The Red Cross Organization During the War - 1918


Woman's Bureau of the Red Cross—Its purposes and plans—A general survey—Supply service and Bureau of Standards—Knitting, hospital garments, surgical dressings, comfort kits, etc.—Home service—Volunteer aids—Work organized, and canteens established in France—Junior Red Cross—School fund—Red Cross school activities—How to organize.

It would not be possible to tell, even where the space available, anything approaching a complete story of the work of women for the Red Cross. There is probably no community in America in which some women are not expressing their patriotism by working for the Red Cross. The most that can be attempted here is a story of the formation and aims of the Woman's Bureau and a general outline of some of the more essential phases of the work in which women are most vitally interested.

The nursing profession has assumed and carried out a noble program of war work, but the great bulk of the country's women are without professional training of any sort. It was primarily to direct the energy and eagerness to serve the millions of wives, sisters, and mothers of the Army and Navy that the Woman's Bureau of the Red Cross was created in July 1917.

Hiss Florence Marshall, formerly the Director of the Manhattan Trade School, the most significant technical school for girls in America, and a member of the Commission on Federal Aid to Vocational Education, was made its Director.

War work of various sorts, the making of surgical dressings, knitting garments, hospital garments, and certain parts of the country's refugee clothing, was being carried on by the Red Cross chapters and other organizations. Some of them indeed have been at work since 1914.

But with the new calls for our men, the demand for supplies leaped hundredfold. It was apparent that the passionate desire of women to be of service would result in wasteful chaos if some general schemes were not laid out, and if, at all times, the women of the country did not aim to meet the specific demands of the French hospitals and the French relief organizations.

Almost the first thing that Miss Marshall undertook was to send to France and England two Red Cross agents, make a careful study of the doctors' demands on the spot, and consult with authorities on French relief. Miss Elizabeth Hoyt and Miss Martha Draper of New York sailed in August 1917 and returned with a report, an incentive, and an inspiration.

The immediate problems at home were those of organization and the manufacture of supplies known to be wanted in significant quantities. The chapter and the chapter workroom were to be the units of the organization. Questions were to be answered, and materials are given to the individual women, an inspection of work passed, and gifts received.

As the scheme for centralizing administration in the Red Cross developed, the Woman's Bureau, too, divided its work into thirteen administrative fields in America. A fourteenth is covering the American Red Cross Chapters in China, South America, Alaska, and Persia. The organization appointed a divisional director of women's work for each.

The business of Miss Marshall's Bureau at National Headquarters became, therefore, the center where broad questions of policy were decided, the clearinghouse for information from abroad as to what was needed, and the instrument of standardization.

Not that National Headquarters felt called upon to establish specific rigid standards of work with the idea of rejecting everything that did not come up to the last seam and the last buttonhole. For instance, in the case of knitting. The Woman's Bureau was able to consult with the British, Canadian, and French Red Cross authorities, with knitting experts from the commercial mills and the women's magazines.

It had been advised by cable from Major Murphy, head of the Red Cross Commission in Prance, that there would be an imperative need for outfits of knitted garments, sweaters, socks, mufflers, and wristlets, for all men in the trenches, before Christmas. French winters are never mild, and the fuel shortage was already expected.

The supply service of the Red Cross and the Bureau of Standards decided that the best wool for the purpose and the money, in gray and khaki, was four-ply No. 10's construction. The first piece of work of the Woman's Bureau was to issue half a million circulars with straightforward directions for knitting the set of four, a bed sock, an aviator's helmet, hot water bottle cover, and wash rag.

The Bureau had designated what things were most needed in France and the simplest way to make them and obtain yarn. Mufflers just as good might be an inch longer or an inch shorter, purled in stripes or not. The Red Cross never declines to receive work that doesn't follow precisely the instructions. Still, the standardized instructions have been designated, and the only way for the average woman to be sure that she has come as near as possible to give what is wanted is to follow those instructions.

Next, Miss Marshall, constantly dealing with France's latest news, established standards for hospital garments, pajamas, bathrobes, hospital bed shirts, surgeons' and nurses' operating gowns and masks, bed socks, undershirts, underdrawers, hot water, and ice bag covers. Suggestions were made as to the kind of warm materials needed in the convalescent robes, and arrangements made with the various big pattern companies, eight in all, to cut patterns for the authorized Red Cross garments for hospital use; these patterns are placed on sale at the usual retail channels, and at the Red Cross Chapter rooms.

