Hoover Institution Library & Archives (Stanford, CA)—A century ago, a catastrophic famine struck Soviet Russia and Ukraine. An appeal for assistance endorsed by the Soviet government asked for bread and medicine. Herbert Hoover responded as chairman of the American Relief Administration (ARA).

In a new exhibition on view at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives in Hoover Tower, from September 19, 2022, through April 28, 2023, Bread + Medicine: Saving Lives in a Time of Famine brings to light an American rescue operation during this devastating famine. The ARA distributed food to millions of people living in and beyond the famine region. Yet, while food saved many lives, the ARA’s medical relief campaign proved to be equally critical to the mission’s success.

Bread + Medicine, guest curated by Hoover research fellow Bertrand Patenaude, builds on years of research that went into writing his book The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921 (Stanford University Press, 2002), as well as more recent discoveries from the holdings of the Hoover Institution Library & Archives. The exhibition showcases photographs, posters, and other archival materials on the medical plight of those suffering from the effects of starvation and tells the story of the American doctors and local medical teams who worked together to prevent a potentially devastating spread of disease. As Patenaude observes, “The lifesaving role of American food has dominated accounts of the relief campaign, overshadowing the achievements of the vast American medical relief program. Yet most famine victims succumb not to starvation but to famine-related disease. The ARA’s medical relief program proved to be essential to the overall success of the mission. Bread + Medicine tells that story.”

This is a story of humanity that resonates a century later as we experience the global challenges of today.

Eric Wakin Library & Archives Director

In addition to telling the story of the American medical relief, Bread + Medicine explores themes related to the impact of contagious diseases, the movements of refugees, and the importance of medical infrastructure. The majority of materials on display are from one of the Library & Archives’ foundational collections, the American Relief Administration Russian operation records, which was acquired immediately after the ARA’s work was completed in 1923. A selection of other items from the many ARA-related collections is included as well.

Bread + Medicine will be accompanied by a series of digital stories, known as HISTORIES, which provide a breadth of engaging and interactive elements that dive deeper into select topics, including special projects by Stanford students. Published throughout the duration of the exhibition, these stories are available at the Library & Archives’ exhibition web page. Other activities will include virtual and onsite talks, gallery tours, and other hosted events to be announced.

A book titled Bread + Medicine: American Famine Relief in Soviet Russia, 1921–1923, written by Bertrand M. Patenaude and Joan Nabseth Stevenson, will be published by the Hoover Institution Press in the spring of 2023. It will serve as a companion to the exhibition and include select materials on display, allowing for the sharing of deeper historical context and scholarly insights into the exhibition’s artifacts.

“This is a story of humanity that resonates a century later as we experience the global challenges of today,” says Hoover Institution deputy director and Library & Archives Director Eric Wakin. “Also, in this turbulent period of Russian-American relations, the story of America's humanitarian intervention in Soviet Russia a century ago serves as a reminder of the remarkable historical ties between Americans and Russians, in spite of the political and ideological differences between our governments.”

Bread + Medicine is open to the public and can be viewed in person at Hoover Tower at Stanford University. Reservations are free and may be made in advance or at the door. Visitors may also view concurrent exhibitions featured in the Hoover Tower rotunda and gallery spaces.


Exhibition Dates and Location

September 19, 2022–May 21, 2023

Lou Henry Hoover Gallery, Hoover Tower, Stanford University

Open to the public weekdays, 10am – 4pm. Check the registration page for schedule changes due to holidays, Stanford football games, or other events.


Exhibition Organization and Curators

The exhibition is organized by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

The exhibition is guest curated by Bertrand Patenaude, Hoover Research Fellow.

For more information visit Bread + Medicine:  Saving Lives in a Time of Famine.

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