Alabama A Pioneer State To Commence Red Cross Community



In July, 1881, in accordance with the requirements of the International Conference of Geneva in 1863, an organization was formed in the City of Washington, D. C., under the name of the American National Association of the Red Cross. This association was reincorporated in 1893, under the laws of the District of Columbia, and reincorporated by Act of Congress, reaching its present form in 1905. Prior to the World War, the American Red Cross directed its energies to disasters and epidemics, or to alleviate suffering wherever it was called.

In 1916, when the great preparedness movement swept the country, the association laid plans for active war work, and Red Cross chapters sprang up everywhere. Alabama was one of the first in the matter of organization, and when America entered the World War in 1917, it rallied in numbers to the call of the “Greatest Mother” and did some of the best work of the war. Chapters were organized all over the state, and men, women, and children gave their time, their money, and the labor of their hands to do their part in the struggle. The absolute devotion of Alabama women to the cause, and the high standards of the bandages, dressings, and hospital garments turned out were difficult to match anywhere.

In the war drives for funds, in every case, the state went over the top. As an example of their loyalty, $450,000 was the quota for the drive in 1918, and $1,500,000 was raised without difficulty, Walker County alone exceeding its quota 1,100 per cent. From the Tennessee line down to the Gulf, there was not a community, however remote it might be, that did not respond to the call for labor, money or membership, and when the Armistice was signed in 1918, nearly 150,000 Alabamians wore the emblem of the Red Cross.

Company D, 26th Machine Gun Battalion - Camp Sheridan, Ala
Company D, 26th Machine Gun Battalion – Camp Sheridan, Ala
106 Infantry Camp – Ft. McClellan, Ala

Two big camps, Sheridan and McClellan, sheltered about 50,000 men. Taylor Field was crowded with aviators, while Wright Field, supposed to be devoted to repair work, also gave instruction to recruits. Camp service was given to these men and to the marines at Fort Morgan. This service involved the distribution of comfort articles, the rendering of service to men in hospitals, the operation of communication service between men and their families, and work of similar nature. The Cantonment Zone work in Anniston was in charge of Alabama nurses. When influenza broke out in the camps in 1918, a call for nurses and nurses’ aids was sent out and answered by more than 50 nurses and 25 aids. Some went to the cantonment, and others did work under Red Cross chapters all over the state.

When the movement of troops to camps and ports of embarkation began in 1917, it became evident that a vast opportunity for service had been opened to the Red Cross, and Canteen Service was established to meet these emergencies, thousands of volunteer workers offering full-time service. Coffee, cigarettes, sandwiches or meals were served to men en route, and those taken sick or suffering from injuries were given medical aid or else transferred from trains to hospitals.

Red Cross Motor Corps Washington, DC 1917

The Bureau of Motor Corps Service was established at National headquarters in February, 1918, but in Alabama, Motor Corps service was already in operation as a branch of the League for Woman’s Service. This service was also rendered by full-time volunteer workers; automobiles and operating expenses, except ambulances, being provided by the members without cost.

Women of the NLWS knitting National Museum of the U.S. Navy – Lot-10970-4 Lot-10970-4: WWI, Homefront. Women of National League for Women’s Service knitting. George C. Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (2016/09/23).

An important phase of the work given by Alabama women was Home Service. This was literally service at home to the families of soldiers and sailors, to prevent, as far as possible, trouble and sorrow to the families of the men overseas or in camps. During the period of the war, thousands of difficult cases were handled, and much misery and privation was avoided.

During the fall of 1917, the Junior first commenced to enroll as members, and the work done by them involved many kinds of war activities, including the production of relief articles, the operation of war gardens, the conservation of second-hand articles, and assistance to the Red Cross in many other lines of work.

Since the adoption of the peacetime program of the organization, carefully planned to meet every social problem of communities, Alabama has continued its activities unceasingly. There are 77 active chapters in the state; in 45 of these, Home Service extension has been granted, which enables them to broaden the scope of their work to the homes of those in the community.

