1 minute readHistory

Red Cross “Pin Lady” Shares a Time-Honored Tradition

shirley powers poses with Red Cross pins on her lapel
A Red Cross volunteer recently gave me a lovely Texas-shaped pin from his local chapter while we were deployed together on a disaster response. “Thank you!” I said, casually popping it in my pocket. I didn’t truly appreciate the gesture, though, until I met Shirley Powers. Or, as she’s more affectionately known, the Pin Lady.

Shirley, a volunteer historian at the American Red Cross, earned this nickname when her local chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, received a letter addressed to “Pin Lady.” A star at national Red Cross conventions where she oversaw the Pin Mania booth, Shirley made a name for herself managing the organization’s pin collection. “My booth was always in the back, because we knew people would seek out the pins. And we had fun,” she said, selling pins as fundraisers for local chapters.

So Why Pins?

The American Red Cross pin culture dates as far back as the early 1900s. The organization bestowed pins on financial donors as a token of appreciation, nurses for their service—even giving pins for people who completed Red Cross water safety classes. The tradition continues today, with people earning pins for years of service, important projects or other noteworthy achievements.

What began as a simple assignment in 1983—to write an article about pins while she was serving on the Red Cross National Committee—developed into a decades-long passion for Shirley. “I have made more friends at the Red Cross around the country,” she says, reflecting on the organization’s pride and enthusiasm in collecting and trading pins. “People have come up to me, snuck me a rare pin and said, ‘You didn’t get it from me.’ They knew I hadn’t earned it personally but wanted to make sure it became part of the official Red Cross collection.”

Home Is Where the [Red Cross] Heart Is

Samples of Red Cross pins hard rock cafe guitarToday her southwestern-style home resembles a museum in some corners, showcasing a trove of Red Cross memorabilia: roughly 6,300 pins, medals and badges; a linen closet with more than 300 outfits, including Gray Lady and canteen services uniforms from World War II; and three curio cabinets “filled with stuff.” In her introduction to the Red Cross Guide to Collector’s Pins she included a special acknowledgement to her husband, “for his patience, his suggestions, and his tolerance of a house ‘full of Red Cross!’”

Even with this extraordinary collection, which she also features on her website, she’s still missing a few. If anyone out there has a 2015 Red Cross “flying V” guitar pin issued by Hard Rock from Houston, Seattle, Louisville or Honolulu, Shirley would love to speak with you!

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  1. We pin collectors – from way back – have been fans and friends of Shirley Powers since the Conventions. I make sure she receives every new – and old if she needs it – pin I come across.

  2. I volunteered through my home economics sewing classes to make ditty bags for the Vietnam servicemen during the mid 60’s. We were honored with a tour of the Wriggly estate in Pasadena California which was being used by the Red Cross at that time as a staging location for our project. I learned to appreciate the work of the Red Cross when as a young girl my grandmother told of knitting sweaters and socks for the service men.

  3. I may be able to volunteer sometimes at the Red Cross. My name is Gail Janssen, [info redacted]. I am on oxygen most of the time so it would be better if l can volunteer in an office or somewhere because it is not easy carting around o2 tank. My phone number is [info redacted]. Let me know if you need me..

  4. I all do collect. My first vol job was 1944 filling “boxes” for WW 2. Both parents were vol.

    I was school vol in Alb schools 1977 Durance Elem.

    Last notable job vol National Auditor with Linda V.

    I have tour book. Or os gréât,

  5. I would like to be upday my Bag. Please help me so I can come to do my Volunteer Thanks you

  6. I am a female Christian register nurse of Bangladesh.I completed bachelor in nursing science and Master’s of public health.I want to work with American red cross.I have need help and opportunity.


  8. I have my great grandmothers Red cross nurse pin with a number on the back. A friend told me I should check to see if it is registered and can not find the website or person to contact. Please let me know what to do.

  9. I have inherited hundreds (no joke, several hundred at least) of American Red cross pins from my husband’s uncle. (or rather, saved them from the nephews chucking them into the dumpster while clearing out the estate.) Some really cool stuff, from WWI & WW2 to pins from what seem like every chapter and disaster relief effort in the country dating through at least the mid-90s. I don’t even know where to start with all of this, and was looking into ordering the DVD if it is still available. I don’t see anything recent on this site, so I wanted to ask before sending away for it.

  10. In 1984 during the Los Angeles Olympics I started pin trading. I started collecting Red Cross then too. I also started volunteering in the blood room at the Van Nuys Red Cross. I met some wonderful Red Cross traders
    . I was wondering if any of them are still around? I moved to Texas in 1988 and lost contact with all of them. Hopefully some are still collecting.