Born in Good Hope, Georgia, Michael was educated at Lucy Cobb Institute and Georgia State Teachers College, both located in Athens, Georgia, and Columbia University in New York City. She was a professor at the University of Georgia when the U.S. entered World War I. She took a leave of absence from her work and volunteered to assist in the New York-based training headquarters for overseas YWCA workers.
Inspired by the Canadian John McCrae battlefront-theme poem In Flanders Fields, she published a poem in response called We Shall Keep the Faith. In tribute to the opening lines of McCrae's poem -- "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row," -- Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.
After the war was over, Michael returned to the University of Georgia and taught a class of disabled servicemen. Realizing the need to provide financial and occupational support for these servicemen, she pursued the idea of selling silk poppies as a means of raising funds to assist disabled veterans. In 1921, her efforts resulted in the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxiliary.
Known as the "Poppy Lady" for her humanitarian efforts, Michael received numerous awards during her lifetime. In 1948, four years after her death, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring her life’s achievement. In 1969, the Georgia General Assembly named a section of U.S. Highway 78 the Moina Michael Highway.