There are more than a dozen Public Health nurses, teaching health in the public schools, giving instruction in nursing, and looking after the general health of the community. Two nurses are working out from the Alabama State Board of Health, making examination of children in schools and institutions and doing supervisory work; and 224 Red Cross nurses, most of whom did war work, and social work. At present there are three community centers, with rest rooms and trained workers in charge; one chapter opening a recreational center for children, with a playground in connection, as part of its community work.

Important among Alabama’s present peacetime activities is its after-war work. 75 chapters being engaged in attending to the wants of the ex-service men and their families. The Red Cross acts as a connecting link between the man and the Federal Board for Vocational Education, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, and various other departments of the government, which are attending to the wants of the ex-sevice man.

The enormous mortality during the flu epidemic, partly caused by lack of nurses and doctors or ignorance of those forced to nurse the sick at home, showed the absolute need of instruction to meet such conditions. As a result. Red Cross classes in Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick have been the result in about a dozen communities, while plans have been approved to include the course in many High Schools in the state.

Sixteen chapters have Disaster Relief departments, ready for instant work. This means that, in case of flood, fire, or other community trouble, the Red Cross stands ready to send out immediate aid, doctors, nurses, relief workers, tents, food, clothing and medical supplies. Within 12 hours, a complete working organization hospital, food supply depot, and other necessities can be in working order. Since 1909, there have been disasters of peace to meet in Alabama-mine explosions, floods, boll weevil, tornadoes; in each case the Red Cross was called upon to minister relief.

Junior Red Cross

“To the People of Alabama.” Description Letter from Governor Charles Henderson and Secretary of State John Purifoy, announcing a postwar membership drive in the state: “For the purpose of giving emphasis to the importance of of this movement and directing the minds of all the people of the state thereto, I, Chas. Henderson, Governor of the State of Alabama, do hereby set aside and appoint the week of December 16 to 23 as the time in which every citizen of the state is asked to enroll his name as a member of the American Red Cross. In 1917 the enrollment was twenty-two millions and eight million members Junior Red Cross. Let us make up the Christmas roll-call in 1918 by having included in it every citizen of Alabama. This is a nation-wide movement and as a sovereignty of the union we cannot afford to, and will not, fail to answer this call of humanity.” Columbia is pictured above the letter, standing in front of a cross and wreathed in a ring of stars.

Because the children of the Red Cross devoted much of their energy to wartime activities, such as the making of simple garments for the children of Europe, the knitting of socks and sweaters, the selling and buying of thrift stamps, the idea became prevalent that the Junior Red Cross was purely a wartime organization, and immediately after the Armistice, school enrollment in Alabama fell off considerably. Gradually this opinion is being eradicated, and at present the Junior Red Cross is becoming more and more known as a Service Organization. During 1919-20, Alabama enrolled 31.635 children in 102 schools. These schools contributed $1,693.63 to the National Children’s fund, a fund that makes possible relief and education for destitute boys and girls in other countries, particularly those devastated by war.

The activities of the Alabama Juniors are many and varied. Last year, playgrounds were installed in seven counties. Two counties financed hot lunches in their schools, while one county furnished clothes the year round for local poor. One splendid phase of Junior work that is planned for Alabama is the furnishing of scholarships to needy children who would be forced otherwise to stop school and go to work.

First aid occupies an important part of Junior work, and classes are constantly being formed

“Happy Childhood the World Over.” Description “Join the Junior Red Cross.” Little girl in a pink dress flying a kite in a field while other children play in the distance. Artist Upjohn, Anna Milo, 1868-1951 Creator American Red Cross Date 1919 Time Period 1910-1919 Subject American Red Cross Children

along the same lines laid down by Red Cross First Aid instructors in industrial life. Water First Aid particularly has been stressed, and since its installation by the Red Cross, figures on drowning have been reduced one-half. Up to date, the enrollment for Alabama in the Junior Red Cross is 37,164 children. The schools of Birmingham alone have contributed $1,664.82 to the National Children’s fund. Alabama has been one of the pioneer Southern states to commence Red Cross community


Statistics supplied by American Red Cross, Gulf Division, New Orleans, through letters from Mrs. A. B. Gihon, assistant director of publicity, in Alabama State Department of Archives and History.

Founder and first director of Alabama Department of Archives and History

Credit: History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography
by Thomas McAdory Owen