behind them.

This was thrilling, till suddenly flashed the sickening realization of
what it really meant. The man behind the gun was doing his utmost to
kill the man in the machine. It was horrible—horrible to us.

But to Belgian wives and mothers what must it have been? As they
looked up they cried: “Is that my boy—my husband, who has come back
to his home this way? After two years, is he there? My God, can they
reach him?” The only answer was the roar of the guns, the bursting
shrapnel—and they covered their eyes.

I visited Madame ..., whose only son is in the flying corps, at her toy
factory the following day, and realized what the experience had cost
her. Her comment, however, was, “Well, now I believe I am steeled for
the next.”

Madame is accomplishing one of the finest pieces of work being done
in Belgium to-day. Before the war she had a considerable reputation
as a painter in water colors. As suddenly as it came, she found her
home emptied of sons, brothers, nephews, and she went through the
common experience of trying to construct something from the chaos of
those tragic days. Her first thought was of what must be done for the
little nephews and nieces who were left. They must be kept happy as
well as alive. And she wondered if she could not turn her painting to
use in making toys for them. Often before the war when sketching in
Flanders she had looked at the quaint old villages, full of beauty in
color and line, and felt that each was a jewel in itself and ought,
somehow, to be preserved as a whole. And suddenly she decided to try
and reproduce them in toy form for children. She drew beautiful designs
of the villages of Furnes and Dixmude, loving ones of churches that had
already been destroyed. She secured wood, began carving her houses,
trees, furniture—then arranged her villages, drawing the patterns for
the children to build from. Needless to say the nieces and nephews were
enchanted; and she worked ahead on other villages for other children.

Not very long after this she visited the Queen’s ambulance in the
palace at Brussels, and as she talked with the wounded Belgian
soldiers, the thought of the hopeless future of the mutilated ones
tormented her. It suddenly flashed over her that they might be given
hope, if they could be taught to make her beloved toys. She was
allowed to bring in models—the soldiers were interested at once—the
authorities gave her permission to teach them.

Later she secured a building in Brussels—her sister-in-law and others
of her family came to help. They wisely laid in a good supply of
beechwood in advance, got their paints and other materials ready, and
began to work with a handful of soldiers. She soon needed machines for
cutting the wood, and then found that no matter how thoroughly healed,
a man who has been terribly wounded, the equilibrium of whose body had
been destroyed by the loss of an arm or leg, or both, could not soon be
trusted with a dangerous machine—and she had to engage a few expert
workmen for this department. Girls begged to be taken in, and she added
nine to her fifty soldiers—one of them a pretty, black-haired refugee
from the north of France. The thick book with all the addresses of
applicants for work who have had to be refused, is a mute evidence of
the saddest part of this whole situation—the lack of work for those
who beg to be kept off the soup-lines.

The fortunate ones are paid by piece-work, but always the directors try
to arrange that each man shall be able to earn about 2½ francs a day.

Madame is not merely accomplishing a present palliative, but aiming at
making men self-respecting, useful members of the State for their own
and their country’s good.



The following day, I visited another kind of toy factory. Madame ...,
who had lost her only son early in the war, works probably in the most
inconvenient building in Brussels, which she has free of charge. She
works there all day long, every day, furnishing employment for between
30 and 40 girls, who would otherwise have to be on the soupes. I went
from one room to another, where they were busily constructing dolls,
and animals, and all sorts of fascinating toys out of bits of cotton
and woolen materials—cheap, salable toys.

This is one of the things that we must remember if we wish properly to
appreciate the work the women are doing—most of it is being carried on
in buildings that we should consider almost impossible—no elevators;
everywhere the necessity of climbing long flights of stairs; no
convenient sanitary arrangements—but nothing discourages them.

Madame began by making bouncing balls in the Belgian colors, stuffed
with a kind of moss. They cost only a few centimes, and sold as fast as
she could make them. When the order came that they were no longer to be
made in these colors, she ripped up those she had on hand, and began
new ones, omitting the black. The balls must go on. Another day all the
stuffing for her balls was requisitioned. She rushed out, up and down,
street after street, seeking a substitute, and by night the little
storeroom was filled with a kind of dry grass—and the balls could go

The day of my first visit there were 6 of the 32 girls absent because
of illness. Madame said she usually had that large a percentage
out because of intestinal troubles of one sort or another. They
get desperately tired of their monotonous food, and whenever they
can scrape together a few extra pennies, they go to one of the few
chocolate shops still open and make themselves ill.

