Transformation of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace

The aim of my research is, among other things, to unravel the mythical history of the origin of the decorated flour sacks in WWI. Decorated flour sacks in WWI are both embroidered, decorated with needlework and with lace, as though they were painted by artists. Flour sacks have been transformed into clothing.
Who had the idea of reusing the sacks and where and when did that start? Was it a Belgian initiative or did it happen on American suggestion?
To find answers to my questions, I systematically went through a number of Belgian newspapers and illustrated magazines from the end of 1914, beginning of 1915; these have been digitized and are available online.
I had already found some American publications before and combined them with the information from Belgium.
In my first of a series of four blogs, I have discussed the origin of reusing the flour sacks as clothing.

Decorated flour sack embroidered by Germaine Joly, École Moyenne, Saint-Gilles, Bruxelles. Fig. “From Aid to Art”, San Francisco Folk Art Museum, 1987, Hoover Institution Library & Archives Collection, Stanford University, USA.

This second blog discusses the:
Transformation of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace into decorated flour sacks. Belgian sources 1915.
Below are seven Belgian primary sources from 1915 about the origin of the decorated flour sacks.

1) March 1915: “De Kempenaar, Turnhout” (province of Antwerp)

The earliest source discovered until now is a message in the newspaper “De Kempenaar” with a description of the decoration of flour sacks with embroidery, needlework and lace. In ornate words, the decorated flour sacks gave the opportunity for a patriotic “cri-de-coeur” from a journalist in Turnhout, province of Antwerp, under the headline: “The Germans in De Kempen”:
“While all sorts of necessities are coming from the billion-dollar country to help the Belgian population in pressure and distress, our feminine side has sought and found a means of expressing deep gratitude to the Americans with as much fine tact as generosity.
And look at the sacks in which American flour is sent to us and some of which bear the name of the world-famous billionaire Rockefeller, they have displayed their art in beautiful needle and embroidery, on which they picture the maps of Belgium, the province of Antwerp, flowers and figures have been worked out and embroidered, sometimes trimmed with fine real Turnhout edges and which will soon elicit an exclamations of astonishment and admiration in the new world, yes maybe will be sold at the price of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
After all, is it a memento of that small but brave nation, of those heroic Belgians who have fulfilled their patriotic duty so honorably and gloriously? … Is it the work of the mothers, of the sisters of those admirable soldiers, who now want to send a small but meaningful memento with their own art and own manual labor to the protectors of our people and our nation that will be received and preserved there in the large families like the relic of a heroic people, fighting for their rights, their freedom and independence??…”.
(De Kempenaar, March 21, 1915)

2) March 1915: “La farine d’Amérique”

Photo of shop window in L’Actualité Illustrée, March 27, 1915

The second source is a photo in L’Actualité Illustrée of March 27, 1915. The photo with caption “La farine d’Amérique” (“The flour of America”) shows the shop window in which empty flour sacks are displayed. What does this photo reveal?
– the window of a bread bakery that advertises its “hygiène et propreté” and “pétrissage mécanique” (“hygiene and cleanliness” and “mechanical kneading”)
– the presentation of a series of empty flour sacks and many American flags, with a framed, perhaps embroidered flour sack in the center at the top.
All this as proof of the enthusiasm for the reception of the flour, the quality of the bread baked by it, the gratitude to “America” and a gesture of Belgian patriotism including indirect reproach to the German occupier.

3) April 1915: Diary “J. v. d. K”

Embroidery and framed pictures of the Belgian princess and princes by a schoolgirl from Anderlecht, Brussels, 1915. Fig. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, Iowa, USA.

The diary of “J.v.d.K.” is an interesting source about embroidery at school. In her diary the girl noted:
Le 26 avril -1915…Mère brode a ma place des sacs d’Am
Le 28 avril – 1915…A l’école nous brodons les sac de farine am… Rien de nouveau sous le soleil (chanson de ma jeunesse)…”(Lucien Karhausen, Le Cahier Perdu…p 103, 104)

Translation:
“April 26, 1915: … Mother embroiders Am sacks in my place…
April 28, 1915: … At school we embroider the am flour sacks … Nothing new under the sun (song of my youth) …”.
The girls were embroidering at (sewing) schools. They must have been bored at times, perhaps this is why this girl’s mother had put in the stitches for her. As the embroidery was performed as part of their education, the girls received no remuneration for their work.

