Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Humanitarianism, First World War, Ameircans Abroad, Belgium

Major Advisor

Frank C. Costigliola

Associate Advisor

Janet S. K. Watson

Associate Advisor

Joel Blatt

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation examines a group of American men who adopted and adapted notions of American power for humanitarian ends in German-occupied Belgium with the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) during World War I. The CRB, led by Herbert Hoover, controlled the importation of relief goods and provided supervision of the Belgian-led relief distribution. The young, college-educated American men who volunteered for this relief work between 1914 and 1917 constructed an effective and efficient humanitarian space for themselves by drawing not only on the power of their neutral American citizenship, but on their collectively understood American-ness as able, active, yet responsible young men serving abroad, thereby developing an alternative tool—the use of humanitarian aid—for the use and projection of American power in the early twentieth century.

Drawing on their letters, diaries, recollections as well as their official reports on their work and the situation in Belgium, this dissertation argues that the early twentieth century formation of what we today understand to be non-state, international humanitarianism was partially established by Americans exercising explicit and implicit national power during the years of American neutrality in World War I. Many of these Americans, Hoover and Maurice Pate, for example, would go on to serve in future humanitarian missions and, in the case of Pate, would even lead an international, non-state, non-governmental organization, UNICEF. The CRB was an early proving ground for a new kind of American influence in the world