On February 16, 1919, a large group of Near East Relief volunteers set sail and made history.
READY TO MAKE HISTORY
On February, 16, 1919, a group of 250 people set off on the journey of a lifetime. The group was made up of doctors, nurses, researchers, builders, educators, and many other specialists, all of whom were outstanding in their fields. Their career paths were varied, but these individuals were united by a common cause: to bring relief to the suffering people of the Near East. They were the first large group of American workers to enter Turkey after the Armistice. History would remember them as the “Leviathan Party.” They sailed as representatives of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACORNE), which would be renamed Near East Relief by Congressional charter in August 1919.
The ACORNE volunteers were led by Dr. George White, former president of Marsovan College, an American missionary school in Turkey. He had been forced to leave Turkey in 1916, after eight of the College’s professors were murdered. White was committed to rescuing Armenian women and children from captivity. The group included concerned educators like Miss Mary Hubbard, a schoolteacher from Tarrytown, NY who spoke fluent Armenian, and five experienced kindergarten teachers.
At right: a New York Times headline from Feb. 17, 1919.
Most of the ACORNE volunteers were accomplished women. Among the large medical staff was Miss Blanche A. Blackman, assistant director of Cincinnati General Hospital, 60 nurses on loan from the American Red Cross, and seven bacteriologists. American Women’s Hospitals sent five woman physicians, including Dr. Mabel Elliott and Dr. Ruth Parmelee. Smith and Wellesley Colleges each sent five female hospital workers.
In addition to dozens of skilled professionals, the ship carried an incredible $3,500,000 worth of supplies.
The Leviathan Party boarded a ship that had played an important role in the war that had only recently come to an end. Originally built in Germany as the Vaterland, the ship had sailed back and forth between the U.S. and its home port of Hamburg. For a brief period of time it was the largest passenger ship in the world. The Vaterland had just completed a trip to the U.S. when World War I broke out in 1914. The ship docked in Hoboken, NJ, where it remained until the U.S. entered the war three years later. In 1917, the United States Shipping Board commandeered the Vaterland as a transport ship for American troops. President Wilson christened the ship Leviathan – a name fit to convey the power of a massive military ship. In fact, the Leviathan was still technically a warship when it set sail with the ACORNE workers; it would not be fully decommissioned until October 1919. The ship traveled in full blackout conditions.
At left: Leviathan passenger Dr. Mabel Elliott with nurses at Alexandropol. Library of Congress.
A LIFESAVING MISSION
The ACORNE group disembarked from the Leviathan in Brest, France on February 23. From there, they boarded a train to the port city of Marseilles. They sailed to Constantinople with a stopover in Salonika, Greece. They landed in Constantinople on March 8 after a journey of about 3 weeks.
As soon as they landed, the Leviathan Party was in good company. A group of ACORNE Commissioners had left the U.S. on January 4, 1919. This Commission, which included civilian volunteers and military officials, was tasked with surveying the organization’s territory and assessing the refugee situation for the coming year. ACORNE co-founder Dr. James L. Barton was waiting to greet this all-important group of new American volunteers in Constantinople. They would be the first people to lend assistance to the exhausted missionaries that had stayed in the Near East through World War I, and administered aid with the Committee’s funds. Barton’s party included Dr. E C. Moore of Harvard College and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), Dr. W.W. Peet of Washington, D.C., Dr. J.H.T. Main of Grinnell College, and Dr. George Washburn, head of the medical unit.
It took several months for all of the new relief workers to receive their assignments. Dr. Barton and his fellow commissioners led groups into the Turkish interior on the Baghdad Railway. All trains were under British control, and the British army placed entire trains at ACORNE’s disposal. Workers set out for cities such as Adana, Konia, Mardin, Urfa, Aleppo, and Beirut by rail. They carried boxes of lifesaving supplies. Other volunteers began the even longer journey to the Caucasus, where they would join longtime medical missionary Dr. Clarence D. Ussher in Erivan and the surrounding area.
At left: Dr. Ruth Parmelee, a member of the Leviathan Party, in Harput, c. 1922.
THE LEVIATHAN PARTY, A-L
The following is a list of ACORNE workers who traveled to the Near East as part of the pioneering Leviathan party. This list is a work in progress. You can read more about each worker in the Memorial section.
THE LEVIATHAN PARTY, M-Z
AND A FEW YEARS LATER...
Here is a fun bit of trivia: in 1924, Jackie Coogan sailed to the Near East on the very same Leviathan at the conclusion of his Million-Dollar Crusade. By then it was a purely civilian ship.