Back in Time: The Red Cross during World War I

The Oak Park Red Cross Club. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)
The Oak Park Red Cross Club. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

BY BRENT PETERSON
GAZETTE COLUMNIST

The United States entered a world war it didn’t want to be in in April 1917. There was much to do, organizing and outfitting millions of soldiers, transport across the ocean and to make sure it was done as efficiently as possible. Those who were left at home quickly found a way to help in the war effort, and the Red Cross began a grass roots effort across the country and right here in Washington County.

The Washington County chapter of the Red Cross was officially organized in August, 1917, at a meeting called by Mrs. H.D. Barclay. Nine charter members were enrolled as the nucleus of what was to become the largest and most effective women’s organization in the history of the country to that point in time. A campaign for more members was launched and by the end of the war, the membership reached 4,659.

The knitting club circa 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)
The knitting club circa 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

The work of the Red Cross consisted in making supplies and conveniences for men in the service, financing relief work among soldiers and in camps, aid to civilians in the war area and caring for relief calls at home. Work rooms at every branch and auxiliary buzzed with women turning out dressings, hospital garments, and clothing for war sufferers. Needles flew at home, knitting socks, sweaters and wristlets to be sent to American soldiers.

Funds for the organization were needed to do the work that was required. These funds were raised with membership drives, salvage sales and by individual contributions. The greatest fundraiser came which the Washington County Patriotic League conducted among the farmers of the county. Farmers pledged the returns from certain tracts of land set aside for the Red Cross, a farmer giving the crop from an acre of wheat or corn. This plan was launched in the summer of 1917, but too late to be of much good. In the summer of 1918, Washington County farmers pledged the products of 811 acres and the returns from these pledges exceeded $25,000 that fall. The total amount from this program reached $40,000 by the end of the war.

Want to keep reading? Grab the April 14, edition of The Gazette, at newsstands through April 20. Subscribe to The Gazette to read Peterson’s column in its entirety each week. Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. Contact him at [email protected].