From Hiram House to Warsaw: Evelina Belden Paulson’s Internationalist Extension of Social Work

Document 1: 22 August 1921     |     Document 2: 8 September 1921
Document 3: 22 September 1921     |     Document 4: 1 October 1921
Document 5: 4 October 1921     |     Document 6: 2 December 1921

Author: Evelina Belden
Recipient: Ellen Scranton Belden
Date: 8 September 1921
Document Type: Typed Letter
Location: Evelina Belden Paulson Papers, RG 30/406, Series II, Box 3, Letter No. 2152, O. C. A.


Belden wrote the following letter to her mother in Oberlin, addressing why she is an internationalist and has taken up this work. Belden cited her upbringing and education as reasons for her interest in world beyond her backyard and identified childhood as the time that is most crucial to the development of global empathy.


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Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 1921.

“What is Poland”, asked a childish voice over the study table. The father of the family who sat in the midst of the group of sturdy faced youngsters of assorted ages, leaned over to the xxxxx globe on the lamp and pointed out three colors. Many another question  had been answered by that globe for it was a map of the world painted on glass through which shone the light by which the children learned their lessons. Poland was such an interesting country that evening as father gave the romance of its partition after its days of cultural leadership for all Europe. Brother xxxxx Will caught up some of father’s words and led us beyond into the romance of Thadeus of Warsaw[1] which he had been reading, and mother came in from singing the baby to bed binging [sic] a bit of home spun [sic] cloth to illustrate the story of the wealth of the great plains where Russians and Poles were then contending for control. On the wall bookcase was a pair of brass candlesticks made by the Russians on another table was a bit of beautifully embroidered handwoven cloth made by some Bulgarians, a picture of a German University town hung over the fire place [sic]. I can see the same hand which pointed to the globes story of Poland point to the art of the other enemy countries while at the same time telling the story of the partition of the plains of the Poles. It is all so blended inmy [sic] memory that I seem to see the good of the partitioning lands while I hear the evil of the past history. It is blended into a sort of harmonious picture because this was not the first night the room had told us the history of nations. And the Tonight I sit writing in the free capital of united Poland wondering for an instant why I instinctively love the art of these beautiful buildings, of the exquisite linen, the symetry [sic] of the ancient architecture in the historic city of Cracow, and the beauty of lines of the peasant costumes.

That study lamp carried us children many times around the world , gave us the wonders of the arctic aureborealis [sic], the music of the Venetian gondolas, the fragrance of the Scotch heather, the mystery of the Spanish castles, soleminity [sic] of Egyptian pyramids, the isolation of African jungles, the glory of Alpine climes, the pace of tropic xxxxx calms. Without airplanes we flew from country to country always in romance of history and geography and literature and art, until we were deeply in love with the best in each of the lands within out [sic] world vision.

In calmer moods we listened to out [sic] parents or our older brother and sisters read from the books which always lay about as good friends on the chairs, on the tables, on the mantles. Visitors thought how disorderly they lay but we just felt them to be other people living in our study rooms and all over the house. In fact our study room was only th [sic] dining room table cleared. xxxxxx

Such sorts of unconventional books as we has [sic] some people thought: Kardee the Hindee Girl,[2] How the Other Half Lives, The Chinese Slave Girl, Stanleys How I found Livingston in the wilds of Africa, The Life of Cyrus Hamlin wh [sic] founded Robert College in Constantinople, German fairy stories in German, a firstxxxxx Greek primer, The Swiss Family Robinson, Hans Brinker and the Silver skates in Holland, Robinson Crusoe, the encyclopedia Britanica, a natural history, Gullivers Travels, [sic]

These are only the ones which I happen to remember. Many others are now so much a part of my consciousness that I am not sure when I read them or whether I ever did. We lived [loved] them. Some adult must have put on those welcoming shelves a book about every country for xxxxxxxx as  I look at the map now friends seem to step out from all parts of i [sic].

Often to that same study table came visitors from many lands. A Chinese student famous as a descendent fo [sic] Confusus [sic], a Bulgarian just arriving to take a medical course, a Japanese girl with twenty ceremonial costumes and no idea how to match them up w th [sic] American ways, Armenians, Italians, Scotch, Welch [sic], English, German, Hindu, and missionaries who had spent their lives in almost all the known parts of the world. There were always many photographs of queer things which we xxx expected to go to see for ourselves at some time. And gradually there came to be a box full of costumes left by one and another, enough so that at a celebration there was one from a different country for each child. We were Simease [sic] priests, Bulgarian peasant girls, Turkish men and veiled women, Chinese, Japanese, hough [sic] not with small fest but only carrying the shoes, Hindooes [sic], Africans thought not in thennative [sic] undress. As we grew older and the costume had to be sunned for moths [sic] annually we realized how many there were packed into these garret boxes.