Here, too, they are looking to America. If only they could get their
toys to our markets, they could take in many who are suffering for want
of work—and one feels that America would be delighted with every toy.

It is Madame herself who designs them. She is trying always to get
something new, striking. In the C. R. B. office one day I noticed a
representative off in a corner, busy with his pencil, and found him
struggling to represent some sort of balancing bird—a suggestion for


She makes these lovely toys from the veriest scraps of cloth, old
paper, straw, with pebbles picked up from the roads for weights.

In the beginning she knew nothing at all about such work, nor did
any one of the young girls she was trying to help. But such a spirit
experiments! She ground newspapers in a meat-grinder to try to evolve
some kind of papier-mâché. She learned her processes by producing
things with her own hands, and then taught each woman as she employed
her. Thus she, too, is not only keeping her corps from the present
soup-line, but preparing a body of trained workers for the future. The
shops in Brussels sell these toys—a few have reached as far as Holland.

Everywhere in Belgium one is imprest with the facility in the handling
of color, of clay or wood. There is the most unusual feeling for
decorative effect; the tiniest children in the schools show a striking
aptitude for design and modeling, and an astonishing sense of rhythm.
One is constantly struck by this; it is a delight to hear a group of
three-year olds carrying an intricate song without accompaniment, as
they go through the figures of a dance.



At last I met the little Madame—all nerve, energy—a flame flashing
from one plant under her charge to the next. I had seen her whirling by
in a car, one of the two Belgian women allowed a limited pass. I had
heard how she presided over councils of men, as well as of women; that
she had won the admiration of all. With her it is not a question of how
many hours she spends; she gives literally every hour of her time. It
was especially of her work for the mutilated victims of the war that we
talked this morning. She took me to the park at Woulwe, where she has
180 men being trained in various trades.

Ten months ago she decided that one of the most important things
Belgium had to accomplish was to save its mutilated for themselves and
the State. The whole problem of the unemployment brought on by the war
was terrific. In April, 1916, over 672,000 workmen were idle. But the
mutilated soldiers formed the most heartbreaking part of this problem.
They must at once be taught trades that would fill their days and make
them self-supporting in the future.

First of all, their surroundings must be cheerful and healthy; no
cramped buildings in the city, and yet something easily accessible from
Brussels. She told me how she searched the environs until she came upon
an old, apparently deserted villa at Woulwe with beautiful spacious
grounds, orchard and vegetable garden. She quickly sought out the
owner and appealed to him to turn his property over to the “Mutilés.”
In three days a letter told her the request was granted, and within
a few hours an architect was at work on the plans. He developed a
cottage system with everything on one floor, sleeping-rooms, workrooms,
unlimited fresh air and light; the most modern sanitary equipment; and
for the workrooms, every practical arrangement possible. There is a
gymnasium with a resident physician directing the work. His duty is
one of the most difficult; it is not easy to convince the men of the
value of all the bothersome exercises he prescribes. The restoration of
the equilibrium of their broken bodies is to them often a vague end.
At first some even try to escape using the artificial arms and legs
provided them.

The cottages are grouped about the garden, under the trees, connected
by easy little paths for the lame and the blind. The old villa holds
the office, the dining-room, and a big, airy pavilion, where the men
may gather for a weekly entertainment, cards or music. A bowling alley
has been converted into the quaintest little chapel imaginable, with
the Virgin Mary and the statues of the King and Queen in very close
company, and back of them a splendid Belgian flag. Besides the regular
gatherings, the men hold special services here for their comrades dead
on the Field of Honor.

One by one new cottages are being built; more trades are being taught.
Electricity and book-binding have been added recently, and the course
for chauffeurs. The greater number of the men work in the shoe shops,
where there is one workroom for the Walloons and another for the
Flemings; but the scarcity of leather greatly hinders this important
department. In certain sections they are already using machinery
manufactured by the men themselves. And it must be kept in mind all
the time that these men before the war were almost without exception in
the fields.