De Belgische Standaard, May 7, 1915

4) May 1915: A letter from Opwijck (province of Flemish Brabant)
“OPWIJCK. From a few letters….
We are still well supplied with food: America takes care of everything. Long live America! We get wholemeal flour and flour every week and if we use a bit of farm flour, we eat the tastiest bread; …
We now show our gratitude to our benefactors, embroider empty flour sacks with tricolor drawings and inscription: “The grateful Opwijck to the United States”, and others. I make a ”milieu-de-table” and so everyone contributes something.
This is how people work in all villages and it seems that our work is being sold for dollars to the billionaires who want souvenirs of deeply ravaged Belgium. The proceeds are for us...”
(De Belgische Standaard (The Belgian Standard), May 7th, 1915).

5) May 1915: “Sale of American sacks”, Brussels

Het Vlaamsche Nieuws, Saturday May 29, 1915

There were reports in the newspaper about the sale of empty flour sacks.
“Sale of American sacks. – The sacks in which the flour of America comes to us have been sold for some time to the benefit of the “Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation”. The sales take place on Avenue Anspach (Brussels), in the offices where the Red Star Line used to be located. The first sales days gave a result which no one expected. The sacks were then handed over to young girls who manufacture all kinds of very beautiful things from them, all kinds of war souvenirs or expressions of gratitude towards generous America that sent us those sacks filled with the flour that saved us from famine.” Het Vlaamsche Nieuws (Flemish News), May 29th, 1915)

KBR: Postcard online
The shop window of the Red Star Line in ”l’Avenue Anspach”, Brussels. Fig. Exhibition War & Food, Evere, 2016

A postcard in the collection of the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) in Brussels shows the window of said building on the Avenue Anspach.

This image was on display at the “Food & War” exhibition “A culinary history of the Great War” in Brussels Museum of the Mill and Food in Evere from October 2015-August 2016. When the photo was taken is not mentioned, my estimate would be summer 1915. The shop window is filled with decorated flour sacks: “Sacs de farine Américains brodés et transformés vendus au Profit des Orphelins de la Guerre. (Embroidered and processed American flour sacks sold for the benefit of War Orphans) Marcovici editor, Bruxelles, 27, Av. Stephanie.” The head of the saleswoman is visible in the center of the image, next to the flour sack “Washington Flour”.

6) August 1915: Tribute book Ghent
The 1915 Tribute book of the city of Ghent expressed gratitude to a local committee of ladies with the following text:
Secours Discret, Section D: Aide et protection aux brodeuses (Œuvres des Sacs Américains). Cette section dont s’occupent spécialement:
Mesdames Baronne de Crombrugge, J. Feyerick, E. de Hemptinne, Vande Putte.
A pris l’initiative de transformer en coussins brodés et autres ouvrages artistiques, les sacs à farine (aux marques de fabriques originales) reçus de l’Amérique.
Son siège est situé Marché aux Oiseaux, dans les magasins de M. Robert, mis gracieusement à la disposition de la section.
La vente se fait au profit du Comité Provincial de Secours et l’entreprise assure un salaire à un certain nombre d’ouvrières.”[1]

Translation:
(“Discrete Aid, Section D: Aid and Protection for Embroiderers (Work of American Sacks). This committee, which consists in particular of:
The ladies Baronne de Crombrugge, J. Feyerick, E. de Hemptinne, Vande Putte,
took the initiative to transform the flour sacks (with the marks of original factories) received from America into embroidered cushions and other artistic works.
Its headquarters are located at Marché aux Oiseaux, in Mr. Robert’s stores, which are made available to the section free of charge.
The sale is for the benefit of the Provincial Committee of Relief and the committee provides a salary to a certain number of workers.”)

