Nurses Needed…ASAP

Looking back 100 years at the Lake Erie / Heartland Chapter

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s Note:  This is the latest in a series of centennial-related stories involving the founding of Red Cross chapters in Northeast Ohio)

If history proves anything, it might be that we need to learn from our mistakes.

In 1898, when the USS Maine exploded off Cuba’s shores, war was declared with Spain, and the U.S. Army was deployed.  Despite knowledge that yellow fever was most likely to afflict people during the rainy summer season, the U.S. forces launched their offensive on June 22.  Less than 400 soldiers died during the conflict, but more than 2,000 succumbed to the disease during the occupation that followed.

Sixteen years later, the United States initially resisted being drawn into World War I.  However, after learning that the Germans were suggesting Mexico attack the U.S., President Wilson asked for and received a declaration of war in 1917. With America preparing to enter yet another foreign war, the nation hoped to be more prepared.

A military draft was established and of the 10-million men interviewed, 4.7-million were selected. This required a tremendous increase in medical care as well as production of arms and ammunition for the troops. The Army Medical department increased its hospital capacity from 9,500 to 120,000 beds stateside alone.

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Sunday morning, February 4, 1917, Mrs. Alice Montgomery, secretary of the local Red Cross chapter in Sandusky received a 300-word telegram from American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Instructions were two-fold.  Set up a “roomy, centrally located headquarters, rent free, and equipment for same…” to produce medical supplies and comfort bags. Secondly, names of nurses and potential nurses were to be collected.

Courses of instruction in nursing would be provided by the Bureau of Nursing Services in Washington.  Doctors and graduate nurses could also report to the Bureau in Washington. Volunteer men could also take first aid courses and organize a “sanitary corps” locally.

Wasting no time, Mrs. John Renner, president of the Sandusky chapter, organized a meeting for that very afternoon and began the work of rolling gauze and preparing medical supplies.

Monday, February 19, Huron began formation of their own chapter, hoping to attract at least 35 to 40 women locally. By April, they already reached 60, and set their new goal for 200. Men were asked to join as well as women.

Unfortunately, twenty years later, history was destined to repeat itself and a huge case of influenza struck our troops, first on our shores and shortly thereafter in the European theater, starting in France. Crowded, unsanitary conditions in camp and in the trenches were ultimately determined to be the cause this time, but not until more than one million men were affected with 30,000 of them dying before they even reached France.

History books are lax in mentioning it, but health related deaths exceeded combat deaths in World War I. Total non-combat deaths reached 63,000, while combat deaths accounted for 53,000.

Many were saved however, thanks in part to the Red Cross having assisted with the job of recruiting experienced nurses for the Army Nursing Corps, along with organizing many ambulance companies. The Red Cross also organized 50 hospitals of 1,000 beds each, at American universities across the country.

Today, the need is still there. Fortunately, not for war-related injuries specifically, but the Red Cross continues to prevent and alleviate human suffering in a multitude of emergencies.  Please consider volunteering at http://neoredcross.org.

Sandusky Women Answer the Call

Looking back 100 years at the Lake Erie / Heartlands Chapter

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

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From the Centennial Mound in Washington Park, Sandusky

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.