Madame told us that the most cheerful workmen are the blind, who
seemed, however, most to be pitied, as they sat there weaving their
baskets and chair seats. She said that often during their weekly
entertainments the entire company would be thrown into spasms of
laughter by the sudden meowing of cats or cackling of hens in their
midst. These were the tricks of the blind men, who were as gay as

The _atelier_ is truly a joyous place, set in a garden tended by
the soldiers, and inside flooded with light. The walls are covered
with models and designs. Some of the men were busy with patterns for
lace and embroidery. Others were modeling. A legless soldier, in the
trenches only a month ago, was already handling his clay with pleasure
and skill. But the most remarkable work was that of a man who had
lost his right arm. Before the war, like the others, he had been a
“cultivateur,” never conscious of a talent that under the encouragement
of a good teacher was developing astonishingly. With the pencil in his
left hand, he produced designs of leaves, flowers and animals of great

One of the strangest, saddest sights in the world is the workroom for
artificial limbs. Here men who have lost their own arms and legs sit
constructing arms and legs for their comrades who are to lose theirs
on the battlefield. A soldier who had his right arm and all but two
fingers of his left hand shot away, was filing, hammering, and shaping
an artificial arm. A man with half of each forearm gone was able, by
means of a simple leather appliance, to make thirty-five brushes a day.
Here they were making, too, the gymnasium apparatus for the muscular
exercises which help to restore the equilibrium of their own bodies.

After visiting all the workshops, we went to one of the cheery cottage
dormitories. It was noon-time now, and the men, deciding that we were
apt to pass that way, had quickly decorated the front porch with the
flags of the Allies, daringly binding our American flag with them! Then
with a yellow sand they had written on the darker earth in front of
the cottage: “To the Welcome Ones—the Brave Allies”—(again they had
included us!) “we offer the gratitude of their soldiers!”



One morning in Antwerp I saw women with string bags filled with all
sorts of small packages, some with larger boxes in their arms, hurrying
toward a door over which was the sign “Le Petit Paquet”—the Little
Package. In the hallway many others were trying to decipher various
posted notices. One black-haired woman, empty bag in hand, was going
through the list marked “Kinds and quantities of food allowed in ‘Le
Petit Paquet’ for our soldiers, prisoners in Germany.”

This, then told the story—husbands and sons were in prison—wives
and mothers were here! The posted notices, the organizations within
achieved by 24 devoted women—the mountains of little brown packages
each carefully addrest, approved for contents and weight, and ready for
shipment—these connected the two sad extremes.

This morning the receiving-room was crowded, as it is every morning,
I am told. The directors had been standing back of the long counters
since 7:30; women of every class pressing along the front, depositing
their precious offerings.

Each prisoner is allowed a monthly 500-gram parcel-post package, and
a 10-pound box, which may contain, beside food, tobacco and clothing.
The permitted articles include cocoa, chocolate and coffee; tinned fish
and vegetables and soups; powdered milk and jam. Soap may be sent with
the clothing. One mother had arranged her parcels in a pair of wooden
sabots which she hoped to have passed.

Such a rush of unwrapping, weighing, re-wrapping. There seemed hardly
a moment for breathing, and yet somehow there was time to listen to
stories, to answer questions, give courage to hundreds who found in
these rooms their closest connection with their loved ones. One could
see that they were loath to go—they would have liked to stay and watch
the final wrapping and registering—to actually _see_ their tokens to
the train!

On this day there was a special gift box from Cardinal Mercier for
every prisoner from the province. Antwerp has 6,000 prisoners in
Germany, and through the offerings of relatives or friends, or of the
city itself when these fail, each one receives a permitted gift.

One sees at a glance what an enormous task the bookkeeping alone
entails—record of contents, addresses of senders, distribution,
registering of received packages, and numberless other entries. And
each month the instructions are changing, which renders the work still
more arduous.

And one is astonished over and over again at the amount of sheer
physical energy women are putting into their service. Belgium has some
40,000 prisoners in Germany. In Brussels and other cities other women
are repeating what the directors in Antwerp were doing that morning.



There are seven rooms in Brussels, each with a long table in the
middle, and with rows upon rows of green wooden boxes (about the size
of a macaroni box) on shelf-racks against walls. The racks, too, are
painted the color of hope—the green which after the war might well
deserve a place with the red, orange and black, for having so greatly
comforted the people when all display of their national colors was
supprest. Each box has a hook in front from which hangs a pasteboard
card, marked with a number; it hangs there if the box is full, when
empty it is filed.