Decorated flour sack, embroidered in Ghent, 1915. Collection and image: Frankie van Rossem

7) November 1915: “Nice memories, very useful as a gift”, Ghent

The Ghent committee thus identified working on flour sacks as providing employment to unemployed embroiderers and creating sales for charities such as those benefiting orphans and other war victims. Making objects to serve as Saint Nicolas (a local holiday akin to Christmas) gifts turned out to be important! Making gifts for American relief workers was not the aim … In November 1915 we read this announcement in several newspapers:

“The committee of American flour sacks has decided, with the prospect of St. Nicholas gifts, to sell a whole new series, beautifully embroidered sacks and a multitude of items made by means of sacks originating from the United States. Each of these items carries an American factory brand, artfully embroidered! A They are nice memories, very useful as a gift; what is more, the purchase of each of these objects is good work since the proceeds of the sale serve to provide for the maintenance of numerous workers and to increase the income of the “Work of the War Orphans. The sale will start on November 30.” (De Gentenaar. De landwacht, De kleine patriot. (The Land Guard, The Little Patriot, November 17, 1915)) [2]

Conclusion

Photo collage from the delivery of flour to the distribution of bread. Photo SA Phototypie Belge, Collection In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

Belgian women have taken the initiative with their commercial spirit to transform empty flour sacks into decorated flour sacks. In the spirit of North American donations, the flour sacks have indeed been reused, but in a surprisingly inventive manner. The approach of the Americans: “utility and thrift” – reusing flour sacks for making underwear and towels – has been deviated from due to Belgian generosity and the desire to create beauty, to make goods that people would like to buy as gifts and souvenirs.

Photo in the magazine “Le Temps Présent”, March 31, 1915

Even empty and unprocessed, the flour sacks with logos from American and Canadian flour mills and texts from the donating people were so beautiful that they formed an attractive souvenir. Together with beautiful cushions, tea cozies, hangers, table runners, sacks decorated with colorful embroidery, elegant needlework and lace, the flour sacks generously filled the Belgian shop windows, sales exhibitions and raffles.

The proceeds were intended for charity. The two underlying motifs for the Belgian inhabitants were
– to provide employment and
– to raise money through sales to help war victims.
Donating the decorated flour sacks as souvenirs, memories of the war, and out of gratitude for food relief was the selling point, it contributed to getting financial support from the wealthy circles in Belgium and the “billionaires” in America.

 

[1] Ville de Gand, Œuvres de Philanthropie…1915,  p. 73, 74
[2] Four newspapers: De Gentenaar. De landwacht. De kleine patriot; Het Volk. Christen Werkmansblad; Vooruit. Socialistisch Dagblad; Journal de Gand, all published November 17th, 1915

Reusing Flour Bags as Clothing

Decorated flour sack from flour factory in Buffalo, NY, with embroidery and needlework “Merci aux Américains” by “École Morichar de Saint-Gilles”, 1915; Fig. “From Aid to Art”, San Francisco Folk Art Museum, 1987, Hoover Institution Library & Archives Collection, Stanford University, USA.

One of the goals of my research is to unravel the mythical history of the origins of the decorated Flour Bags in WWI. Decorated Flour Bags in WWI can be both embroidered, decorated with needlework and with lace, as well as painted on by artists. Flour Bags have been transformed into clothing.

Who had the idea of reusing these bags and where and when did that start? Was it a Belgian initiative or did it happen due to American suggestion?

Belgian newspapers and magazines
To find answers to my questions, I systematically went through a number of Belgian newspapers and illustrated magazines from the end of 1914, beginning of 1915; these have been digitized and are online.

I had already found some American publications before and combined them with the information from Belgium.

Color photo in “1914 ILLUSTRÉ, no. 22, February 1915”: Flour arrives in Brussels

I have split my analysis and findings into four parts:

  1. Reuse of Flour Bags into clothing.
  2. Transformation of Flour Bags with embroidery, needlework and lace into decorated Flour Bags, Belgian primary sources.
  3. Transformation of Flour Bags into painted decorated Flour Bags, Belgian primary sources.
  4. Transformation of Flour Bags into decorated Flour Bags, American primary sources.

