incentive for emigrating from Russia to the United States and
other nations was the terrible famine of 1891-1892.
It covered 900,000 square miles in the central agricultural
region of Russia around the Volga River and affected 14-20 million
people of whom nearly 400,000 died, primarily of disease caused by
malnutrition. A cycle of unusually bad weather the previous year had led to
severe shortages of fodder and crops.
The movement of peasants across the Russian countryside
seeking food or employment helped spread disease.
At first, many crops continued to be exported in compliance
with existing government economic policies until Czar Alexander
III halted the practice in the fall of 1891 after learning of the
famine. The czar’s
government undertook a massive relief effort by distributing
rations, giving financial aid and credit, and employing peasants
in public works projects. However,
the distribution system was inefficient, the aid limited to
certain classes, and the public works not established until after
the worst of the crisis was over.
Russian famine made headlines and generated sympathy around the
world, with the United States taking the lead among nations in
contributing to the relief effort.
in the January 23, 1892 issue of
Harper’s Weekly detailed the devastating facts of the
correspondent, Countess Norraikow, blamed the czar’s government
for suppressing information about the famine, and then presented a
long excerpt taken from a firsthand account intended for private
provided a graphic depiction of the illness and misery suffered by
the victims of the Russian famine, and a harsh criticism of the
government’s neglect and inefficiency.
The letter highlighted the humane efforts made by Count Leo
Tolstoi, the famous Russian novelist, on behalf of the starving
Norraikow ended the article with a heartfelt plea for financial
contributions from “the great heart of that blessed
the country, Americans responded by donating generous amounts of
money, foodstuffs, and other needed items.
The Iowa Red Cross shipped a boatload of corn and
Pennsylvania millers donated 6 million pounds of flour, to name
but two examples. The
March 5, 1892 issue of Harper’s Weekly contained an
illustrated article depicting the departure of the
relief ship, Indiana, from Philadelphia.
Ceremonies were conducted at the port on George
Washington’s birthday, February 22, by Catholic, Protestant, and
Jewish clergy, along with the singing of the Russian and American
national anthems. A
large crowd attended the festivities and lined the bank for five
miles, cheering the ship as it began the journey to Russia.
The cargo included lumber, foodstuffs, candles, and other
provisions valued at $79,000 (equal to about 1.5 million in 2001
dollars). On the last
page of the issue, a cartoon
in the lower-right
corner presented Uncle Sam waving to a ship loaded with flour and
grain as “a gift for starving Russia.”
January 23, 1892,
pp. 86, c. 3-4, and 87, c. 1
“The Russian Famine”
2) March 5, 1892, p. 223, c.
illustrated article, “Food
for Starving Russia”
March 5, 1892, p. 240, c.
cartoon, lower-right corner of
Uncle Sam & ship