The first morning I happened in on one of these sections, I found a
director and three pretty young girls feverishly busy with hundreds
and hundreds of little paper bags. There were as many green boxes as
the table would hold, arranged before them, with scales at either end.
They were running back and forth from the pantry with a bowl or an
apronful of something, and then weighing and pouring into the bags tiny
portions of beans and chicory, salt and sugar, bacon and other things.
They weighed and poured as fast as they could and with almost joyous
satisfaction tucked the little bags one after another into the boxes.
Then they dove into the big vegetable baskets at one end of the room,
and each box was made gay with a lettuce or cauliflower. For some there
were bottles of milk, or a few precious potatoes or eggs. If the egg
chest had been gold, it could hardly have been more treasured. For a
moment it seemed the war must be a horrible dream. This was really the
day before Christmas! There were even a few red apples—as a special
surprize, some one had contributed two kilos that day. Since they
were obviously far short of enough to furnish one for each box, the
directors decided to tuck one into the box for each mother whom they
knew to have a little boy or girl. Box after box took its place on the
shelves until finally, by two o’clock, all gaps were filled, and a
curious wall-garden grew half-way up to the ceiling. It might well have
been Christmas, but actually this scene had been repeated two days a
week, week in and week out, for over two and a half years, and nobody
stops to question how many long months it must continue.

Some time before the last box was on its shelf, the first woman
with a string bag on her arm arrived. She was carefully drest,
intelligent-looking, a woman of about fifty. Later I found that before
the war she had a comfortable home, with servants and a motor-car. She
slipt quietly along the racks till she found the card with her number,
took her box from the shelf and transferred the tiny sacks and the two
eggs to her string bag. Then she placed the little packet of empty bags
and string she was returning on the table, and, after answering a few
questions about her two children, went slowly downstairs. None but the
Committee, or equally unfortunate ones who came as she did, need know
she had been there. This was Wednesday; she could come again on Friday.
Other women came, and, as the first, each could go to her box without
asking, and find the precious packages—mere mouthfuls as they seemed
to me!

I thought I smelled soup, and followed Madame ... to a little side
room where I saw chairs and a white-covered table. Her cook was just
depositing a big can of thick soup which she had been preparing
at home, and which Madame had ordered brought to the center each
distribution day. Any one who wishes may slip into this room on her way
out, sit at a dainty table, and drink a bowl of hot soup.

By half-past two the place was filled. Dozens of women were busy with
their bags and boxes, while half a dozen directors were tidying up,
storing strings and sacks, filing cards, washing utensils; there was
a most heartening atmosphere of busyness and cheerfulness. And all
the while one group was telling its story to the other and receiving
the comfort warm hearts could give. I overheard the promise of a
bed to one, or coal to another, and over and over again the “Yes,
I understand; I, too, am without news.” From all the husbands and
sons at the front no word! These women met on the ground of their
common suffering. One of the saddest of all sad things happened that
afternoon, when a mother, on seeing the lovely “unnecessary” apple,
burst into tears. For so long, so long, her little Marie had had
nothing but the ration prescribed to keep her from starving. This
mother broke down as she dropt the red apple into her bag.

These were all people who had been well-off, even comfortable, but
whose funds either suddenly, at the beginning, or gradually through
the two terrible years, had been exhausted. Mostly their men were in
the trenches; there were children or old people to care for; they had
done their utmost, but at last were forced to accept help. I wondered
how these few pitiful little bags could make any difference. The slice
of unsmoked bacon was neither so broad nor so thick as the palm of
my hand, and yet that was to be their meat and butter for three days!
In this distribution center it seemed absolutely nothing, but when I
visited the homes later I saw it was a great deal.

In Brussels there were in October, 1916, no less than 5,000 “Pauvres
Honteux” or “Ashamed Poor” (there must be many more now) being helped
through the seven sections of this “Assistance Discrète,” each of which
carries the same beautiful motto, “Donne, et tais-toi,” “Give, and be
silent.” At the very beginning of the war a great-hearted woman saw
where the chief danger of misery lay. The relief organizations would
naturally first look after the wounded, the homeless, the very poor.
Those who were accustomed to accept charity would make the earliest
demands. But what about those whose business was slowly being ruined,
whose reserves were small? What about school-teachers, artists, and
other members of professional classes? And widows living on securities
invested abroad, or children of gentle upbringing, whose fathers had
gone to the front expecting to return in three or four months? She saw
many of them starving rather than go on the soup-lines.