Reusing Flour Bags as clothing
In this blog I will discuss the origin of the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing. Two primary sources, one Belgian from early 1915 and one American from late 1914, bear witness to this.

1) January 1915: Madame Vandervelde

Madame Vandervelde; Fig. gw.geneanet.org

The earliest Belgian source with information that I have found so far is an article about Madame Vandervelde. Her maiden name was Charlotte ‘Lalla’ Speyer, British by birth but from German parents, she was married in 1901 to her second husband, the Belgian Minister of State, Emile Vandervelde. The couple divorced immediately after WWI. [1]

Article in “Le XXe siècle: journal d’union et d’action catholique” of January 16, 1915

Since October 1914, Madame Vandervelde had been in the United States to ask for help for the Belgian population in need. In Buffalo, New York, she gave a lecture and received 10,000 bags of flour as a gift. The bags were made of fine cotton and intended for reuse.

La propagande pro-belge aux États-Unis.
‘Madame Vandervelde, la femme du Ministre d’Etat, est aux
États-Unis depuis plus de trois mois. Elle y a donné et y donne sur la Belgique et les horreurs, dont elle a été victime, une série de conférences qui ont le plus grand succès et dans lesquelles on acclame la Belgique et les Belges. …..
A Buffalo, des industriels lui ont offert un bâteau chargé de 10.000 sacs de farine, – sacs confectionnés en fine toile et en étoffe, afin qu’ils puissent servir par la suite et être transformés en vêtements et en linges pour les habitants. …

Translation: “In Buffalo, manufacturers have donated to her a ship with 10,000 bags of flour – bags made of fine canvas and cloth, so that these can afterwards be used and transformed into clothing and towels for the inhabitants…. “

Madame Vandervelde had apparently set up her own relief fund, the ‘Madame Vandervelde Fund’, to house all the donations she received in the United States. I have deduced this from:

Unprocessed flour sack Madame Vandervelde Fund.  Image: Imprimerie Société Anonyme Belge de Phototypie (Collection IFFM)

a) the unprocessed Flour Bag on a photo of a Flour Bags-collage, provided to me by the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM), Ypres, with the text: “War Relief Donation Flour from Madame Vandervelde Fund – Belgian Relief Fund, Buffalo, N.Y. U.S.A. 49 Lbs.”[2]

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, collection IFFM, Ypres

 

 

b) the decorated Flour Bag, which I see online at the ‘Ieperse Collecties’ (Ypres Collections). Object number IFF 003008 is an “Embroidered and painted Flour Bag attached on a stretcher with the text “War Relief Donation – Flour 1914-1915 – from Madame Vandervelde Fund “. At the top the portrait of Emile Vandervelde, Minister of State of Belgium.”

 

2) November 1914: Mr. William C. Edgar

The earliest American source on the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing comes from Mr. William C. Edgar, editor-in-chief of the American newspaper “The Northwestern Miller” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On November 4, 1914, he started the aid campaign “The Miller’s Relief Movement”. [3] The newspaper, a trade magazine for grain millers, made a request to subscribers and advertisers, in particular the flour mills, to donate flour for Belgium’s aid. The quality of the flour was specified in detail and the packaging had to meet the following conditions: cotton bags, sturdy for transport, dimensions suitable for handling by one person and last but not least “suitable for reuse“:

Instructions were issued at the same time for packing the flour. These stipulated that a strong forty-nine pound cotton sack be used. This was for three reasons: the size of the package would be convenient for individual handling in the ultimate distribution; the use of cotton would, to a certain extent, help the then depressed cotton market, and finally and most important, after the flour was eaten, the empty cotton sack could be used by the housewife for an undergarment, the package thus providing both food and clothing. ‘(Final Report: The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement 1914-1915, p. 9). [4]

Tradition

Undergarment made from Flour Bag. Fig.: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, Iowa, USA

The motive for reuse was widely used among the American female population. Reuse of cotton bags had already been established for decades and earlier. Cotton was a product of the country, bags were usable pieces of cotton. It provided the sparing housewife with simple items of clothing for free or for a low price. After good washing, the seamstresses cut the pattern of the clothes out of the bags and mainly made undergarments for their own family. After the First World War, the reuse of cotton bags developed further in the US from the 1920s.

