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From the Archives: Women of the Canteen Service

March is Women’s History Month! And to celebrate it, we will be highlighting two volunteer services of the American Red Cross in which women played a predominant role. Our first post will cover the American Red Cross Canteen Service.

During World War I, transportation difficulties and congestion at important railroad junctions often made it impossible for soldiers to receive adequate meals prior to boarding and disembarking. The United States government requested the American Red Cross provide refreshments at railroad junctions, both at home and abroad, for the military on troop trains. As a result, the canteen service was founded and it grew quickly.

By the end of 1917, there were 85 canteen depots, 15 station restaurants, and 430 smaller canteens.


The American Red Cross in France: Line of Communication Canteen, 1919, Cameron Burnside.

The American Red Cross in France: Line of Communication Canteen, 1919, Cameron Burnside.


The American Red Cross Canteen Service also served allied soldiers from France, Italy, and Great Britain. Originally the canteen service provided support to canteens operated by national chapters of Allied forces, but this support gave way to the establishment of American Red Cross canteens near the front lines and along railway junctions. In France, American Red Cross canteens were serving meals every month to nearly a million men in transit or on leave in Paris.


American and French Servicemen enjoy themselves at an American Red Cross canteen in Bordeaux, France, 1917-1918.

American and French Servicemen enjoy themselves at an American Red Cross canteen in Bordeaux, France, 1917-1918.


By the end of the war, the Red Cross was operating 700 fixed canteens. Refreshments were served to nearly 40 million members of the armed forces. The canteen service distributed 1.5 million gallons of coffee, 15 million sandwiches, and 11 million cookies, doughnuts, and pies. This work was only accomplished due to the sheer number of women who found time away from their home, children, and wartime jobs to volunteer; some 55,000 women volunteered with the Red Cross during World War I.


The canteen corps of the San Francisco Red Cross chapter lines up for a photo at the Ferry Building in 1917.

The canteen corps of the San Francisco Red Cross chapter lines up for a photo at the Ferry Building in 1917.


One Response to “From the Archives: Women of the Canteen Service”

  1. I like this wing of volunteers. Can I get the opportunity to join it. Or it does not exist anymore

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