In most of the divisions, the Supply Service working with the Woman's Bureau has put in cutting machines and made master patterns so that twenty garments can be cut at once and perfectly. Chapters can then purchase the material for garments already cut. Cutting machines are also used in preparing the gauze for surgical dressings work.

The Surgical dressings work has been a tremendous task in itself. Under Dr. Hartwell of New York, twenty-three standard dressings were passed on, and the Woman's Bureau was able to issue two circulars, one describing each dressing in detail, with a diagram, and one for instructors.

The problem of organizing those competent to instruct in the making of surgical dressings, and using laywomen wherever possible in order not to draw too heavily on the nursing profession; the process of selecting from those who were competent teachers and workmen, those who could best be used to instruct other instructors for the rapidly increasing number of Red Cross Chapters, and those who could best be used in the chapter workrooms to bend their every energy on an increase of output—these things have been one phase of the surgical dressings work.

As a manufacturer problem, the world has never seen the like of what the laywomen of America have put their shoulders to. Housework and shop work in thousands of chapters and auxiliaries have been undertaken. The work is being constantly interrupted by new workers who do not know what it is all about—women who want to knit and have to be taught to knit, women who want to sew and have to be taught to sew.

There have been problems in packing and inspection, problems in personal relations, problems in sheer education as to why Headquarters should be trusted to have put in the surgical dressing's manual, for instance, those dressings which military hospitals most wanted.

Every letter that some women in Kentucky or New York received from France said that Doctor X or Y or Z used such a bandage opened up fresh controversy about what should be made. The average businessman, set to sink or swim, with the job of delivering hospital supplies to thousands of hospitals and dependent on volunteer labor working part-time, would have many times preferred to sink.

But the women of the American Red Cross, from Miss Mabel Boardman, the veteran woman worker on the advisory board of the Woman's Bureau, down to the little chairman of a chapter that had only three members somewhere in Nevada, took up the burden with an energy and an eagerness that will never be known until the end of the war. Millions of dollars’ worth of volunteer labor will be shown in the story then.

Figures available now cannot hope to give the picture. But a memorandum of six weeks' shipping in the fall of 1917 showed that women furnished 3,681,895 surgical dressings; 1,517,076 pieces of hospital linen; 424,550 articles of patients' clothing; 301,563 articles of miscellaneous supplies; 240,621 knitted articles. And every six weeks brings in more workers than the last, better trained, every day learning more competent and less wasteful methods, and gradually increasing output.

Further, the Red Cross chapters' women undertook to make a comfort kit for every soldier in France and as many of those in the cantonments as possible. The comfort kits, which General Pershing found so helpful to his men when they were on the border, are bags made in three styles with pockets, containing various sorts of comforts, buttons and sewing outfits, games, soap, socks, and the like. There were hospital bags made so that the hospital patient had some pleasant little place to keep his treasures and private letters.

These things seem simple. But made in the numbers which are needed, the task has been enormous. The women, too, undertook to prepare for every soldier in the Army and Navy a Red Cross Christmas package, to buy and wrap and pack sweets and tobacco and extra holiday comforts, that no man should be without some tangible sign that his comfort and safety and Christmas cheer were dear to the women of his country.

Other Red Cross tasks have been of infinite variety. Many women social workers have been among those to organize the Home Service Institutes under the Department of Civilian Belief, where six weeks' courses will be given, to train women who are the Red Cross, good neighbors, in the best ways of helping the wives and children of soldiers on service to keep the family unit together, and in good health.

The Volunteer Aides have in many places formed motor corps. Women everywhere have put their automobiles at the chapters' service for errands, to convey organizers into the country districts to teach, move bundles, and serve local military hospitals as ambulances. Refreshment corps have established canteens in some of the cities along the general lines of transportation.

Soldiers en route to the camps, cantonments, and transports should have hot drinks and sandwiches and a chance to mail letters as they passed through. Women in Washington, for instance, have been on service from six in the morning until late at night, with their soup kitchen steaming with broth or coffee. No train has ever come too early or been too late to find them on duty.

