In 1919, the new Polish government asked members of the Religious Society of Friends to help stop an outbreak of typhus. The epidemic was caused by refugees who brought it with them when they returned to claim their farmland after World War I. During the war, many farmers and villagers had hastily evacuated the countryside when Germans advanced into the area, devastating large parts and turning them into battlefields. The people who owned the land had fled to the east to parts of Russia.
Although this feeding program was the first official effort by the United States to address the hunger and malnutrition that haunted Germany after World War I, Quakers had been aware of the problem for several years. This is the story about what led to their knowledge.
The events that gave birth to the American Friends Service Committee began with a meeting of fourteen Friends on the last day of April 1917 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the beginning of that month, the United States declared war on Germany and its allies, and Friends foresaw an approaching crisis for young Quakers, who would be subject to the draft. In this initial meeting,* they discussed what constructive work might be done in the battle zone of northern France and how those conscientiously opposed to war might carry out alternative service there.
As early as 1929, the papers relating to the work of the American Friends Service Committee were being organized and collected at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Mary Hoxie Jones helped arrange additional papers in the l930s while she was writing "Swords Into Ploughshares," a history of the AFSC up to that point.
Several temporary employees and volunteers kept the records in reasonable order until a part-time archivist was hired in the early 1950s. A full-time archivist has been on staff since 1969.
AFSC is a Quaker organization devoted to service, development, and peace programs throughout the world. Our work is based on the belief in the worth of every person, and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. Learn more
Where we work
AFSC has offices around the world. To see a complete list see the Where We Work page.