In 1926, when the USA Branch (ISS-USA) was founded, hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing from Europe for economic opportunities, to seek relief from the devastation caused by WWI, and to escape pograms and persecution. All were seeking a better life in the U.S. Many arrived in New York clutching their most precious possession, an address of a loved one.ISS-USA was there to help the newly arriving (immigrants) find their family members, send money back to family still in Europe, and to help seek asylum for those fleeing political oppression. At the onset of WWII, ISS's vast network of offices throughout Europe once again proved itself as an invaluable resource.When the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) was established in 1940 to help evacuate children from the war zones, the Associate Director of ISS-USA set up and directed the Migration Division. Due in large part to ISS-USA's familiarity with immigration law, and its long standing working relationship with government officials, USCOM was successful in evacuating 3,500 children to the U.S., including over 800 Jewish children from Vichy, France. After the war, ISS-USA's expertise was once again put to good use, reuniting children separated from their families, and helping those in the U.S. find news of their European family members.As we celebrate our 90th anniversary, the work of ISS-USA continues to be essential in connecting families and children who have been separated by international borders.
The International Student Service (ISS), founded after the First World War, had developed a reputation for effective relief projects and a scrupulous avoidance of politics. Smith College professor Walter Kotschnig, an Austrian Quaker who in 1937 emigrated to the United States, had served as its General Secretary from 1925 to 1934. in an era that had not yet seen a demand by students for self-determination, it troubled few that adults ran the ISS-Geneva and its American affiliate.
By 1941 the well-funded ISS-US Committee had hired a dozen staff, including former ASU executives from the Socialist Student League for Industria Democracy, thirty-two year old Joe Lash and twenty-nine-year-old Molly Yard. It hosted frequent conferences, launched a student newspaper, Threshold, and established a leadership camp at the Roosevelts’ summer home in Campobello. In order to screen students for the summer programme, anthropologist Margaret Mead, an active member of the Committee for National Morale, designed a two-page application form. ISS-US Committee goals, described in a pamphlet (introduced by Eleanor Roosevelt), were twofold: to train student leaders in democratic process and for post-war work overseas.