She had a vision of true mutual aid. Each person who had should become
the sister of her who had not. There should be a sharing of individual
with individual. She did not think of green boxes or sections, but of
person linked with person in the spirit of Fraternity. But the number
of the desperate grew too rapidly, her first idea of direct individual
help had to be abandoned, and one after another distribution centers
were organized. An investigator was put in charge of each center who
reported personally on all the cases that were brought in, either
directly or indirectly to the committee. The Relief Committee granted
a subsidy of 10,000 francs a month, which, one sees at a glance, can
not nearly cover the need. So day after day the directors of each
section canvass their districts for money and food, and by dint of an
untiring devotion raise the monthly 10,000 to about 28,000 francs.
But, unfortunately, every day more of war means wretched ones forced
to the wall, and this sum is always far from meeting the distress. We
have only to divide the 30,000 francs by the 5,000 on the lists, to see
what, at best, each family may receive.

I went with Mademoiselle ..., an investigator, to visit one of these
families. A charming old gentleman received us. I should say he was
about seventy-three. He had been ill, and was most cheerful over what
he called his “recovery,” tho to us he still looked far from well.
The drawing-room was comfortable, spotlessly clean; there was no fire.
We talked of his children, both of whom were married; one son was in
Italy, another in Russia—the war had cut off all word or help from
both. He himself had been a successful engineer in his day, but he
had not saved much, his illness and two years of war had eaten up
everything. He was interested in Mexico and in the Panama Canal, and
we chatted on until Mademoiselle felt we must go. As we were shaking
hands, she opened her black velvet bag and took out an egg which
she laughingly left on the table as her visiting card. She did it
perfectly, and he laughed back cheerily, “After the war, my dear, I
shall certainly find the hen that will lay you golden eggs!” Outside,
I still could hardly pull myself together—one egg as a precious gift
to a dignified old gentleman-engineer! Could it be possible? “But,”
explained Mademoiselle, “if I had not given him that egg, he would not
have any egg!” Eggs were costing about ten cents each. “Of course, we
never even discuss meat,” she added; “but he has been quite ill, and he
must have an egg at least every two or three days!”

The woman we visited next did not have a comfortable home, but a
single room. She had been for many years a governess in a family in
Eastern Belgium, but just before the war both she and the family had
invested their money in a savings concern which had gone to pieces,
and from that day she had been making the fight to keep her head above
water. She had come to Brussels, was succeeding fairly well, when she
was taken ill. She had had an operation, but after months there was
still an open wound, and she could drag herself about only with great
difficulty. I found that Mademoiselle takes her to the hospital, a
matter of hours, three times a week for treatment, and, besides that,
visits her in her room. As we were talking, a niece, also unfortunately
without funds, came in to polish the stove and dust a bit. Mademoiselle
reported that she was pretty sure of being able to bring some stockings
to knit on her next visit. These would bring five cents a pair. And, as
we left, she gave another egg, and this time a tiny package of cocoa,
too. I discovered that every morsel this governess has to eat comes to
her from Mademoiselle. And yet I have never been in a room where there
was greater courage and cheerfulness.

So it was as we went from square to square. In some homes there were
children with no father; in others, grandfathers with neither children
nor grandchildren; and between them, people well enough, young enough,
but simply ruined by the war. Mademoiselle was going back to spend the
night with an old lady we had visited the week before, and had found
reading Anatole France. She had felt she must make her last testament,
and looking at her we agreed. That week she had received word that her
only son, who was also her only kin, had been killed in the trenches
three months before.

Of course, every city has its hundreds of unfortunates; there must be
everywhere some form of “Assistance Discrète,” but most of those on the
lists of this war-time organization would in peace time be the ones to
give, rather than receive, and their number is increasing pitifully as
month follows month.

Every one permitted to be in Belgium for any length of time marvels at
the incredible, unbreakable spirit of its people. They meet every new
order of the military authorities with a laugh; when they have to give
up their motor-cars, they ride on bicycles; when all bicycle tires are
requisitioned, they walk cheerfully; if the city is fined 1,000,000
marks, the laconic comment is: “It was worth it!” All the news is
censored, so they manufacture and circulate cheerful news—nothing
ever breaks through their smiling, defiant solidarity. One thing only
in secret I have heard them admit, and that is the anguish of their
complete separation from their loved ones at the front. Mothers and
wives of every other nation may have messages; they, never.

The thing that has bound them thus together and buoyed them up is
just this enveloping, inter-penetrating atmosphere of mutual aid, so
beautifully exprest every day through the work of the “Assistance
Discrète.” It was this vision of Fraternity in its widest sense that
gave it birth, and every day the women of Belgium are making that
vision a blessed reality.



Mr. Hoover’s visits to Brussels are crowded with conferences, endless
complications to be straightened out, figures and reports to be
accepted or rejected—with all the unimaginable difficulties incident
to the relief of an occupied territory.