Women have volunteered for clerical work, for library work; they have operated model jam kitchens under supervision and made thousands of little individual jelly treats for use in hospital wards abroad.

To promote American women's close cooperation in England and France, the American Red Cross formed the Woman's War Belief Corps in France. Major Grayson M. P. Murphy, Director of the Red Cross Commission to France, authorized the new organization, under Mrs. William P. Sharp, the American Ambassador's wife, to mobilize the useful American women already in France or who might come hereafter.

The new organization closely coordinates the work of the women of the American Colony in London, under Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, and the various American women's enterprises in Paris. The War Relief Corps will keep closely in touch with Miss Florence M. Marshall, Director of the Woman's Bureau of the Red Cross, with Headquarters in Washington and her representatives abroad.

The work of the new organization is divided into fourteen corps divisions. An executive board manages it: Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, chairman; Mrs. Ralph Preston, Mrs. Edward Tuck, Mrs. George Ford, Mrs. Charles Scott; Madame Waddington.

The corps division heads are as follows: Blind, Canteens, Diet Kitchens, Equipment, General Information, and Reclamation Bureau; Hospital Auxiliary Service, Nurses (Auxiliary); Nurses (Trained); Propaganda and Records; Refugees (Adults, Children); Registration; Social Service; Surgical Dressings; Workrooms and Ouvroirs.

The new organization's funds come from three sources; donations received but not solicited by the Woman's War Belief Corps; registration dues; and Red Cross money granted on the approval of budgets submitted to the Red Cross Commission in France. Among its activities, the organization has a housing committee that makes a survey of desirable accommodations in French pensions and hotels at reasonable wage earners rates. The Red Cross will meet all American women workers coming from home at Bordeaux, and their transportation to Paris facilitated.

Extending the work already begun by the French Red Cross, the American Red Cross establishes a long line of canteens near the firing line and at the great railroad transfers for the soldiers coming home from the trenches on their short leave returning to them again. It will not be long until there are one of these canteens for every Army's corps and later for the American Army.

When the first of those established by our own Red Cross was opened, among the two thousand and more who passed through that day were a large number of our American engineers, and later a troop of Chasseurs who had been instructing our troops.

The incident was like a prophecy of the days when thousands of our men, too, will be pouring through these refreshment stations, warmed, cleansed, well-fed, and rested. Sleeping quarters, shower baths, disinfecting rooms for clothes, good food, and games are provided. Smaller, portable canteens will send hot drinks in the winter up to the men in the front-line trenches,

Over a hundred American women have sailed for Prance as volunteer workers in the canteen service. They are prepared for long hours of service and dangerous duty, as many of the canteens are well within the range of the guns.
The following message was received from the Paris Headquarters of the American Red Cross in France, relative to the work of the Red Cross canteen service inaugurated to look after the comfort of the troops en route to and from the front line of trenches:

At one of our canteens last week, an old poilu, with a sorrowful face, came up to the canteen director and pulled out three photographs of wonderful boys he said were his sons who had enlisted in the same regiment and who had all been killed. A month before, he had received word from the French authorities that his wife, who had been caught in the invaded district, had been shot by the Germans.

He was starting back on his permission with no family to whom he could go. The Director suggested that he had his parents visit, but he answered that the Germans killed both his parents in 1870. He said to the Director:
"I have had an awfully good time here in your canteen. You have all been very kind to me. I have found plenty of good food to eat, a nice place to be comfortable and read, and a place to sleep. I think that I will stay here for a few days before returning to the front if you do not mind." And it is there that he will spend his leave.

These are the men the canteens reach and nearly thirty thousand of them a day.

This is the work that the Red Cross women are doing—a great volunteer effort of love and patriotism —to care for those brave men who are battling this Goliath of vandalism and destruction, to make this world accessible forever for the mass of people to whom it belongs.

No matter how efficient or well-trained our Army may become unless the country can keep it supplied, it must fall upon the women of America falls this heavy burden. But as we do not doubt our fighting forces' success, neither have we any doubt for the success of our women's work, who have responded so wonderfully to every request that has been made of them.

We must all combine in uniform and conscientious effort—no matter what the personal sacrifice—for the American Red Cross and the United States Government's honor.

Ida Clyde Clarke, "The Red Cross," in American Women and the World War, New York-London: D. Appleton and Company, 1918, pp 137-147

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