3 minute readHistory

Red Cross Women Paving the Way Throughout History

Voluntary service is the heart of the Red Cross, and many volunteers began their service during armed conflict. As we celebrate National Volunteer Month, we pay tribute to the Red Cross women in our history, who made significant contributions to our lifesaving mission.

1904. Library of Congress Collection. Portrait by J. E. Purdy of Clara Barton.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, gained first-hand experience with the Red Cross movement as a volunteer during the Franco-Prussian war. Clara helped the women of Strasbourg, France, recover economically from the Franco-Prussian War by employing them to restore donated clothing. Those pioneering efforts with the Red Cross and her success in mobilizing volunteers to respond to disasters in the U.S., led to disaster relief becoming a primary mission for the Red Cross worldwide.

“Mabel T. Boardman, who succeeded Clara Barton in 1904,

Mabel Boardman was a driven volunteer for more than 45 years, determined to redefine the organization. She became the driving force behind the newly reincorporated Red Cross, which offered various services through a network of nationally chartered chapters that were provided by volunteers and supported by staff. Nursing, first aid and water safety were among the few services Mabel initiated throughout her time.

Portrait of Jane Delano. First Lady of Red Cross Nursing.

In 1912, Jane Delano resigned from the Army Nurse Corps to become the volunteer chair of the Red Cross Nursing Service. Until her death in 1919, Miss Delano worked tirelessly creating a nationwide system of qualified nurses for the Red Cross; arranging for public health education provided by Red Cross nurses in-home health care, hygiene and first aid; and collaborating with the Army and Navy medical departments to train nurses and other medical personnel for wartime service.

Gwen Jackson portrait 1988. National Chairman of Volunteers.

The first African American to be appointed National Chairman of Volunteers in 1988, Gwen T. Jackson began her Red Cross service in the Service to Military Families Department of the Greater Milwaukee chapter. Gwen served as Chairman of the Board and on the Executive Committee of that chapter before being elected to two terms on the National Board of Governors.

After Clubmobile Service in England, France and Germany, Mary Louise (Weller) Chapman continued her 75-year-career leading youth services and volunteer leadership development at a Red Cross chapter in San Francisco, CA. An award called the Mary Lou Chapman Innovation Award for the Service to the Armed Forces and International Services was created in her honor.

Barbara Pathe during WWII in Europe.

Barbara Pathe, another Clubmobile veteran, was responsible for creating an access database of membership records for the American Red Cross Overseas Association (ARCOA). Barbara worked on the project for 40 years, eventually transcribing information for thousands of Red Cross staff into a membership roster. The database now serves as a vital resource for researchers. In addition, she helped developed an archival collection for the Red Cross to preserve its history, a pivotal component to the organization today.

Lois Laster, one of the few African American women to serve during World War II, she directed recreation clubs for African American service members in England and Austria and, later, the first integrated club in Korea. In addition to volunteering weekly with the Service to Armed Forces Department at National Headquarters, Lois was President of the American Red Cross Overseas Association for three years and an active member of the League of Women Voters.

A U.S. Army nurse serving with the 57th Field Hospital in the Central European Campaign, Dorothy Steinbis Davis received the Edith Cavell Nurses Medal from the Belgian Red Cross for her care of the wounded from the Battle of the Bulge, and in 1994, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor. After World War II, Dorothy continued on as a volunteer Red Cross nurse for the next 60years and represented the Red Cross on the 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee.

Margaret (Maggie) Gooch Duffy served in the South Pacific with the Red Cross during and after World War II. In 1991, the Emperor presented her with the “Order of the Precious Crown Butterfly” in recognition of her work for promoting volunteerism through the rebuilding of the Japanese Red Cross Society. Following her retirement, Maggie continued as a volunteer in Nashville, Tennessee.

These nine women and many others paved the way to bring the Red Cross mission to life. We thank them and the tens of thousands of volunteers, who give their time, talent and compassion to serve others.