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The American Hospital in Moscow: A Lesson in International Cooperation, 1917–23

  • Susan Grant (a1)

Abstract

In its examination of American Medical Aid to Russia, this article shows how the best of intentions can have the potential to go horribly awry. It argues that the competing binary forces of international collaboration and goodwill versus political tensions and uncertainty combined to create an environment wherein actors and agents inhabited an ever changing and unpredictable international stage. Could American philanthropic organisations and individuals overcome political volatility, financial restrictions and ideological barriers? Just what would it take to establish an American hospital in Moscow, the Bolshevik seat of power? The attempt to establish the hospital proved to be an exercise in patience, persistence and prudence (although not always in equal measure). This article shows that international cooperation, while undoubtedly complicated, was certainly possible. The flow of information, materiel and personnel between the United States, Germany and Russia proved that good intentions, trust and a will to help others were valued. The history of American Medical Aid to Russia also demonstrates that the Quaker role of facilitator and interlocutor was vital in establishing a relationship of trust between Soviet Russia and the United States. This article discusses the difficulties that philanthropic organisations faced when navigating the choppy international waters of the early 1920s and highlights the rewards of successfully doing this. It argues that basic human relationships and trust were just as, if not sometimes more, important than ideology in determining the tenor of early US–Soviet relations.

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* Email address for correspondence: susangrant@campus.ie

References

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1. Note on transliteration: I have adhered to Library of Congress transliteration style but spelling errors or variations of proper names, for example, Michael and Mikhail, Mikhailovsky and Michailovsky or Kotsva, Catsza, etc. remain the same as in original texts.

2. See Michael Harmer, The Forgotten Hospital (Chichester: Springwood, 1982).

3. American Friends Service Committee Archives. General Administration: Foreign Service; Russia (hereafter, AFSC, FS, Russia), People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs (Chicherin) to Arthur Watts, 14 April 1921.

4. Irwin, Julia, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 144.

5. The Quakers signed an agreement with the Soviet government guaranteeing political and religious neutrality; the fact that Quakers remained in Russia until 1931 was testament to their ‘good behaviour’ and the trust placed in their personnel.

6. For more on the repercussions of Riga and the exchange of opinion on the matter between the AFSC and Hoover (himself a Quaker), see Swarthmore College archives, RG 5 Thomas, Series 6 Ref material, AFSC, 1922. The collection contains letters between Hoover and Rufus M. Jones, and between Wilbur Thomas and Hoover, written in January 1922. It should also be noted that O.D. Kameneva, head of the Central Commission for Struggle against the Consequences of the Famine (Posledgol, October 1922–August 1923), waged a campaign against the ARA. See Margaret Akers Trott, ‘Soviet Medicine and Western Medical Charity, 1917–27’ (PhD Dissertation, University of Virginia, 1996) and ‘Passing through the Eye of a Needle: American Philanthropy and Soviet Medical Research in the 1920s’, in William H. Schneider, ed., Rockefeller Philanthropy and Modern Biomedicine: International Initiatives from World War I to the Cold War (Indiana: Bloomington, 2002). See also Benjamin M. Weissman, Herbert Hoover and Famine Relief to Soviet Russia: 1921–23 (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1974).

7. McFadden, Constructive Spirit, 30.

8. Patenaude, Bertrand M., The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 141.

9. David McFadden and Claire Gorfinkel, Constructive Spirit: Quakers in Revolutionary Russia (Pasadena, CA: Intentional Productions, 2004), 109–132.

10. McFadden, David W., Alternative Paths. Soviets and Americans, 1917–20 (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 339.

11. Ibid., 121, 124, and 267 passim.

12. For just one example, see Susan Solomon, Doing Medicine Together: Germany and Russia Between the Wars (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006). See also Michael David-Fox, Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921–41 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

13. Although, according to a British correspondent, it was a ‘victory’ for the Americans as the Russians gave way on the most salient points. See Weissman, 65. For more on the tense relationship between the ARA and AFSC, see Patenaude, The Big Show in Bololand, 141, 604.

14. Ulam, Adam B., Expansion and Coexistence. Soviet Foreign Policy 1917–73 (New York: Praeger, 1976), 148.

15. Barnett, Michael, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011), 87.

16. Mark L. Haas, ‘Soviet Grand Strategy in the Interwar Years: Ideology as Realpolitik’, 293, in The Challenge of Grand Strategy: The Great Powers and the Broken Balance between the Wars, Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Norrin M. Ripsman, and Stephen E. Lobell (eds) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 279–307.

17. Walt, Stephen M., Revolution and War (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996), 195.

18. Haas, op. cit. (note 16), 300.

19. Its Chairman was Mrs Henry Villard and its Treasurer was Arthur S. Leeds. By March 1922 it was claiming in its publicity pamphlet on the American hospital to be distributing medical supplies in conjunction with the AFSC and endorsed by the National Information Bureau.

20. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Executive Secretary of AMAR to Wilbur Thomas, 29 December 1921. In this letter Witherspoon was seeking official Quaker endorsement.

21. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter 9 March 1921 from Executive Secretary to Mr Hall Finch.

22. AFSC, FS, Russia. Reports, Numbered 1922. Friends of Soviet Russia 1922. Letter 9 February 1922 to Mr B. Martin, from Executive Secretary (hereafter: Witherspoon). Originally, the plan had been to conduct emergency aid work in the Volga district, but Semashko intervened and advised that work be done in the city instead. Thus, the hospital project came about. It was then hoped that the hospital would be a base for sending aid to other parts of Russia. The personal involvement of the Commissariat for Public Health representatives in soliciting foreign aid was not unusual and in fact encouraged. See Trott, op. cit. (note 9), 171.

23. AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon wrote in February 1922.

24. AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon to Herbert Fleishacker, president of the Anglo-American Bank in San Francisco, 24 February 1922.

25. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter 23 June 1922 to Mr Doeller, Cincinnati from Executive Secretary American Aid to Russia. They had spent $31 000 through the Committee.

26. The Commissariat of Public Health had representatives abroad in the 1920s, including most notably the very active Mikhailovsky in New York, Goldenberg in Berlin, and Alexandre Roubakine in Paris. There were also representatives in other countries, including the United Kingdom.

27. AFSC, FS, Russia. Fanny Garrison Villard (1845–1928) was wife of Henry Villard and daughter of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1881 the Garrison family inherited both the New York Evening Post and The Nation (her son, Oswald Garrison Villard, became owner and editor of the latter). After the death of Henry Villard in 1900, Mrs Villard remained active in reform and peace movements. She founded the Women’s Peace Society and in 1921 she was delegate to the Women’s International Conference for Peace and Freedom, held in Vienna.

28. Frances May Witherspoon (1886–1973) graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1908 and moved to New York in 1913. She was co-founder and Executive Secretary of the New York Bureau of Legal Advice. She was involved in movements for women’s rights, civil rights and world peace. Her personal collection is held at Swarthmore College. See http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/DG051-099/dg089MygattWitherspoon.htm (accessed 5 August 2013).

29. See AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence in US (D) 22 April 1922 letter to Ms Muriel Draper from Acting Secretary of American Medical Aid to Russia. Committee members included Dr Mayo, Dr Barker (Professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University), Dr Cushing (Professor of Surgery at Harvard University) and Dr Ireland (Surgeon-General of the US Army). The AMAR campaign was supported by leading medical societies as well as individual physicians and manufacturers, druggists and dealers of medical supplies.

30. AFSC, FS, Russia. Thomas–Witherspoon–McMaster 1922. Letter to Miss Witherspoon from WKT, 1 March 1922. In this letter it was stated that the German person who had worked closely with the Quakers was Dr Ernest Rost who was ‘satisfactory, capable, and trustworthy’ and could be relied upon to place orders if necessary.

31. For more on this and Herbert Hoover see ‘When Politics and Philanthropy Collide’ section below. See also AFSC, FS, Russia. WKT to Witherspoon, 1 March 1922.

32. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from AMAR Executive Secretary to WKT, 19 March 1922.

33. The US government trade embargo of July 1920 did not extend to medical supplies.

34. AFSC, FS, Russia. Bacon to Thomas, 15 March 1922.

35. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from AMAR Executive Secretary to WKT, 19 March 1922. Susan Gross Solomon, ‘Knowing the “Local”: Rockefeller Foundation Officers’ Site Visits to Russia in 1920s’, Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 4, 2003, 710–32 (719).

36. AFSC, FS, Russia. Bacon to Thomas, 15 March 1922.

37. AFSC, FS, Russia. Bacon to Thomas, 15 March 1922. Bacon did not communicate any further information.

38. Involved here was Dr Hammer, a member of the Advisory Board in America who was overseeing some of the banking transactions. He had recently come from Moscow and was in Berlin. AFSC, FS, Russia. Bacon to Thomas, 15 March 1922.

39. See AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon to WKT, 28 February 1922.

40. Walt, Stephen M., Revolution and War (Cornell and London: Cornell University Press, 1996), 195.

41. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Bacon to WKT, 1 May 1922; Bacon to Goldenberg, 29 March 1922; AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Witherspoon to WKT, 9 May 1922.

42. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter dated 2 June 1922 from AMAR to Sybil Moore.

43. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter dated 16 December 1922, Witherspoon wrote to Thomas.

