Red Cross Motor Corps, Washington D.C., 1917

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

A woman from West Virginia who worked for the Red Cross Motor Corps is photographed in Washington, D.C., 1917 (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress)

A woman from West Virginia who worked for the Red Cross Motor Corps is photographed in Washington, D.C., 1917 (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress)

The American Red Cross (ARC) is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education inside the United States. It was established in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881, by Clara Barton, who became the first president of the organization. Clara Barton (1821–1912) founded the American chapter after learning of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1869, she went to Europe and became involved in the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, and determined to bring the organization home with her to America.
At the beginning of the WWI, the American Red Cross was a small organization still in the process of developing its identity and programs. When the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, the organization began a period of extraordinary growth. By the time the war ended in November 1918, the Red Cross had become a major national humanitarian organization with strong leadership, a huge membership base, universal recognition, and a broad and distinguished record of service.
American Red Cross Motor Corps was founded in 1917 by the American Red Cross (ARC). It was organized during World War I primarily to render supplementary aid to the Army and Navy, particularly in removing sick and wounded men from ships and trains to hospitals and homes. The service consisted almost entirely of women volunteers, most of whom used their own cars. Many enrolled in auto mechanics classes in order to be able to make repairs on their cars whenever needed.
The Service cooperate with other Red Cross Departments and Bureaus in calling for and delivering supplies; to carry canteen workers, with their supplies and equipment to points where troops in transit were to be provided with meals; to take Red Cross nurses, and Civilian Relief and Home Service workers on official errands; and to furnish transportation, without cost, for Red Cross activities generally, for local charities and hospitals and dispensaries, and for Liberty Loan Drives, Public Health work, and other government activities.
There was little glamour to attract worker’s to this service, for it was frequently very arduous, carried out under all kinds of conditions, in all weather, and at any time when there was need. In spite of this, the response to the first call for volunteers was generous. By war’s end, there were over 12,000 Motor Corps workers who had clocked a total of more than 3.5 million miles of service on America’s roads.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: American Red Cross
Wikipedia: American Red Cross Motor Corps
American Red Cross: World War I and the American Red Cross
Wikipedia: Clara Barton
witness2fashion: American Red Cross Service Uniforms, 1917
Library of Congress
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Red Cross Motor Corps, 1917, detail

Red Cross Motor Corps, 1917, detail


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