Monday, March 20, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Red Cross Nurses

Library of Congress
One of the much-needed roles that women filled during World War I was that of nurse. According to author Gary W. Clark in his book Cruel Irony: Triumphs and Tragedies of a Modern Woman*:

At the war's start, The Red Cross consisted of only 107 chapters throughout the United States; by 1918 they numbered 3,864. More than 18,000 nurses were recruited into the Red Cross, along with 4,800 ambulance drivers. The Red Cross workers provided "medical relief to combat casualties on both sides of the war."

He goes on to point out:

Massive fund drives, parades, recruiting programs, and volunteer activities promoted the need for Red Cross volunteers. Existing nurses joined the Red Cross in mass, causing shortages in hospitals around the country; the number of recruitment activities for nursing students soared.

According to the American Red Cross website:  "... the Nursing Service greatly expanded with the coming of hostilities. Its principal task became to provide trained nurses for the U.S. Army and Navy. The Service enrolled 23,822 Red Cross nurses during the war. Of these, 19,931 were assigned to active duty with the Army, Navy, U.S. Public Health Service, and the Red Cross overseas. The Red Cross also enrolled and trained nurses’ aides to help make up for the shortage of nurses on the home front due to the war effort."

Obviously, this work was not without its dangers. 400 American Red Cross workers including 296 lost their lives during their service.

  • Was your female ancestor a nurse? Did she serve in the Red Cross?
  • Have you looked at possible home sources like a uniform or photos?
  • Have you searched the available records? (See Additional Resources)

Additional Resources:

American Red Cross - World War I and the American Red Cross
Library of Congress - Health and Medicine: Red Cross and World War I - US, American Red Cross Nurse Files, 1916-1959
National Archives - Records of The American Red Cross 1881-2008

*Cruel Irony: Triumphs and Tragedies of a Modern Woman by Gary W Clark

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love that image. I have one female ancestor who was a nurse during the Napoleonic Wars - if the family notes are accurate. I also have a great grandaunt who was a nurse during WWI. I have a super cool picture of her in her uniform. Love it!