1 minute readHealth & Safety, History
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National Nurses Week – From the Red Cross Archives

From the Archives header_350 widthNational Nurses Week celebrates nurses and their role in society. Nurses Week begins each year on May 6 and ends May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Nightingale, a nurse who treated wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, helped establish nursing as a profession.

In honor of our Red Cross nurses, here are some images from the Red Cross archives.

Red Cross nurses have provided assistance during times of disaster and conflict almost since the beginning of our organization in 1881. Red Cross nurses served at the 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic and the devastation of the 1889 Johnstown flood shown below.

But not until 1909 was Red Cross Nursing Services formally established by Jane Delano. In addition to her Red Cross service, Delano was also head of the Army Nurse Corps until 1912.

The American Red Cross Rural Nursing Service began in 1912 and focused on providing classes and instructors to women throughout the United States. This service was led by Lillian D. Wald, a pioneer of public health nursing for her entire life. Soon, rural nurses traveled to local areas on bicycle and horseback to provide care.

Shown above is a poster (circa 1920) promoting the work of the Red Cross public health nurse. On the right is a 1934 image, taken by sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine, of a public health nurse. During the Great Depression, Hine worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South.

During World War I, nurses from all over the country volunteered with the Red Cross and served in the Navy Nurse Corps and Army. About 1,800 African-American nurses were certified by the American Red Cross for duty with the military. However, since the military was segregated at the time – and the Red Cross had no control over the nurses’ assignments – their services often were not utilized.

Nurses were recruited for service during World War II using posters such as the one below.

(1944, Jon Whitcomb, Artist)
(1944, Jon Whitcomb, Artist)

Civilian defense during World War II also involved Red Cross nurses. Shown below in this 1941 photo are Red Cross nurse’s aides for civilian defense as they complete their training. Red Cross nurse Virginia Flaig, left, fastens nurse’s aide pins on two students. The Red Cross taught a total of 100,000 volunteer nurse’s aides to free up registered nurses for military duty.

Learn more about Red Cross history on redcross.org.

Follow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.