Florence Billings Papers
Florence Frances Billings was born in Hatfield, Massachusetts on June 14, 1879, daughter of Frederick Dickinson and Frances Amelia (Hunt) Billings. She had three sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anna Hunt Billings (Smith Class of 1891). Her grandfather, Charles Morris Billings of Hatfield, was an abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad and her grandmother, Charlotte White Billings, was a cousin of Sophia Smith (founder of Smith College). In 1893 her family moved to Redlands, California where she resided on and off for the next sixty years although she spent many of those years living in Europe and in the Middle East. Billings graduated from Redlands High School in 1899 and from Stanford University in 1903 with a B.A. in Latin. She taught school for several years during which time she traveled to Europe, including Russia in 1912. She went to Germany and taught English in a private school for a period. She was on vacation in Brittany when World War I broke out and she immediately volunteered with the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, she returned home briefly and signed up with the American Red Cross, then went back to France as a canteen and relief worker. Working just behind the front lines in Chalons-sur-Marne earned her the Croix de Guerre.
After the war, Billings went home for a short time before returning to Paris where she lived at the American Women's Club and continued relief work until November 1919, when she took a position at the American School for Girls in Brousa, Turkey. After six months she volunteered for service in Brousa, Turkey with the Near East Relief (NER), an organization created in 1915 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They created NER in response to the growing desperation of hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees in Turkey and the surrounding area resulting from massive deportations and massacres by the Turkish government in 1915 and 1916. In Brousa, Billings worked under Annie Allen, the NER representative in Brousa. Annie T. Allen, the daughter of pioneer missionary in the Middle East, the Reverand O.P. Allen, was born in Harpoot, Turkey, on December 21, 1868. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1890 and began her missionary work in Brousa for the Woman's Board of Missions in 1903. Allen was to become Florence Billings' close friend and colleague.
Billings and Allen were in Brousa when the Greek army took that city in July 1920. In 1921 they traveled into the interior of Turkey to Konea, where foreigners were seldom allowed, to relieve workers at a large center for Armenian refugees and orphans run by the NER. While they were in Konia, revolution broke out between the Turks and Nationalists and the women took refuge in the orphanage. Later they toured villages destroyed by the retreating Greeks and reported on conditions. In February 1922 Annie Allen died of typhoid, which she had contracted during their travels. Billings, now stationed at the American Hospital in Ankara, became the NER representative in charge. For a time she was the only foreign woman living in the city. In 1922 and 1923 Billings was sent to Greece to visit the Turkish prisoners interned there and to report on their conditions to the NER Commission. Billings was in Turkey during major social and political upheaval under the Nationalist leader Mustapha Kemal who Billings knew personally and with whom she had some influence. She also corresponded with expatriate Turk nationalist and feminist Halidé Edib Adivar, who ran an orphanage for 800 Armenian refugee children in Antoura. Billings was said to have been "instrumental in gathering together hundreds of Armenian and other war orphans and arranging for their transportation to Smyrna and other places of asylum." [see obituary, Redlands Daily Facts, Sept 10, 1959]
Billings left the NER in 1923 but returned to the area several times. She and her sisters traveled around the world in 1923, and between 1924 and 1928 she resided in Hatfield, Massachusetts, and sometimes in Europe. She continued to travel throughout the Middle East visiting old friends and meeting several important government leaders, including Prime Minister Reza Khan Pahlavi, the soon-to-be Shah of Iran. In 1927 she received her M.A. from Columbia University, completing her Masters thesis entitled "Causes of the Outbreak in Cilicia, Asia Minor, April 1909." In the early 1930s Billings had settled permanently in Redlands, California near her sisters, and became active in local affairs, the American Association of University Women, and the Contemporary Club. Florence Billings died on September 9, 1959.