• July 16, 1915

    Henry Morgenthau’s Urgent Telegrams


    Henry Morgenthau, Sr., U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1914 – 1916, initially turned down the appointment because he had hoped to serve in President Wilson’s cabinet. Once he arrived in Constantinople, Morgenthau quickly established himself as an advocate for the 2.5 million Armenians living under oppressive Ottoman rule.

    When he received word of the deportations of Armenians from the Turkish interior, Morgenthau exhausted diplomatic channels to avoid further casualties. He met with Ottoman officials, but made no progress. On Sept. 3, 1915, Morgenthau sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that the Secretary of State ask several prominent American men to form a committee to raise funds for Armenian refugees. This telegram launched the committee that would become Near East Relief.

    While still in Constantinople, Ambassador Morgenthau was responsible for distributing the funds raised by Near East Relief. Morgenthau returned to the United States in 1916. He continued to speak openly about the plight of minorities in Ottoman Turkey.

  • Sept. 16, 1915

    Forming the Committee

    Cleveland Hoadley Dodge was an official of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, an American copper mining company. Dodge was connected with the Near East by way of academics: he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Robert College in Constantinople. Dodge’s son Bayard was active in the American University of Beirut, later serving as its President.

    Cleveland H. Dodge and President Woodrow Wilson had been friends since their days at Princeton University. It was natural that the President would contact Dodge with Morgenthau’s request. Dodge called the first meeting of the group that would become Near East Relief in his office in Lower Manhattan on September 16, 1915. Dodge was chosen as Treasurer. He informed Secretary Samuel T. Dutton that Dodge would cover all Committee operating expenses. Every dollar raised would go to direct relief.

    Dr. James L. Barton was a missionary and educator with firsthand knowledge of the Near East. Barton had spent eight years supervising missionary-run schools in Harput, Turkey. He also brought years of experience at the Boston office of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, where he worked as Foreign Secretary.

    The original Committee also included Rabbi Stephen Wise, a progressive voice in the Reform Judaism movement and founder of the Free Synagogue. Dr. Samuel T. Dutton was a former school superintendent and Columbia University professor. He offered his office at 70 Fifth Avenue as headquarters. Charles R. Crane would later investigate the disposition of non-Turkish Ottoman lands as part of President Wilson’s 1919 King-Crane Commission to Turkey.

  • September 3, 1915

    The Ambassador’s Call to Action

    Ambassador Morgenthau recognizes that many lives are still at stake. On Sept. 3, 1915, Morgenthau sends a Telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that the Secretary of State ask Cleveland Dodge, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and other prominent men to form a committee to raise funds for Armenian refugees. This telegram effectively calls upon private citizens to intervene where the U.S. government has not.

  • [T]he deportation as carried out at present is merely a polite form of massacre. Unless the whole movement be stopped at once there is, I am firmly convinced, not the slightest chance of any of the exiles surviving the coming winter, except possibly the very wealthiest among them.

    Report from a missionary in the city of Brousa to the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief
  • Oct. 1915

    $100,000 Wired to Constantinople

    The group raised $60,000 at the first meeting. They prevailed upon their acquaintances for additional funds. They wired $100,000 to Morgenthau in Constantinople in October 1915. In November 1915 the group adopted the name American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR). The Committee appealed to trusted friends in the press to publish eyewitness accounts from missionaries.

  • February 1916

    The Ambassador Asks for More

    Ambassador Morgenthau returned to the U.S. in February 1916. He provided the Committee with a detailed report on conditions in the Near East based on observation and communication. Morgenthau estimated that one million Armenians had survived. The survivors were mainly women and children, and they were all destitute. He estimated that $5,000,000 was needed to relieve the suffering of minorities in Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine. ACASR voted to make a public appeal for this amount.

  • Germany Attacks the R.M.S Lusitania

    A German U-boat torpedoed the R.M.S. Lusitania, a British passenger ship containing many Americans traveling from New York to Liverpool, on May 7, 1915. This event heavily influenced American opinion against Germany and the Central Powers, although the U.S. did not enter World War I until 1917.

  • The founding members believed that they were engaged in a temporary relief project. Ambassador Morgenthau’s 1916 report showed them that long-term relief was necessary in order to save lives. The Committee set to work making plans to save the survivors.

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