Lou Hoover poses in a cotton evening gown to encourage women to wear cotton clothing, in particular evening gowns (around 1930); Fig. firstladies.org

During the depression in the 1930s, the Americans protected their distressed cotton industry, reusing cotton bags was a sign of frugality and also a patriotic duty. Product development and marketing efforts by bag suppliers resulted in washable prints, washable labels and finally colorful, fashionable and hip prints on the bags. In the 40s and 50s it was particularly fashionable to wear garments made from bags. A true “Feedsack” cult prevailed among rural women to sew clothes from used cotton bags that had served as packages of chicken feed, flour, sugar and rice for the entire family. [5]

Photo in ‘L’ événement Illustré: L’Ouvroir des Dames Namuroises’, April 1915, no. 9
Jacket made from Flour Bag. Fig.: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, Iowa, USA

The reuse of flour bags into clothing would have been taken up by Belgian women’s organizations under the protection of the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation, as soon as the relief work had properly started in January 1915.

It was typical of Belgian women that they not only made undergarments from the flour bags, but also cute, happy dresses for their children. In Heverlee, 80 children, mostly girls from around 4 to 6 years old, were photographed, dressed in Flour Sacks with the “American Commission” logo.

Image in Europeana Collections (estimated 1915)

Mr. Robert Bruyninckx shared this black and white photo of 14 × 9 cm in the Europeana Collections under the title: “Group photo with children dressed in clothes made from bags of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium.”

Description: “Group photo with Jeanne Caterine Charleer (born in Heverlee on August 17, 1910), top row, 7th from the right. Children dressed in clothes made from bags of the American Commission for Relief, with the American flag in the background. The photo is a family piece. Jeanne Caterine Charleer was the mother of Robert Bruyninckx.”[6]

Girl in Flour Bag dress from California. Fig.: Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University, V.S.

A girl in New York was photographed in a “Belgian” dress with the “Sperry Flour” logo from California.

Conclusion

Although I have only found two primary sources to date, I nevertheless come to a provisional conclusion about the origin of the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing: this practice was taken up in Belgium at the suggestion of American relief workers. The Belgian women found the Flour Bags so special, they made, apart from undergarments, also nice dresses for their children.

 

[1] Gubin, Eliane, Dictionnaire des femmes belges: XIXe et XXe siècle, p. 510-512; gw.geneanet.org: “Charlotte Hélène Frédérique Marie Speyer”

[2] Delmarcel, Guy, Pride of Niagara. Best Winter Wheat. Amerikaanse Meelzakken als textiele getuigen van Wereldoorlog I. Brussel, Jubelpark: Bulletin van de Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis (‘American flour sacks as textile witnesses of World War I’. Brussels, Cinquantenaire: Bulletin of the Royal Museums of Art and History), deel 84, 2013, p. 97-126

[3] See also my blog: “A Celebrity Flemish Flour Bag in The Land of Nevele” of October 25, 2018

[4] The Millers ’Belgian Relief Movement 1914-15 conducted by The Northwestern Miller. Final Report of its Director William C. Edgar, Editor of the Northwestern Miller, MCMXV

[5] Three sources to continue reading about ‘Feed Sacks’:
Linzee Kull McCray, Feed Sacks, The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, 2016/2019;
– Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 
For a few sacks more, online exhibition Textile Research Centre, Leiden, 2018
– Marian Ann J. Montgomery, 
Cotton and Thrift. Feed Sacks and the Fabric of American Households, 2019

[6] The group photo with the children in Heverlee in clothing from bags with the logo ‘American Commission’ is printed in the article by Ina Ruckebusch: ‘Belgische voedselschaarste en Amerikaanse voedselhulp tijdens WOI’ in: Patakon, tijdschrift voor bakerfgoed, (Belgian food scarcity and American food aid during WWI’ in: Patakon, Magazine about bakery heritage) 5 nr. 1 (2014) , p. 29.

