At the end of the year 2020, in which travelling for people became increasingly difficult due to the measures against the corona virus, I would like to tell you about the journey of flour sacks from the state of Kansas in the US to the province of Limburg in Belgium and back: Kansas-Limburg in seven steps.
1) In November and December 1914, the Kansas Belgian Relief Fund, led by former Governor W.R. Stubbs, collected money for relief supplies to be sent to the population of occupied Belgium. The committee used the gifts to purchase flour from local mills to a total value of $ 400,000.
The cargo went by railroad to New York Harbor, there were 150 railroad cars loaded with 50,000 barrels of flour, the equivalent of about 200,000 sacks of flour.
2) On January 5, 1915, steamship Hannah, loaded with the relief goods collected by the people of Kansas, left New York Harbor.
The ship was waved goodbye by hundreds of people. The Kansas delegation at the harbor consisted of 50 people.
Mrs. Josephine Bates, neé White (Portage-du-Fort, Québec, Canada, 08.07.1862 – Yorktown, New York, USA, 20.10.1934), together with the captain of the ship, hoisted the flag from the mast.
Josephine Bates was known by her husband’s name as Mrs. Lindon W. Bates. She was the Chairwoman of the Woman’s Section of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).
The Woman’s Section was founded in New York in November 1914 with the aim of bringing all women’s organizations in the US under one umbrella to coordinate their many lavish relief efforts for Belgium.
The Chairwoman of the Woman’s Section for the State of Kansas was Ms. Ida M. Walker, née Abrahams (Kansas, USA, 2/22/1886 – Norton, Kansas, USA, 6/18/1968). She continued the fundraising campaigns for Belgium even after the departure of the Hannah. In May 1915 she campaigned for the collection of 10,000 food boxes and repeated this in December as a Christmas campaign.
3) On January 27, 1915, SS Hannah moored in the Maashaven in Rotterdam. Transshipment of relief goods in inland vessels for transit to the provinces in Belgium started immediately. The ships run fixed routes to the Belgian cities and villages.
The distribution of the relief supplies was overseen by Mr. Charles F. Scott of Iola, Kansas, farmer’s son, owner of The Iola Daily Register newspaper and former Kansas State MP.
He was married to May Ewing Scott, a politically active woman. Scott had come over specifically for this purpose at the insistence of the CRB. He traveled at his own expense and risk, a significant detail, as a competing newspaper spread falsehoods by stating that Scott used the Kansas people’s money raised for Belgium for his “jaunt.”
Thanks to Scott’s report of his journey by telegram dated February 8, 1915 from London, it was announced in Kansas that the cargo of the Hannah had arrived in good order with the Belgian population. Scott was back in Kansas in late February, providing a vivid account of his journey at the Auditorium in the capital, Topeka, on March 10, 1915, before an audience of nearly 2,000. His visit to Cardinal Mercier in Malines made a big impression. In the months that followed, Scott had a full schedule of lectures about his trip and reached a large audience.
4) Meanwhile in Limburg the sacks of flour had been emptied at the bakeries and handed over to charity organizations and (monastery) schools. Embroiderers went to work decorating Kansas’ flour sacks, in Bilzen, Hasselt, Hoesselt, Lommel and Neerpelt, among others.
– Caroline Gielen (Bilzen, 28.01.1888) in Bilzen was 27 years old in 1915. She embroidered a flour sack “Blue Bell” from Russell Milling Company, Russell, with the text “God bless you” and an appliqué American flag. She applied a wide strip of ribbon, hand-painted with golden sheaves of grain, all around.
Caroline’s father, Charles Gielen (Bilzen 23.03.1847 – Bilzen 01-01-1926), was a member of the “Permanent Deputation” (now “Deputation“), the executive body of the province of Limburg. Her mother was Marie Jeannette Georgine Robertine Gielen (Bilzen 07.06.1859 – Bilzen 09.11.1937).
– Angèle Veltkamp (Hasselt 18.05.1898) in Hasselt was 17 years old in 1915. She worked on a flour sack “Kansas Flour for Relief in Belgium” by the residents of Riley County, filled up with flour by The Manhattan Milling Co., Manhattan. With shiny silk threads she embroidered the small coat of arms of Belgium with the motto “L’union fait la force” (“Unity is strength”) and the Order of Leopold. “Reconnaissance à L’Amérique” (“Gratitude to America”) is in an arc over the coat of arms, the years 1914-1915 and the name of the municipality “Hasselt”. The flour sack is unfolded and edged with red, yellow and black string. In the middle is an artful bow with a red, yellow and black ribbon.
