A Few Good Women: Near East Relief’s Female Leaders

This Dispatch is adapted from an article entitled “Work of a Few American Women in Near East Relief” published in the Near East Relief newsletter, July 15, 1922. 


The brave women who worked for Near East Relief were years ahead of their time. Near East Relief’s staff of dedicated field workers included hundreds of women. Many were doctors, nurses, educators, and social workers. Others joined the organization in response to a religious calling. By 1922, the women of Near East Relief were changing the world.

These accomplished women supervised nation-wide medical systems, implemented lifesaving public health programs, and educated a generation of orphans and refugee children. Their work is especially impressive when we remember that when these women began their work in the Near East, they did not even have the right to vote in their home country.


We are proud to honor just a few of the women of Near East Relief by republishing the text of this article from the July 5, 1922 issue of the Near East Relief newsletter. This newsletter was published in Constantinople for private circulation. Most subscribers were current or former relief workers. The paper was originally called the Acorne, which was an acronym for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East. The paper was first edited by Agnes Mowbray Farnsworth and then by Caris E. Mills.

The Near East Relief newsletters provide an intimate look at field work. The articles are often more personal and familiar than those found in the New Near East magazine, which was intended for a wider audience. The Near East Relief Historical Society hopes to preserve and digitize these fragile newsletters so that they might become part of our online Archive.

You can help with a gift to the Near East Foundation in support of NERHS’ historical work!

Note: The original newsletter misspells Dr. Elfie Graff’s first name as “Elsie.” We have corrected that error to avoid confusion.


Excerpted from the Near East Relief newsletter, July 15, 1922.

Miss Annie T. Allen, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, was the first representative of the Near East Relief and American interests at Angora, the Turkish Nationalist Capital. She died at Sivas, February 2nd of typhus, when returning from an inspection trip of the Near East Relief work at Harpoot. Miss Allen, who was born in Harpoot, Turkey, spent her entire life in the service of the people of the Near East.

Decorated by Three Nations

Miss Emma Cushman, of West Exeter, N.Y., who is now in charge of a chain of Near East Relief orphanages along the Bosphorus in Constantinople, has been decorated by France, England, and Greece for relief work in Asia Minor. During the Great War, Miss Cushman was the only representative at Konia of the three legations in Constantinople representing the interests of the Allied Nations in the War.

In Charge of the Largest Medical Unit in the World

Dr. Mabel Elliott, of Lake Worth, Florida, has organized and is in charge of the largest medical unit in the Near East. This unit is financed by the American Women’s Hospitals in cooperation with the Near East Relief, and is caring for the health of 20,000 orphans and thousands of refugees. in 1919, Dr. Elliott remained in Marash through the trying siege, caring for the sick and wounded and encouraging the citizens to keep up hope.

Right: Annie T. Allen, 1880. Courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College Archives. 

Organization to Aid War Widows

Miss Mabelle Phillips, of Plainfield, N.J., a graduate of Wellesley, opened through the Near East Relief in 1919 the first systematic Case Committee in Constantinople for the aid of war widows of all nationalities who were struggling to make a home for their children. Native committees were organized in each poor district of the city which reported conditions and gave recommendations for aid. Through this help, the mothers were enabled to keep their children with them instead of placing them in orphanages. Mrs. R.S. Emrich, of Framingham, Mass., is now carrying on this work through the Near East Relief in Constantinople.

Constantinople’s First Child Welfare Clinic

In 1919, Dr. Elfie Graff, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a graduate of Wellesley and representative of the American Women’s Hospitals with the Near East Relief, established the first system of Child Welfare Clinics in Constantinople. Five centres were opened in the poorest districts of the city where mothers of all nationalities carried their sick children for medical treatment and advice.

During the same year, Dr. Graff opened the first training class of native district nurses. A number of these nurses are now engaged in private nursing in the city, and four have sailed to continue their training in America. Miss Frances MacQuaide, of Charleston, W.V., an American Red Cross nurse, is now carrying on the work which has grown to such an extent that thirty clinics are held weekly.

Left: Dr. Graff holding an infant. From the New Near East magazine, July 1922. 

Largest Industrial Center of the East

Mrs. Byrtene Anderson, of Jacksonville, Florida, has organized and is in charge of the largest industrial center of the Near East. The center, which is situated in Alexandropol, in the Caucasus Area, is teaching a trade to 4,000 Near East Relief orphans who work at a trade half the day and spend the balance of the time in lessons. The output of this industrial work is providing the clothes and equipment for a large group of orphans and refugees.

First Tubercular Hospital for Children

Miss Emma Wood, of Sarnia, Ontario, Chief American Red Cross Nurse of the Near East Relief, in cooperation with Dr. Elfie Graff, of the American Women’s Hospitals, organized the first tubercular hospital for children in Turkey. Miss Wood had been in charge of the hospital [at Yedi Koule] since its beginning in the summer of 1920 and is largely responsible for the success of the institution.

In this Near East Relief hospital, situated just outside the old Byzantine walls of Constantinople, weak undernourished children of all nationalities are given a chance to breathe fresh country air, eat nourishing food, and become strong and sturdy.


This article is just the beginning! Hundreds of outstanding women worked for Near East Relief, and we look forward to sharing more of their stories in future Dispatches. In the meantime, you can learn more about our relief workers in the Archive and in the Memorial.