Responsible on the one hand to England, on the other to Germany,
dependent always on the continued active support of his own countrymen
and on the efficiency and integrity of the local relief organization,
he fights his way literally inch by inch and hour by hour to bring in
bread for the Belgian mother and her child.


It is easy to conceive of such service if the giver is in close
touch with the mother and her need, but when he must be cut off from
her—locked up with the grind, the disillusionment, the staggering
obstacles, this unbroken devotion through the days and nights of more
than two years, becomes one of the finest expressions of altruism the
world has seen.

The two years have left their mark—to strangers he must seem silent,
grim, but every C. R. B. man knows what this covers.

On one visit I persuaded him to take an hour from the bureau to go
with me to one of the cantines for sub-normal children. He stood
silently as the 1,600 little boys and girls came crowding in, slipping
in their places at the long, narrow tables that cut across the great
dining-rooms, and, when I looked up at him, his eyes had filled with
tears. He watched Madame and her husband, a physician, going from one
child to another, examining their throats, or their eyes, taking them
out to the little clinic for weighing, carrying the youngest in their
arms, while the dozen white-uniformed young women hurrying up and down
the long rows were ladling the potato-stew and the rice dessert.

Then suddenly a black-shawled woman, evidently in deep distress, rushed
up the stairs, and by us to Madame, to pour out her trouble. She was
crying—she had run to the cantine, as a child to its mother, for
comfort. Her little eight-year-old Marie, who had, only a week ago,
been chosen as the loveliest child of the 1,600 to present the bouquet
to the Minister’s wife, and who, this very morning, had seemed well and
happy, was lying at home dead of convulsions. The cantine had been the
second home of her precious one for over two years—where, but there,
should she flee in her sorrow?

I turned toward Mr. Hoover, and he spoke these true words: “The women
of Belgium have become the Mother of Belgium. In this _room_ is the
Relief of Belgium!”



The Rotterdam canals were choked with barges, weighted with freight;
heavy trucks rattled down the streets, a whistle shrieked, telegraph
wires hummed, motors flashed by—men were moving quickly, grouping
themselves freely at corners; life—vivid, outspoken, free—crowded
upon me, filling my eyes and ears. With a swift tremor of physical fear
I huddled back in my seat. After eight months I was afraid of this

And “Inside” I had thought I realized the whole of the cruel numbness.
Slowly I had felt it closing in about me, closing down upon me,
shutting me in with _them_—with terrors and anguish, with human souls
that at any moment a hand might reach in to toss—where?



I can think of no more beautiful, final tribute to the women of Belgium
than that carried in their own words—words of tragedy, but words of
widest vision and understanding and generosity, sent in farewell to us:

“Oh, you who are going back in that free country of the United States,
tell to all our sufferings, our distress; tell them again and again our
cries of alarm, which come from our opprest and agonized hearts! You
have lived and felt what we are living and feeling; we have understood
that, higher than charity which gives, you brought us charity which
understands and consoles! Your souls have bowed down over ours, our
eyes with anxiety are looking in your friendly eyes. Over the big
ocean our wishes follow you. Oh, might you there remember the little
Belgium! The life which palpitates in her grateful heart—she owes it
to you! _You are our hope, our anchor! Help us! Do not abandon the work
of charity you have undertaken!_

“Our endless gratitude goes to you, and from father to children, in the
hovel and in the palace, we shall repeat your great heart, your high
idealism, _your touching charity_!”


The increase in dependency in less than a year, as shown by a
comparison of the following figures with those in this book, suggests
more poignantly than any written account could, the daily deepening
tragedy of Belgium:

  Present total on “Soupes” in whole of Belgium          3,032,089
  Present total on “Soupes” in Greater Brussels            401,600
  Present total children in Belgium receiving
                  eleven o’clock meal                      985,617
  Present total nursing or expectant mothers receiving
                  canteen meal                              14,809
  Present total debilitated children receiving
                  supplementary meal                        53,311

                                               C. K.

  _December, 1917._

Transcriber’s Note

The changes are as follows:

Page 45—school-children changed to school children.
Page 78—well off changed to well-off.
Page 110—added ” at the end of the paragraph.
Page 118—added ) which was missing, after ‘and many of them pretty),’.
Page 124—near by changed to near-by.
Page 125—Hainault has been corrected to Hainaut.
Page 152—added ” at the end of the paragraph.

In the ‘NOTE BY THE AUTHOR’ at the very end of the book, the dittos
have been replaced with the actual words.

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