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A History of Service: The American Red Cross During World War I

When the United States officially entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, it had been raging in Europe since the summer of 1914. Bound by its government charter to support the U.S. military, the Red Cross was championed by President Woodrow Wilson as he called upon the American people to back the organization in its support of thousands of young men heading to the battlefields of Europe.

Since the start of the war, the Red Cross had been providing relief to worn-torn European countries first with doctors, nurses, and medical supplies on the SS Red Cross or Mercy Ship and later with hospital garments, surgical bandages, and refugee clothing, sent to sister Red Cross societies, and produced by women recruited through The Women’s Bureau of the Red Cross. The Production Corps started in 1916 as a result of these early relief efforts.

With the U.S. entry into the war, the Production Corps services expanded and encompassed the active U.S. military. Other services that developed during the war effort included hospital service, camp, canteen, motor corps, and home service. But, the Production Corps was ultimately the most popular. It didn’t require any special training and tasks were accomplished quickly.

The Army and Navy regularly requested thousands of surgical dressings and what were referred to as “comfort” items for their men. Comfort items included hand-knitted socks, sweaters, soap and razors. Between 1917 and 1919, over 8 million chapter women along with many Junior Red Cross members produced over 370 million relief articles for the Allied armed forces and civilians in Europe.

During the post-war period, the Production Corps continued its work as a peacetime operation. Volunteers made thousands of comfort items and surgical dressings for hospitalized service men and veterans, as well as for soldiers at remote military outposts or Navy stations. The role of the Production Corps was formalized in 1920, and it became one of the nine units in which volunteers could serve.

Today, the Red Cross still has Production Rooms in service, which carry out similar services for active duty military members, veterans and disaster victims.

 

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  1. I am looking for help finding out about my grandmother’s service during WWI. She was a Red Cross Nurse and served in France. Her name was Mary L. Hanson. She was born in August 1888, I believe that is correct and was part of Army base hospital #66. Can someone tell me how to go about finding information? I would so appreciate it!

  2. Hi Sarah, your grandmother’s story sounds fascinating. We’ve actually sent your comment along to one of our volunteer historians to look into. If she is able to find any information, we will circle back with you! Hoping for the best. 🙂

  3. Hi Sarah.
    My grandmother, Matilda M Miller, was also an Army/Red Cross Nurse at Army Base Hospital 66 in Neufchateau or St. Sulpic, France. She was the temporary Chief Nurse from 2/1 – 3/25/19 when she then left to marry my grandfather, Captain Edward T Erickson. The American Red Cross office in Washington D.C. was helpful in getting me some information and pictures of places she was stationed. I have also registered her at the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. They probably knew each other. Good luck with your search. Linda

  4. Hi,
    While going thru several boxes of vintage items passed to us, We found a Red Cross nurse uniform. It has a crossover sash. The head piece is not a hat, but wraps around ones head. Has the little white belt with it as well.
    I would love to know the date/era this piece of history was worn. I can send pictures if you need them.
    Hoping you can help.
    Thank you in advance.

  5. On the hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the 369th Infantry “Hellfighters” Band in France, I am seeking the address of the American Red Cross Hospital Numbers Five and Nine in Paris during WWI. There are photographs on the Internet of James Reese Europe leading his band in concerts there, but the addresses of the hospitals are not given. Is a volunteer historian available to provide this information?
    Thanks!

  6. Hi Tom, American Red Cross Military Hospital No.5 was located at Auteuil, Paris, France. This was the tent wards hospital on the Champs des Course, a race track. Harriet L. Leete was the chief nurse. It started with 300 beds but quickly became a 2500 bed facility and treated over 11,000 patients. American Red Cross Military Hospital No.9 was located at 32 Boulevard des Batignolles. This hospital admitted patients with skin diseases.There were 120 beds with a Turkish bath for special treatments. We hope this is helpful!

  7. Hi! My name is Abby! I’m doing a school project on how the American Red Cross helped in WW1! All this information has been very helpful and interesting, but I’m also doing part of my research on Walt Disney, as I am a huge Disney fan. I have read several articles on how he helped out, but I was wondering if you could tell me a little more abput what he did in the Red Cross and maybe some more details like what base hospital he worked for. I understand he was an ambulance driver, but I wonder if he did anything else? I would love a response back!

  8. Hi,
    How do I send pictures for identification? I sent an inquiry back in January 19,2018
    Cant figure out how to send my pics.

    Thanks in advance, Lisa Drew
    Previous message below
    Hi,
    While going thru several boxes of vintage items passed to us, We found a Red Cross nurse uniform. It has a crossover sash. The head piece is not a hat, but wraps around ones head. Has the little white belt with it as well.
    I would love to know the date/era this piece of history was worn. I can send pictures if you need them.
    Hoping you can help.
    Thank you in advance.

  9. Thank you for your response of January 26, 2018 to my inquiry of January 24. This information is helpful.

    The building at 32 Boulevard des Batignolles no longer exists — there is a gap in the street where it used to stand. Do you happen to have a photograph of the building taken from the street at the time of the existence of the military hospital there?

  10. Hi Tom, We weren’t able to find photos of the building for ARC Military Hospital #9. However, there are a few of ARC Military Hospital #3 in the Library of Congress Red Cross collection. Hope this is helpful.

  11. Hello,

    I am looking for help trying to find out more about my great grandmother’s volunteer service in the Red Cross during World War 1. Her name was Elsie H. Wedster (Married Last name: Lang). She was born March 29, 1900. I am not sure about where she would have served/volunteered. I happened across a picture of her and noticed it was a red cross uniform. Any help would be appreciated!

  12. Hi Samantha, can you please email us the photos at socialmedia [at] redcross [dot] org? We think that we’ll probably be able to identify the uniform. Thank you!