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College has long history with Veteran's Day poppies

November 10, 2015

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In these parts, the teacher and professor at the College of Education was lauded for her expertise. But after a satisfying career in education, Moina Michael found another passion in which she could excel: Poppies.

Inspired by lines in John McCrae's poem from World War I, "We Shall Not Sleep (Flanders Field)," — "If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields" — Michaels fixated on the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for the sacrifice veterans gave to their country. This former faculty member at the state teacher's college, a precursor to the University of Georgia College of Education, would go on to singlehandedly promote the poppy as the universal symbol of remembrance on Veteran's Day.

Born in Walton County in 1869, Georgia, Michael grew up in an affluent home and was sent away to neighboring counties for schooling. But when she returned home in 1885, just before her 16th birthday, Michael realized her community had been hit hard by the years of depression that followed the Civil War. Worried that the community could not pay a teacher, her mother suggested Michael serve in that role.

What began as an act of community goodwill turned into the family's only source of income. Michael's family was forced to sell their farm and she moved to Monroe for a paid teaching position. She rented a house and became the sole breadwinner for her family.

More than a decade later, Michael had spent time in nearly every section of Georgia's educational system and was known as a leading educator. She had experience teaching in all levels of schools, and became a faculty member at the Lucy Cobb Institute and the state teacher's college at the University of Georgia. This later became the UGA College of Education.

She taught at the university level until 1918, when World War I began. She began volunteering with the YMCA, and eventually moved from teaching to volunteer work for the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization in Europe. That's when inspiration found her.

Reading McCray's poem in a magazine, she realized the poppy was one way to show your appreciation and acknowledgment of veterans' ultimate sacrifice. She began giving them to men in the military staying in her YMCA chapter headquarters, and the idea spread like wildfire. Soon other organizations were adopting the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

Today the poppy remains as one of the most iconic parts of Veteran's Day all thanks to the work by one UGA College of Education teacher.