Quaker Relief Efforts in Europe, 1914-1922

How Were the AFSC Lantern Slides Used and How Did They Come Into Existence?


The Friends' War Victims' Relief Committee of London Yearly Meeting began its efforts among non-combatants in France in 1914. They were joined by volunteers from the American Friends' Service Committee in 1917 when the United States entered the War. Relief and post-War reconstruction expanded to include civilians in Russia, Serbia, Austria, and Poland. In 1919 Quakers extended their efforts to include a program of child-feeding in Germany.

A collection of almost 1000 glass lantern slides were given by the American Friends Service Committee to Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College in the early 1930s. The images document the work of the volunteers but also show the civilian toll of war in the 20th century.

Access the slide collection here.

Notes by Lauren Stokes, Swarthmore College '09

Behind the counter where the food is given out, is the woman who distributes it; on the other side of the counter are perhaps thirty women, many of whose figures show that they are being fed for the sake of the child that is to come. Silently they stand, each holding out her bowl in mute appeal for the nourishing food. If it is divided, there will be less than a half cup apiece.

"A picture like that would make good publicity material," whispers one of the American visitors; but it is impossible to make pictures of that kind of human need.

--AFSC Child Feeding Mission, Bulletin No. 4 A Day in Berlin

Slides depicting Quaker relief work in Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Serbia and Russia were produced in multiple sets and distributed to Friends who would use them for lantern lectures, usually for the purpose of fundraising. The headquarters of the American Friends Service Committee, located at 1501 Cherry Street in Philadelphia, was one of the places where sets of slides were stored, sent out and returned. Typescript instructions, Suggestions to Users of A.F.S.C. Lantern Slides, were enclosed with each set along with a shipment receipt which was to be returned promptly.

Suggested notes for lectures were prepared centrally. Minutes of the General Committee note on September 8th 1920: "We have received sets of slides and a lecture on Vienna which may be borrowed for meetings, and specimens showing size of German rations, as well as diagrams of birth and death rates in Germany and Vienna, and photographs have been prepared for a similar purpose." By September 28th, the lecture on Vienna could be supplemented with a lantern lecture on Germany prepared by Hubert Kemp, and on November 30th the minutes note that "Hubert Kemp's lecture on Germany has been re-drafted and several new slides added." Some copies of lecture notes are available at the AFSC archives, although they are undated and do not usually list authors.

The photographs used for lantern slides were also used for other purposes, and many of the images in this collection of slides can also be found in various pamphlets and in the Reconstruction journal published by the French Committee.

How did the images come into existence?

The Central Committee solicited photographs from the field workers instead of hiring professional photographers. They also provided money for the photographic materials on the assumption that a few Friends on the ground in each of the areas of relief work would be able to take pictures. In December 1924, the minutes of the Quaker international relief committee note that "Outposts were asked to inform the Publicity Department of any special features of the work which should be described and to help in every way possible by providing photographs and other material."

Photographs were seen as very important to furthering the mission, and when Friends were having difficulty taking photographs, central organizations would help to facilitate the continued production of images. On June 6, 1918, the French Committee Minutes show that "The Executive approves the suggestion that a worker should be liberated to collect and distribute interesting photographs taken in all our centres. The secretary is asked to make arrangements." In August 1918 the minutes of the Verdun Sub-committee recorded that "the obtaining of military photographs has been complicated by an arrêt of Feb. 1918 forbidding the sending out of the country photographs or picture postcards of the War Zone. The demand for a relaxation of this rule, has been sent to the competent authorities with the support of the Prefect and the General Commanding the Armies of the East, so that I have good hopes that we may succeed in our endeavour."

In October of the same year, the minutes of the French Committee record:

1)    The Committee wishes to call attention to the fact that all photographic supplies chargeable to the Mission should be issued by E.H. Horner or the bills for same passed by him before presentation to the Treasurer.

2)    The General Secretary, Lewis Gannett and E.H. Horner were asked to endeavour to secure special photographic permits for a number of workers and to circularize the equipes giving fuller details as to government regulations, the kind of photographs most desired, etc.

A report from aid-worker, Ernst Votaw, also suggests that the central organs would offer suggestions to individual Friends about how to take photographs that would best suit publicity purposes: "It is a great help to the Publicity Department if District Offices send in as frequently as possible photographs, newspaper clippings and short accounts pertaining to our work or to food conditions, etc. in Germany. In taking photographs for publicity purposes, Philadelphia requests that, wherever possible, the photo include a member of the Mission."

Although precise records of the contents of these photographs may never have existed, they undoubtedly played an important role in publicity efforts and in humanizing the people being helped, as suggested by this announcement in the 1919 edition of Reconstruction: "Towards the end of September, 1918, a member of the Mission took the photograph of a child who has since died. The mother has no picture of her child and counts on us to procure one of these for her. It was taken at Cafe Robinson, Dole, in front of hut 10 or 11. The little boy was on the lowest step beside a girl, and there was a Teddy bear on the other side of him. Behind him on the top step were three women. Please send the film to C.A. Glancy, 53, rue de Rivoli, Paris."