The American Red Cross has served our country for more than 135 years. In honor of African-American History Month, we wanted to spotlight three extraordinary women – Frances Elliott Davis, Aileen Cole and Charity Adams Earley – who helped shape our organization’s history.
Frances Finds a Way: One of the First Red Cross Nurses
Frances Elliott Davis (1877-1965) was a professional nurse at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Although initially rejected due to color barriers at the time, Frances persevered and in 1917 became one of the first African-American Red Cross nurses officially approved by the organization. Her first assignment was in Jackson, Tennessee.
From the Mines to the Army
Another early African-American Red Cross-enrolled nurse was Aileen Cole. In October 1918, she worked among the coal miners of West Virginia treating victims of the deadly Spanish influenza pandemic. She also helped establish a much-needed field hospital in the town of Cascade.
During World War I, about 90 African-American nurses were certified by the Red Cross and then recruited for duty with the military. When contacted by the Red Cross director of field nursing about her availability for service in the U.S. Army, Aileen volunteered immediately. She was commissioned into the Red Cross Reserve Nurse Corps and made history as one of the first black nurses in the military’s Army Nursing Corps once she transferred to military service.
Following her induction in 1918, Aileen was sent with eight other African-American nurses to Camp Sherman, Ohio, where she was instrumental in setting up and running the nursing corps to treat the ailing soldiers.
Pioneering Army Officer Becomes Red Cross Volunteer
Long before she became officially involved with the Red Cross, Charity Adams Earley (1918–2002) was “the commander of the only all-black Women’s Army Corps unit to serve overseas during World War II,” as explained by The New York Times.
Her unit was stationed in Birmingham, England, where Charity raised morale for women in the military by creating beauty parlors where servicewomen, nurses and Red Cross workers could relax and socialize.
Following her return to public life after military service, Charity became a hard-working Red Cross volunteer in Dayton, Ohio, and served as a member of the Red Cross National Board of Governors from 1972-78.