Word With a Past: Care Packages

One of 250,000 CARE packages delivered during the Berlin airlift

When World War II ended, Europe faced a serious food crisis. Millions of people had suffered from malnutrition during World War II.* Cities were destroyed. Agricultural areas were not only ravaged by troop movements, but tainted by the remains of the dead and dying. (In the Falaise Pocket, for instance, it was two years before people could plant crops in the fields because the ground water was polluted with the remains of men and horses. )

The Marshall Plan was designed to help Europe rebuild, but it didn’t deal with immediate need on an individual level.

In November, 1945, seven months after the war ended in Europe and two months after it ended in the Pacific, Arthur Ringwald and Dr. Lincoln Clark worked with 22 American charitable organizations to create a non-profit corporation to send food packages to Europe.** Alice Clark suggested they call it “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe”: C.A.R.E.

The first C.A.R.E. packages were surplus rations that the U.S. military had been stockpiling in anticipation of invading Japan. C.A.R.E. acquired 2.8 million surplus rations known as “10-in-1”—designed to feed ten men for one day. These boxes included not only canned meats, egg powder and dried milk, but items like coffee, chocolate and sugar which were luxury items to starved Europeans. (Among which we must include the British, who were better off than most of Europe but continued to suffer from shortages as late as 1945.)

The first 15,000 C.A.RE. packages arrived in the French port of La Havre on May 11, 1946—almost exactly a year after V-E Day. By the end of 1946, C.A.R.E was delivering packages in ten European countries. As the supply of rations began to dwindle, C.A.R.E partnered with American food companies to fill its boxes. Americans could send a package to individuals or families for $10. At first the recipients of packages were family and friends of the senders; as the program grew more popular, the organization began to get orders for recipients such as “a hungry occupant of a thatched cottage.”

CARE still exists—the E now stands for everywhere. It still works to eradicate hunger and child malnutritions. But it no longer delivers individual packages to those in need.

For millions of families, C.A.R.E packages were literal life savers in the years after the war, a gift of both food and hope. By the time I was in college, and probably earlier, C.A.R.E packages had evolved into care packages—not quite the same thing but still sent as a token of love and, well, care.***

*An estimated 20 million people died of malnutrition during the war: more than died in combat.
** Herbert Hoover led a similar movement after the first World War. Yes, Herbert Hoover.
***My personal favorite was a package I received long after college. One winter in my late twenties or earlier thirties, I received a box of paperback novels from my parents when I was down with pneumonia. Food for the soul.

Joan of Arc and the French Resistance

More than once in the last few years, I’ve stumbled across stories in old issues of the Chicago Tribune that caught my imagination even though they did not deal with my current project.

In recent weeks, this headline from May 13, 1945, grabbed my attention: “FRANCE HONORS JOAN OF ARC AS ‘FIRST PARTISAN’. “

The piece began “The French paid homage today to their national heroine of five centuries , Joan of Arc, who was hailed as the ‘first of the resisitants’  in military, religious and popular ceremonies.” The article when on to briefly describe the ceremonies and to point out that in prior years it had been French royalists who had celebrated the Maid of Orleans, not French republicans.

It seemed to me that with this recognition, the story of Joan of Arc had come full circle.

Over time, the phrase the “Joan of Arc of [fill in the blank]” has become shorthand for a (usually young) woman leading an army against an occupying foreign power. The term has been applied to the solidly historical Ani Pachen of Tibet and the semi-mythical Trieu Thi Trinh of third century Vietnam. The Women's Era, a popular African American women's newspaper founded in 1890, called Harriet Tubman “the Black Joan of Arc." Novelist Henry Miller heard the story of Greek nationalist Laskarina Bouboulina and asked, "How is it we don't hear more about Bouboulina? ...She sounds like another Joan of Arc." Even at the scale of a besieged city, we find a local heroine described as the “Joan of Arc of Braunschweig.” Each of these women embodied to some degree what Halina Filipowicz describes as the central element of the "Joan of Arc cult": "a deeply felt need for a democratic hero of unflinching loyalty to a patriotic mission."

Joan of Arc had long been the model against which other female resistance fighters where measured. Now it seemed the French government had turned the tables by dubbing Joan of Arc “the first of the resistants” rather than naming a woman resistance fighter “a twentieth century Joan of Arc.”*

*I almost typed “the Joan of Arc of France,” but for that doesn’t work for obvious reasons.

Twice as Hard

Jasmine Brown is a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a masters degree in the history of science, medicine and technology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. As an undergraduate, she founded the Minority Association of Rising Scientists (MARS)—a reaction to the realization that though she was the only black student in her lab she was not the only black student at her university.

Brown is also the author of Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians, From the Civil War to the 21st Century. In some ways, Twice as Hard is the historical equivalent of MARS. By linking the experience of black women* as medical students and then as doctors across time, she creates a lineage of role models for students like herself. At the same time, she examines the double burdens of systemic sexism and racism through a very specific lens.

In Twice as Hard, Brown tells the stories of nine black women who became physicians in spite of both personal and social obstacles. The first, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, graduated from medical school in 1864—27 years after the first black man and 15 years after the first white woman obtained their degrees. The last, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, is only a few years older than I am—a fact that struck home how far we still have to go in combating systemic racism in our society. Brown details each woman’s challenges and celebrates her accomplishments. (I was particularly taken by the story of Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, who joined forces with other female students in her program across racial and religious divides to confront sexism.) She not only weaves in the historical context for each woman’s story, but compares it to the experiences of black women medical students today.

The end result is a powerful, and often enraging, account of social barriers and women who surmounted them—and a reminder that barriers still remain.

*Brown uses black with a lower case and African American interchangeably throughout the book to describe the women she writes about.