44. AFSC, FS, Russia Thomas–Witherspoon–McMaster 1922. WKT to Witherspoon, 10 March 1922.

45. Copy of letter to sent by WKT to Mr Carlton H. Palmer, President of E.R. Squibb and Sons Company, New York, 7 April 1922. AFSC, FS, Russia.

46. AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon to WKT, 10 March 1922.

47. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence. Letters from Philadelphia to Russia. Letter from Norment to WKT, 9 June 1922.

48. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence. Letter from Philadelphia to Russia. Letter dated 6 July 1922 Wilbur Thomas enclosed extracts (extracts dated 9 June 1922) from Norment.

49. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence. Letters from Philadelphia to Russia. Letter from Norment to WKT 3 August 1922 discussing meeting with Kavinocky and Kotzva.

50. Ibid.

51. AFSC, FS, Russia (Thomas–Witherspoon–McMaster). Letter from Sybil Moore to Louis Miller (AMAR), 9 August 1922.

52. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letters Russia–England. Witherspoon to Sybil Jane Moore, AFSC Assistant Secretary, 7 October 1922.

53. AFSC, FS, Russia (Thomas–Witherspoon–McMaster). Letter from WKT to Witherspoon, 11 October 1922.

54. AFSC. Letter to WKT from Witherspoon, 16 October 1922.

55. AFSC. The NIB was established in 1918 and functioned as a clearinghouse for American philanthropies. AMAR received endorsement on 16 May 1922, but this would be discussed again later that year after Wardwell (Chairman of the Committee on Russian Relief), Burns (Director), and Eversole completed an NIB survey mission in Russia.

56. AFSC, FS, Russia (Thomas–Witherspoon–McMaster). Letter from Witherspoon to Thomas, 16 December 1922. For more on this see the ‘When Politics and Philanthropy Collide’ section below.

57. See AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon to Kavinocky, 3 May 1923.

58. For more on the internal divisions among the Quakers concerning Thomas and Hoover, especially developments in the mid-late 1920s, see McFadden, op. cit. (note 7), 75–8.

59. AFSC, General Files-FS Russia (Medical Aid to Russia). Letter from Julia Branson to WKT, 3 January 1923.

60. AFSC, FS, Russia. Branson to WKT, 3 January 1923.

61. For more on ‘giving and taking’, see Susan Gross Solomon and Nikolai Krementsov, ‘Giving and Taking Across Borders: The Rockefeller Foundation and Russia 1919–28’, Minerva 39 (2001), 265–98.

62. AFSC, FS Russia. Letter from Executive Secretary of AMAR to Dr Klemptner, Seattle, dated 20 June 1922.

63. Ibid.

64. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence in US (D), Executive Secretary Anna Davis 29 September 1922.

65. According to MacMaster, Goldenberg had been a ‘careful and intelligent’ buyer who had drawn up contracts with large, reputable firms. Letter written by MacMaster to W.K. Thomas, 5 December 1922. MacMaster and Goldenberg felt that these ‘represented one of the finest gifts which the city of Moscow probably would ever receive’. Although the installation costs in Moscow would be high, they would be ‘worth infinitely more to the sick of Moscow’. In 2015, the sum of $12 000 is approximately the equivalent to $162 875 – a considerable debt.

66. AFSC, FS, Russia. Kavinocky, Dr Nahum 1923. Letter to Kavinocky, 5 January 1923.

67. Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossisskoi Federatsii (hereafter GARF), f.482, op.35, d.55. Semashko to Mikhailovsky, 3 February 1923.

68. Ibid.

69. Ibid.

70. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Branson to WKT. Branson had been told this by Kotzva, 6 March 1923.

71. Ibid.

72. AFSC. General Files 1923 FS, Poland to Russia. Letter from Julia Branson to WKT, 6 March 1923.

73. The importance of communication and information is critical here. The problems experienced by those working at this level of the state apparatus were a reflection of those at the very top. See for example Walt’s discussion about ‘uncertainty and misinformation’ in relations between Russia and the West after the revolution. Walt, op. cit. (note 40), 207. Walt argues that a lack of communication, especially direct communication, escalated tensions and undermined attempts at cooperation.

74. Walt, op. cit. (note 40), 203 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996).

75. AFSC, General Files FS, Russia (Medical Aid to Russia 1923). 3 January 1923, To WKT from Julia Branson and Witherspoon to Haven Emerson. It was noted here that the Russians would take over the hospital 1 January 1924. Letter from Haven Emerson, 28 October 1922 (to Emerson from WKT 24 February 1923), AFSC, FS, Russia. Emerson, Dr Haven.

76. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from J. Augustus Codwallader to Witherspoon, 28 March 1923. When Thomas left for Europe he asked that Codwallader write to Witherspoon regarding AMAR’s outstanding bills and obligations to the German firm Foerderung. There were other expenses amounting to $2500 for a boiler and motors for the hospital. MacMaster had neither known about nor approved these.

77. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Codwallader to Witherspoon, 28 March 1923.

78. Ibid., 1923.

79. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from WKT to Witherspoon, 9 April. Thomas had held a short meeting with Goldenberg in Berlin.

80. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from WKT to Witherspoon, 3 May 1923. Thomas had hoped that once Mikhailovsky explained the situation, Goldenberg and the Russians would understand. This proved to be true. It was in the end a letter from Mikhailovsky that convinced Semashko’s assistant (Katalina) that AMAR had gone out of existence.

81. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from WKT to Witherspoon, 3 May 1923.

82. Walt, op. cit. (note 40), 204–5.

83. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Witherspoon to Haven Emerson, 24 February 1923.

84. AFSC, FS, Russia. Executive Secretary to Mrs Olga Klemptner, 24 February 1922.

85. AFSC, FS, Russia. Witherspoon to Kavinocky, 20 December 1922.

86. Ibid.

87. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter to Kavinocky, 5 January 1923.

88. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter dated 16 December 1922, Witherspoon wrote to Thomas. The meeting was a luncheon hosted by Lillian Wald. In attendance were three members of the executive board of the American Women’s Hospitals (Dr Lovejoy, Dr Gertrude Walker and Dr Wallin), Wilbur Thomas and Dr Haven Emerson (of the National Physicians Committee).

89. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence in US (Dr Kavinocky). Letter to Kavinocky, 9 January 1923.

90. AFSC, FS, Russia Emerson, Dr Haven. Letter from Walter B. Cannon to Emerson, 14 March 1923. Cannon had heard this from a Miss Bond of the NIB investigating team in Russia.

91. AFSC, FS, Russia. Cannon to Emerson, 14 March 1923. This information had come to him by way of Miss Bond who had been a member of an investigating commission in Russia. In spite of the famine in Russia, the Soviet government exported grain while accepting food and medical relief from the US and Britain.

92. As a response, Hoover wanted to call a halt to all exports to Russia but subsequently eased this stance.

93. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Howard A. Kelly, Baltimore, to H. Emerson, 9 June 1923.

94. AFSC, FS, Russia. Letter from Emerson to Canon, Boston, 15 March 1923.

95. GARF, f.A-482, op.35, d.57, l.216. From Mikhailovsky to Goldenberg, 18 March 1923 (New York).

96. Ibid., l.216.

97. Ibid., l.217.

98. Ibid.

99. AFSC, FS, Russia. WKT to Witherspoon, 3 May 1923.

100. AFSC, FS, Russia. WKT to Witherspoon, 3 May 1923. The AFSC had warehouses in Russia and Germany.

101. AFSC, FS, Russia. WKT to Witherspoon, 3 May 1923. They did request a statement as to where all of the equipment was placed.

102. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence in US (H). Letter from Witherspoon to Hubbard, 1 May 1923. Hubbard was a nurse who had hoped to work in the hospital in Moscow. Writing to a Mr Franklyn Hubbard of General Delivery, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

103. AFSC, FS, Russia Kavinocky 1923. Letter to Kavinocky, 13 May 1923. It was understood that Thomas and Dr Goldenberg had settled affairs. Dr Kotzva, of Narkomzdrav and who had been in the US for about a month, was to ensure on his return to Russia that all the supplies would be transferred to the Quakers.

104. AFSC, FS, Russia. Berlin to. Letter from MacMaster to WKT, 28 December 1923.

105. Ibid.

106. AFSC, FS, Russia (Medical aid to Russia 1923), Alice O. Davis to WKT, 15 August 1923.

107. AFSC, FS, Russia (Medical aid to Russia 1923), Alice O. Davis to WKT, 15 August 1923.

108. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence. Letters to Philadelphia from Russia. Letter from J. Branson to WKT, 21 January 1924.

109. AFSC, FS, Russia. Correspondence. Letters to Philadelphia from Russia. Branson to WKT, 21 January 1924.

I wish to thank Dr Laura Kelly, University of Strathclyde, Dr Seth Bernstein (Higher School of Economics, Moscow), Professor Susan Solomon (University of Toronto), and the journal’s two anonymous reviewers for reading and commenting on this paper. Many thanks are also due to Don Davis of the American Friends Service Committee archive, Philadelphia. Funding for this research was generously provided by an Irish Research Council/Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship. Any mistakes or omissions are my own.

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The American Hospital in Moscow: A Lesson in International Cooperation, 1917–23

  • Susan Grant (a1)

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