 

From Lewis Richards via Berthe Smedt to Antoine Springael

A glimpse into my day of research on Thursday, March 13, 2019.
I am looking for connections in Brussels of Lewis Richards, member of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).

Lewis Richards, CRB member from 1915-1919. Image: MSU Archives website

Richards came from Michigan, USA, I read on the website of the Michigan State University Archives, he was a musician, pianist, an American who studied at the conservatory in Brussels. He graduated cum laude and also found the love of his life.

In Brussels, he met Berthe Smedt, daughter of Charles Smedt, the restaurant owner of Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie in 13 Rue Leopold, just behind La Monnaie.

Berthe Smedt and Lewis Richards on their wedding day. Image: MSU Archives website

In 1908, Lewis (Lewis Loomis Richards, born in Saint Johns, Clinton County, Michigan, on April 11, 1881, died in Michigan in 1940) and Berthe (Berthée Emilie Smedt, born in Brussels on June 19, 1884) were married in Brussels.
It so happens that my grandparents Van Kempen were also married in 1908. A funny coincidence that makes history come alive for me.
The wedding photo of Berthe shows a “cloud” of a wedding dress. Imagine it would have been preserved, the photo displays such!

Berthe’s mother, Emilie Marie Jeanne Schamps, was born in Brussels on September 25, 1856. Charles Smedt (born in Brussels, December 24, 1852, died January 30, 1911, butcher by profession, then restaurant owner) ran a restaurant during the World Fair in Brussels from his Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie, a “succursale” called: “Chien Vert” (Green Dog).
The phenomenon of the 1910 World Exhibition amazes me because of its scale; it is worth a deeper dive. The exhibition area was 88 hectares in size, 26 countries had a pavillion there and it attracted 13 million visitors. No wonder that Restaurant du Chien Vert is located in a monumental building; even it only lasted for six months.
I imagine that Lewis Richards would have performed in atmospheric concerts in his father-in-law’s restaurant.

The Pavilion of restaurant “Chien Vert” (“Green Dog”) during the World Exhibition 1910 in Brussels

Photographs of the World Exhibition were printed on postcards and were collector’s items. Through the website “La Belgique des Quatre Vents” I get a good impression of the “Exposition Universelle de 1910 à Bruxelles et Tervueren“.

Poster for the “Procession of the Seasons”, design by Antoine Springael, 1910

My gaze is held by this poster. I recognize the lady in the middle … She is depicted on a flour sack!
I dive into my photo archive and find the painted flour sack by Antoine Springael in the “Moulckers Collection“.

Painted flour sack, Antoine Springael, 1915; Moulckers Collection, St. Edwards University, Tx, USA

What a find. Antoine Springael has drawn the poster for the “Cortège des Saisons” in July 1910 and later, in 1915, he depicted the same Goddess of Summer on the American Commission’s flour sack!
Quite funny to compare the warm colors of the inviting poster with the somewhat messy black-and-white photo on the postcard of the actual Cortège des Saisons.

“Procession of the Seasons” during the 1910 World Exhibition in Brussels
Excerpt from the Report of the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement by M. Edgar, 1915

Back to Berthe Smedt and Lewis Richards.
In his work for the CRB (officially from January 1915) in Brussels, Lewis played a role in the sale of decorated flour sacks to Americans who came to Belgium accompanying the delivery of relief supplies.

Mr. Edgar from “The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement” placed an order in March 1915, 105 years ago this month, for embroidered flour sacks. I wrote about it in my blog “A Celebrity Flemish Flour Bag in the Land of Nevele”.

Letter of thanks on behalf of the British Queen, 1917

In 1917 Richards worked for the CRB in London and sold two Belgian lace cushions to the British Queen.

