Tales From the Archives: DAR and the Red Cross during WWI

Written by: Joy O'Donnell, DAR Archivist
February 15, 2017

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War One.  DAR is proud to be a Partner Organization with the United States World War One Centennial Commission. In conjunction with the partnership, commemorations of this critical time in United States’ history and the role the DAR played in the war relief effort will be a major focus for us in the Department of Archives and History this year.

A crucial partner of the DAR during the entire war was its Washington, D.C. neighbor, the American Red Cross.  Ties between these two organizations run deep.  American Red Cross founder and first president, Clara Barton was a charter member of the DAR in 1890.  She also served on the National Society’s first Executive Committee as the first Surgeon General.  The American Red Cross’s next leader, Mabel Boardman, was also a DAR member.  She appealed for aid at the 1915 DAR Continental Congress for the Red Cross’s war relief work.  By 1917, when the United States entered the war, DAR members in every state had contributed over $19,000 to the Red Cross Fund, with the amount substantially increasing as the war progressed.  While the amount of money the DAR members contributed to the Red Cross is indeed impressive, the extraordinary work that these members accomplished during the War, hand-in-hand with their neighbors, the American Red Cross, deserves attention as we commemorate this 100th anniversary.

Besides holding events, such as benefit concerts and card parties, to raise monetary donations for the Red Cross, members across the country assembled together to form Red Cross auxiliaries.  DAR was well-represented in these groups, with many members leading and recruiting other ladies in their communities.  DAR members taught first aid classes and staffed Red Cross community rooms, where they knitted and sewed much-needed surgical and hospital supplies for the wounded.  They made “comfort kits” for the servicemen and clothes for the French and Belgian refugees.

Besides volunteering their time with the Red Cross at home, DAR members also traveled abroad for the organization.  While the majority of these ladies were nurses, others became motor corps drivers, casualty searchers, canteen workers, stenographers, and even entertainers.  Miss Mary Wheeler, a DAR member from Kentucky, was a singer for the Red Cross, entertaining the troops in France and England.  Most of the DAR members working with the Red Cross during the war served in France, while others traveled to far-off places. Miss Edith Brooks of Connecticut was a Red Cross nurse in Palestine and Mrs. Nell Rutan Applegate of the Philippines Chapter was a Red Cross nurse in Siberia. 

A few of these brave DAR members sacrificed their lives in service to their country: Mrs. Emma Gene Venn of Mississippi, Miss Alice Cunningham Rogers of Connecticut, and the notable Miss Jane A. Delano of Washington, D.C.  Miss Delano founded the American Red Cross Nursing Services, uniting the work of the American Nurses Association, the Army Nurse Corps, and the American Red Cross, and thus training thousands of nurses for the War.

If you are attending Continental Congress this June, please check out the Americana Room’s new exhibit, commemorating DAR member’s service during World War I.  Stay tuned for an online version of the exhibit, as well.

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