Looking back 100 years at the Lake Erie / Heartlands Chapter
By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer
In March 1916, as a U.S. expedition of more than 10,000 troops were chasing Pancho Villa back into Mexico, and Company B of the National Guard was being federalized to control our border at El Paso, Texas, the Red Cross Sandusky Chapter was being formed. Realizing we might also be deploying troops to Europe, the National Office was requesting more and more chapters to join the organization.
By June 1916, fifty women had already expressed interest in joining at a meeting held in the Carnegie Library in Sandusky. They began making “ditty” bags for the men of Company B. Described in the Sandusky Star-Journal as “…most convenient and attractive little affairs. Fashioned of the familiar khaki, with blue braid binding, and red flannel leaves, they each hold 6 needles, 6 safety pins, 3 darning needles, 2 rows of common pins, a spool each of khaki and white thread, six each of khaki colored and white buttons, and a pair of scissors.”
Saturday, August 19, 1916 at 3:00 p.m., with charter-in-hand, more than one hundred volunteers gathered at G.A.R. Hall in Sandusky to elect officers and directors for this newest Chapter of the American Red Cross. Plans were formulated for their first regular meeting which would take place in October.
At the October meeting, the guest speaker was Miss Elizabeth Perkins, field secretary of the National Red Cross, recently back in the US after serving in hospitals along the French front. She brought a request for “comfort bags” that could be given to the troops in the French hospitals. 50,000 were needed nationally, and it would be a proper project for the new chapter. They were needed by November 15 to be shipped and received in time for Christmas distribution.
Each 9” x 12” bag would contain a pair of socks, a razor or pocket knife, handkerchief, pencil, writing tablet, pipe (no tobacco), harmonica or game (no playing cards), box of hard candy or bouillon cubes, wash clothes, cake of soap, pocket mirror, and a comb or jar of Vaseline. Each bag would have a card included with the name of the donor.
Unfortunately, while the chapter was waiting for its charter, all the dues collected to that point had been sent in to the national office, and the chapter found itself without operating funds. Suggestions were received that the entire Erie County should be included in the chapter, giving them a larger base of members and financial support.
Eventually, the Lake Erie / Heartland Chapter of the Red Cross would expand to what today includes Ashland, Erie, Holmes, Huron, Lorain, Richland and Wayne Counties. That’s quite an expansion from the original small chapter in Sandusky, so, you could say they certainly took those directions 100 years ago, to heart.
What hasn’t changed, is that the Red Cross can still use more volunteers and more donations. Visit redcross.org/neo to get involved.