The American Colony in Jerusalem

Women working at the American Colony School of Handicrafts and Dressmaking, with the Dome of the Rock in the background (25b)

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought great suffering to the country. All young men were conscripted into the army, while the older men were drafted into work brigades. Food supplies dwindled as the Allies sustained a blockade of the Palestinian coast, and the Turkish army confiscated provisions. Weakened by malnutrition, people died of typhus and other epidemics. As famine, disease, and death ravaged the people of Jerusalem, the Colony, struggling for their own survival, engaged in relief work. With money from friends in the United States, the American Colony ran a soup kitchen that fed thousands during these desperate times. When the British Allied commander, General Allenby, entered Jerusalem on December 11, 1917, the Colony offered their philanthropic services to the new rulers of Palestine and continued to serve their fellow Jerusalemites.

Relief work

During the war the Colony opened an embroidery industry that sustained about 300 women whose husbands, fathers, and brothers were in the army or forced labor corps. When the food scarcities during the war became insurmountable, the Colony closed this workshop because the women became too hungry and emaciated to work. After the British conquered Jerusalem in December 1917, the Colony became the conduit of funds for organizations such as the Syrian and Palestine Relief Fund and the Christian Herald Relief Fund, which allowed them to open a new embroidery and dressmaking school. This account book and balance sheet records the Colony's expenses, remittances, and other charitable allocations to the destitute living in Jerusalem during 1918.

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The Loud Soup Kitchen

In December 1915, Edward Loud of Oscoda, Michigan, offered to organize funds to send to the Colony for relief work. Loud had visited the Colony before the war, and, like many visitors and guests, he maintained close contact with members of the Colony when he returned home. With the funds marshaled by Loud, the Colony created a soup kitchen that fed more than 1,100 people a day. Bertha Vester wrote to Loud that, “We make no distinction in nationality or creed, the only requirement being if they absolutely need the help. We have Syrians and Arabs… Latins and Greeks, and Armenians, Russians, Jews, and Protestants.”

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