Our house was not a handsome one. Our income was mostly of wealthof [sic] friendships and returns in loving appreciations. Yet in the three rooms fo [sic] our downstairs we had a bit of art form [sic] at least ten countries of the world and each was underste ed [sic] by the children who dusted it.xxxxxxx The dusting was a pleasant process for it always awakened thoughts of the stories mother or father or bisiting [sic] guest had told of the countries which filled out [sic] imaginations. An oriental rug, a cloisena [sic] vase,[3] a Japanese print, a carved chair, a brass candlestick, an embroidered cover, a German engraving,

Our mother had picked up the ways of cooking various national dishes here and there. We alternated Boston Baked Beans with Turkish pilav, and Bulgarian mongas[4] with Italian macaroni; Indian curry and rice with Mexican “ hot tamales”; English breakfast jam with Ohio maple syrup and buckwheat cakes, French pastry with a  very satisfying sort of bread dough cake which could be eaten in quanities [sic] by children and was called by out [sic] ingenious mother “Judgment cake” because made by her judgment. So we ate around the world and thought how nice it was that most anywhere one could find good things to eat, and consequently one would want to go everywhere.

Of course like most wideawake [sic] children we made collections of stamps and drew coolsed [sic] pictures of the flags inthe [sic] back of the dictionary, and found coin collections also to view with pollywogs in the bath tub and rabbits in the back yard for first interet [sic] interest. Some of our visiting friends and also taught us queer games played in India and Siam and China, and we x xxxxxxx had queer little home made dramatizations of stories of Hindoo widows or chinese slave girls, or any of the stories that were told us. I realize now, as I di [sic] not as a child, that to us queer children with our funny play these children of other lands were often as real to us as the children next door whose lack of imagination or of xxx imaginative parents , made them unintelligible to us

And today, after college and years in social service among all sorts of nationalite [sic] in America,[5] I am in Poland. Where is Poland is the question I want some other American children to be asking, and also where is France, and where is Russia, xxxxxxxxx If they can answer these questions in spirit as one with our study lamp cannot help but answer them, they will find themselves in Europe inthis [sic] great reconstruction day and wondering why they do not hate xxxxxxx have the hatred of the Jews for they remember what they have done for trade xxxxxx and industry in America, they instinctively find the best in each race and seethatthere [sic] is always a best as well as a worst for every race. With such a view one must see that th (six) world ows [sic] its progress not to one nation but to many and that the art and culture we crave is drawn fromthe [sic] beauty expressed in many ways in many lnads [sic], and only literature which is universal has lived.

Why am I an internationalist? Because I had a study lamp that saw around the world and xx that showed a bright light shining through all parts of the map. Our chi [sic] childish imaginations were lighted up with the desire of jjining [sic] the other children ar [sic] und [sic] the world in their xxx games, their eating good things, their reading, their music, thier [sic] making beautiful things, their doing many of the things we did, and our doing with them many things which were strange to us and consequently more thrilling, Why should one hate xx such other children? Of course we did not. And today I find it extremely difficult for me to think that people are sincere and not merely talking when they tell of these old European hatreds. I am often embarassed [sic] at my lack of instinctive hatreds nand [sic] have to keep myself in check lest I express a liking for this or that sort of person.

But now that I am older I know that all children have not had study lamps. Its [sic] is too bad. But s nce [sic] they have not and will probably not in the future for home lamps are less reguent nowadays, I see in the Junior Red Cross movement[6] a wonderful expression on a very large scale of this very same method of lighting up the map of the world. Interschool correspondence between all the children inthe [sic] Red Cross Societies belonging to the League of Red Cross Societies, can do what scarcely nothing else could in breaking down the age old hatreds which have all b ut [sic] anniliated [sic] certain nations, have depleated [sic] the treasuries of nations in order to maintain armamenents [sic] to fight neighbors who are also killing their economic life to maintain armaments to fight back.

[1] Jane Porter wrote Thaddeus of Warsaw in 1803. The novel set during Poland’s occupation in the eighteenth century.

[2] “Kardee the Hindee Girl” not found; How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890); The Chinese Slave Girl: A Story of a Woman’s Life in China by John A. Davis (1880); How I Found Livingstone by Sir Henry M. Stanley (1872); My Life and Times in Turkey by Cyrus Hamlin (1893); Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland by Mary Mapes Dodges (1865); My Life and Times by Cyrus Hamlin (1893), who founded Robert College in the Ottoman Empire; Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719); Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726).  Most of these books are late-nineteenth century accounts of international (or domestic, in the case of Jacob Riis) travel to document life there. Belden and her co-workers likely found value in the stories from travelers who preceded them.

[3] Cloisonne is an artistic technique used for decorating metal objects.

[4] A Bulgarian cuisine.

[5] Belden’s work at Hiram House in Cleveland was with immigrants who were newly settled in the United States, and her work in Chicago with the Federal Children’s Bureau would have also acquainted her with people of all nationalities.

[6] Beginning in World War I, the Junior Red Cross was an opportunity for children to help the war effort at home and abroad, and raised $3,677,380 for the Red Cross during the war, as well as making supplies and packages to send out. Belden was not directly involved in the campaign, as she was still in Cleveland, but participated and supervised Junior Red Cross efforts once in Poland.