By Thomas F. Schwartz
Herbert Hoover relied on accurate reporting from a variety of sources on the impact famine and food shortages were affecting area in Russia from 1921-23. As Secretary of Commerce for President Harding, Hoover could not travel abroad to see for himself the tragedy already gripping many parts of the Russian empire. One of Hoover’s most trusted eye-witness reporters of events was former Indiana Governor
James P. Goodrich. Active in Republican politics and a friend of President Warren G. Harding, Goodrich was a keen observer. As one writer concluded: “Hoover found his [Goodrich’s] reports, with their unemotional and tough-minded tone, enormously valuable.”
Goodrich arrived in Russia in the fall of 1921 and his reports began reaching Hoover in November. Noting that sufficient grain stocks would last another four to five months, Goodrich also worried that nothing had been planted and that an impending crisis of much larger proportions of hungry children as well as adults was on the horizon. Hoover acted by securing from the War Department any surplus medical and food supplies remaining in Europe for the American Relief Administration. He also extended the ARA food draft purchase program for Russian relief. Bills before Congress for Russian famine assistance were pending, and Hoover requested that Goodrich return to the United States to help advance the case for Russian relief. Goodrich’s efforts, in addition to Hoover’s, helped to increase the initial bill for $10 million in aid to the final $20 million aid package.
The relief greatly expanded ARA efforts that supported the operation of 15,700 kitchens providing meals for malnourished children and adults. The ARA staff that oversaw relief efforts never reached four hundred workers, and all were unpaid volunteers. More than 10 million children and adults depended on daily meals from the ARA. Food packages purchased by the American public to feed Russian families totaled more than $10 million in additional aid. James Goodrich summarized the ARA’s efforts this way: “We are again proving to all the world that in America, human sympathy outweighs material achievement, and in the heart of a giant nation, which is about to awaken from a long sleep, we are planting seeds of affection, of common understanding, that some day will flourish and stand us in good stead, materially as well as sentimentally and morally.”