In short, Lewis Richards was a man of standing, lived in Brussels in 1914-1915, ran with the wealthy circles in Brussels from the inside, spoke the language of both Belgians and Americans. He would have known what it was like, the history of the decorated flour sacks …

I find information about Richards’ work for the CRB in various sources:

1) Hugh Gibson, secretary of the United States Embassy in Brussels, writes in “A Journal from our Legation in Belgium“, 1917 (pp. 342-344):
“Christmas 1914.- Immediately after lunch we climbed into the big car and went out to Lewis Richards’ Christmas tree. He has a big house at the edge of town, with grounds which were fairy-like in the heavy white frost. He had undertaken to look after 600 children, and he did it to the Queen’s taste. They were brought in by mothers in bunches of one hundred, and marched around the house, collecting things as they went. In one room each youngster was given a complete outfit of warm clothes. In another, some sort of toy which he was allowed to choose. In another, a big bag of cakes and candies, and, finally, they were herded into the big dining-room, where they were filled with all sorts of Xmas food. There was a big tree in the hall, so that the children in their triumphal progress, merely walked around the tree. Stevens had painted all the figures and the background of an exquisite creche, with an electric light behind it, to make the stars shine. The children were speechless with happiness, and many of the mothers were crying as they came by.
Since the question of food for children became acute here, Richards has been supplying rations to the babies in this neighbourhood. The number has been steadily increasing, and for some time he has been feeding over two hundred youngsters a day. He has been very quiet about it, and hardly anyone has known what he was doing.
It is cheering to see a man who does so much to comfort others; not so much because he weighs the responsability of his position and fortune, but because he has great-hearted sympathy and instinctively reaches out to help those in distress. Otherwise the day was pretty black, but it did warm the cockles of my heart to find this simple American putting some real meaning into Christmas for these hundreds of wretched people. He also gave a deeper meaning for the rest of us.”

2) Tracy B. Kittredge has described Lewis Richards as one of the CRB’s most valuable employees. Quote of page 283 from “The History of The Commission for Relief in Belgium 1914-1917“:
“…in January 1916… was succeeded as general secretary by Mr. Lewis Richards, who had organised the Commission’s work in Greater Brussels. It was Mr. Richards who had devised and put into operation the card catalogue of the population of Brussels which had made possible the checking of the bread distribution and the combing out of some 150,000 extra rations of flour which had been distributed to bakers who had fraudulently padded their lists. Mr. Richards, after performing this service in Greater Brussels, had gone to Northern France in April 1915 as chief representative for the most important French district, that of the north, with headquarters at Valenciennes. After a few months there he went to Holland, where he helped in the Rotterdam office until Hoover asked him to return to Brussels to become general secretary. He remained at this post until July 1916, when he went out to Rotterdam again, this time to become assistant director of the Commission’s office there. Almost a year later he was called to London as assistant director of the central office of the Commission, in which capacity he is still serving. Mr. Richards, because of his experience and personal qualities, proved throughout his whole service to be one of the most valuable of the Commission’s representatives.”

3) In July 1919, a laudation about Richards’ CRB work appeared in The San Francisco Call and Post.

If a personal archive of his were to exist, it would have to be found in the archives of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

A long time ago, in 1981, I was on holidays in Michigan to visit some college friends I had made in the “American Law” course during my law studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam. If only I could have known then that I would later wish to be in East Lansing in my search for decorated flour sacks.
That is why I am starting a new research day today, closer to home, in search of the history of the Smedt family, daughter Berthe and son-in-law Lewis Richards in Brussels!

A Canadian flour bag and embroidery of proud Belgian women

This is my first article about a decorated flour bag in WWI, written in June 2018.

The Flour Bag has been part of the collection of the Textile Research Center (TRC) in Leiden, The Netherlands, since 2017 and was a gift from Pepin van Rooijen of Pepin Press, Amsterdam.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, director of TRC, wrote on the occasion of the donation about the ‘Belgian Embroidered Flour Bags’.

You can read the English translation of my article here.