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From the Archives: Women of the Motor Service

As Women’s History Month continues, we honor American Red Cross women in our second and final entry illustrating volunteer services dominated by women. This post will focus on the American Red Cross Motor Corps.

The motor service was established in February 1918. Its mission was to transport the sick and wounded from troop trains to local hospitals, deliver supplies to and from warehouses and take canteen workers or nurses to their posts. By the end of World War I, women of the motor corps had driven over 35,000 miles. The motor service operated in 300 cities, with 12,000 volunteer drivers on call.


Two members of the San Mateo County Red Cross Chapter proudly display their new uniforms and their shiny motor corps vehicle in a photo taken during WWI.

Two members of the San Mateo County Red Cross Chapter proudly display their new uniforms and their shiny motor corps vehicle in a photo taken during WWI.


The motor corps continued to be an active and vital service of the American Red Cross during World War II. Members of the Honolulu chapter motor corps immediately responded following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. They evacuated some 3,000 civilians, mainly women and children, from the bombed-out areas. In spite of the blackout, they continued this dangerous task until 3:00 am, when the last families in need of lodging had been taken to designated evacuation centers.


Boston, Massachusetts. Motor corps volunteers of Boston go on duty. Photo from The Red Cross Courier, January 1937, page 16.

Boston, Massachusetts. Motor corps volunteers of Boston go on duty. Photo from The Red Cross Courier, January 1937, page 16.


Enrollment in the Red Cross motor corps required extensive training, members were expected to supply their own cars and gasoline, and had to remain on call. Drivers transported Red Cross personnel and supplies, provided messenger and delivery service, took hospital patients on outings, and helped out in the functioning of blood donor centers. Motor corps volunteers also provided driving for the armed forces in military cars, and sometimes served as an auxiliary to Army and Navy transportation. During World War II, 45,000 women enrolled in the motor corps. The motor corps volunteers were a group of dedicated and passionate women who managed to drive over 8,000,000 miles from 1946-1947.


December 1941. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Red Cross Motor Corps members are shown above handing the test cartons of plasma to the Navy pilot who will drop them on land and water.

December 1941. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Red Cross Motor Corps members are shown above handing the test cartons of plasma to the Navy pilot who will drop them on land and water.

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