Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Department of History
Jody Pavilack, Jeff Wiltse
Near East Relief, Corn Products Refining Company, Philanthropy, Pure Food and Drug Act, Marketing, Golden Rule Sunday
University of Montana
History | Political History
The history of the American aid agency Near East Relief (NER), particularly its Golden Rule Sunday campaign from 1923 to 1928, reveals an integral part played by philanthropy in the broader political economy in the interwar years, specifically in the American food industry. Millions of Americans participated in the campaign by eating a simple four-cent orphanage-style meal and donating the cost difference from their normal Sunday dinners to support starving children orphaned by the Armenian genocide. By the mid-twenties NER’s Golden Rule Sunday became a nation-wide cultural phenomenon.
Near East Relief was founded in 1915 as a temporary effort to send relief funds. But after World War I, the magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe propelled it to establish facilities across the former Ottoman Empire which supported tens of thousands of Armenian and other orphans until 1930. To care for its charges, NER initially bought or solicited farmers to donate corn and wheat surplus and asked Americans to buy and donate processed foods such as corn syrup, macaroni, cocoa, flour, and sweetened condensed milk. Then, to meet dire demands and spur giving, the 1923 Golden Rule Sunday campaign fully co-marketed with processed foods industries. NER worked particularly closely with the Corn Products Refining Company (CRPC), which paid for NER Golden Rule advertising and in turn received NER endorsements that its Karo corn syrup was as healthful for American children as it had been in nourishing Armenian children. Meanwhile, the CPRC battled the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the labeling and healthfulness of corn syrup even as it was supported by the Department of Commerce to develop more commercially viable crystal corn sugars to add to other processed foods. Into this federal food fight and battles for consumer acceptance waded Near East Relief with its record of humanitarianism and reputation for child health expertise.
Barrs, Elizabeth Berit, "Marketing the Golden Rule: Near East Relief and Philanthropy’s Role in the Political Economy, 1915-1930" (2020). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 11526.
© Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Berit Barrs