After the war, Angèle Veltkamp married Maurice Schuermans on 27 September 1919 in Elen (Sint-Gillis 17.02.1889); he was an aeronautical engineer.
– The “Orphanage” in Hoeselt embroidered a flour sack from Pawnee County. They cut the sack into strips and put a wide edge of bobbin lace between and around it. The embroidered text read: “From Pawnee County 1000 sacks Flour 1914 donated 1915 to Belgium Sufferers Remembrance Orphanage Hoesselt Kansas U.S.A.”
– The Orphelinat St. Joseph of the Réligieuses de la Providence (Orphanage St. Joseph of the Sisters of Providence) in Hoeselt embroidered a flour sack from the mill D. Gerster, Burlington with the brand name ”Excelsior-Water Mill-Victor”. A banner bore the text “Dieu bénisse nos Bienfaiteurs” (“God bless our benefactors”). The flags of Belgium, France and the US were added. A ribbon in red, yellow and black bordered the flour sack.
– Gabriëlle Tournier (Lommel 17.03.1898 – Hasselt 13.06.1971) in Lommel was 17 years old in 1915. She transformed a flour sack from Kaw Milling Co., Topeka, into a cushion cover with a red, yellow and black ribbon and a border of golden yellow ribbon. The flour sack, originally printed on both sides, has the brand name “Perfection Flour” on one side, with an image of an eagle with open wings and grain stalks between its legs.
The other side bears a smaller bird as a logo. It is embroidered in blue and white bordered by stalks of grain. Underneath an appliqué with an embroidered Belgian flag and “L’Union fait la Force”. The brand name “Kaw” refers to the river Kaw, also known as the “Kansas river”.
Gabriëlle Tournier married Joseph Clercx (Neerpelt 23.02.1894 – Hasselt 26.06.1991), Veteran 1914-1918; Croix de guerre (“Cross of War”) 1914-1918. They had six children, two daughters and four sons.
– In Neerpelt there is a flour sack from the Imboden Milling Company, Wichita, embroidered by Maria Moonen with the text “Merci à l’Amérique” with the Belgian and American flags and a bow in red, yellow and black. A ribbon in the colors of the American flag is woven through the fabric. The sack is edged with a wide bobbin lace rim.
– A flour sack from Kiowa Milling Co., Prop’s, Kiowa, is embroidered by an unknown embroiderer (Madame Jean Noots?). All printed letters and the logo are over-embroidered in the colors red, yellow, black, with blue and gold. The sack is originally printed on both sides. The worker of the flour sack has finished the edges with gold-colored fringed straps, fastened with threads in red, yellow and black.
5) Autumn 1915 a series of decorated flour sacks, including the Limburg embroidery works described above, was given as a gift to CRB delegates as thanks for the food relief. The decorated flour sacks have been transported from Brussels to Rotterdam and from there to the CRB office in London.
In London, Millard K. Shaler, secretary of the CRB, commissioned seven Kansas flour sacks to ex-gov. Stubbs from the Kansas Belgian Relief Fund in Topeka and included a thank you letter.
6) In February 1916, the seven decorated Kansas flour sacks arrived via Mr. Stubbs at Secretary Dillon of the Kansas Belgian Relief Fund in Topeka. On February 6, The Topeka Daily Capital published an article under the headline “Belgian Children Embroider Flour Sacks from Kansas”, featuring a photo of four of the seven flour sacks. The caption read “Kansas Flour Sacks Embroidered by Appreciative Belgians Whose Lives Were Saved by the Generosity of Charitable Kansans”.
The decorated flour sacks were immediately displayed to the public in a shop window in the center of the city. They then moved to the State Historical Building in Topeka to be preserved “as a lasting memento of the great European war and Kansas’s part in helping the Belgians.”
7) Today the seven decorated flour sacks are part of the Kansas History Museum collection of the Kansas Historical Society. At the time, the Historical Society received the flour sacks from the Kansas Belgian Relief Fund.
In February 2015, the Riley County embroidered flour sack, embroidered by Angèle Veltkamp for the municipality of Hasselt, returned temporarily to Belgium. The Kansas History Museum lent the memento to the “Stadsmus”, the city museum of Hasselt, for the exhibition “The taste of war”.
As a result, this decorated flour sack once again, one hundred years later, made the “Round trip Kansas-Limburg”, though this time directly.
Special thanks to Hubert Bovens, Wilsele, Belgium, specialized in researching the biographical data of artists, for the research of the biographical data of the three Limburg embroiderers Caroline Gielen, Angèle Veltkamp and Gabriëlle Tournier.