The International Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in 1864. Sixteen nations came to Geneva to sign a treaty which said the sick and wounded in a war would be treated humanely. The United States attended the conference but did not sign the treaty. After the Civil War ended, Clara Barton, who had served as a hospital nurse and administrator during the war, traveled through Europe and stayed to work with the International Red Cross. She believed America needed its’ own Red Cross and organized one in 1881. She was also successful in getting Congress to ratify the Geneva Convention in 1882. Prior to World War I, the Red Cross was active during the Spanish American War in 1898, and domestic disasters from the Johnstown Flood of 1889 to the Cherry Hill mine collapse in 1909.
Throughout the early part of the 20th century, the Red Cross was small and at least locally, closely association with its work for Tuberculosis. In 1908, the first Red Cross Christmas seals arrived in Quincy to raise money to fight this disease. At that time, Mary Wheeler, the Superintendent of Blessing Hospital was the only local member of the Red Cross. In Quincy, the Visiting Nurses’ Association was in charge of the campaign which was later run by the Adams County Anti-Tuberculosis League. The sale of Red Cross seals at Christmas continued throughout the war. As late as 1916, one out of seven deaths in Quincy was due to tuberculosis which was a higher rate than St. Louis. The need for money, a tuberculosis nurse, and a dispensary was urgent. The only money the Anti-Tuberculosis League had came from the sale of seals and membership in the league.
Shortly after World War I started in 1914, the city council passed a resolution encouraging the Quincy citizens to contribute to the Red Cross as they were equipping a ship to provide supplies and personnel, which included a Quincy nurse Mary Hill, to Europe. The Quincy Daily Herald said,” …. Quincy has never been found wanting when appeal was made to her charity and generosity….” Another collection was taken in November for the German Red Cross. The amount collected was $1900 with contributions from $1 to $500. Albert Glindeman was treasurer of the fund and sent a check to Mayor W. K. Abbott who while attending a convention in Washington D.C., gave the check to the German Ambassador, Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff. He in turn wrote to Glindeman expressing his “heartiest thanks to all who have contributed and aided in this our great cause.”
The community not only raised money but sent packages of bandages and surgical packs to Europe. The women of Quincy sent 460 packages in April 1916. Occasional articles would mention a Quincy native serving the Red Cross such as Helen Bull (Mrs. Alan Campbell) serving in Paris and Dr. Ralph McReynolds who worked in Belgium in 1915. The German-Americans were particularly generous and provided money for East Prussia which was funneled through a Red Cross fund called Ost Preussen Hilfe to rebuild after the fighting with the Russian Army heavily damaged the area.
Toward the end of 1916, a group was formed called the Quincy Military Ladies of the Armory. The purpose was to familiarize ladies with military training and the “requirements of women in time of war,” which included preparing women for Red Cross work. By December the Quincy Daily Whig was calling for a Red Cross chapter in Quincy to serve as a clearing house for donations, stating, “….even generous people become bewildered. There were appeals from Belgium, destitute Armenians, blinded soldiers in France and Great Britain, Poland, and the German Widows and Orphans Fund to name just a few.” In 1914 there were only about 100 local Red Cross chapters in the United States but by 1918 there were almost 4,000.
In March 1917 a petition was sent to the national Red Cross asking to establish a chapter in Quincy. President Wilson was president of the Red Cross but the organization was not a government agency until after war was declared on April 6th when it came under the War Department. By the end of April the chapter was established using Cheerful Home as its headquarters. Committees were formed and D. L. Musselman became the chairman. By 1918, 27 Adams county towns, churches, and townships set up branches of the Quincy Chapter of the Red Cross. Ten percent of the county population belonged to the Red Cross which was noted by the national organization as the county was 40% German.
The Hospital Supplies Committee made quilts, bandages, surgical pads, gauze dressings, hospital garments, and other supplies needed in France. The Knitting Committee made sweaters and socks. The Dependent Families Committee helped 13 families during one six month period. The junior Red Cross was an auxiliary and enrolled school children for 25 cents each. Christmas gifts were sent to all Adams County soldiers and the Canteen Committee prepared refreshments to greet troop trains routed through Quincy. Above all the county raised money.
The Red Cross Nursing Service was part of the Red Cross but a separate unit. Graduate nurses enrolled in this service were the Army Nurse Corps Reserve. In 1918, 25 graduate nurses from Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses were enrolled and serving in this country and abroad. Only about half of the enrolled nurses served overseas. Red Cross nurses first worked in military hospitals at various Army camps. This allowed the nurses to adjust to military life and also ensured that the nurses were suitable to serve overseas. Those who arrived in Europe worked long hours and were chronically understaffed with some nurses caring for over 70 patients. This problem was caused by a shortage of ocean-going vessels to transport and not from lack of nurses volunteering.
The Army Medical Department had been unprepared for war and when war was declared no Army hospital units were ready. In May, 1917, staff for six Red Cross Base Hospitals were trained and ordered to France. Large base hospitals were formed of cohesive units from major medical schools and teaching hospitals. Smaller hospitals formed hospital units. The very first American casualties from this war were three nurses who were hit when a ship’s gun misfired.
“A Clearing House for Charity,” The Quincy Daily Whig. December 6, 1916.
“Are Thanked by Bernstorff,” The Quincy Daily Herald. December 19, 1914.
“Brewers Lead in Red Cross Relief,” The Quincy Daily Herald. August 25, 1914.
“Elect Old Officers Red Cross Chapter: Busy Six Months,” The Quincy Daily Herald. October 30, 1917.
“Military Ladies Have Big Meeting,” The Quincy Whig. September 23, 1916.
“Money for the Red Cross,” The Quincy Daily Herald. November 30, 1914.
“Money for the Red Cross,” The Quincy Daily Herald, January 23, 1915.
“Organize Red Cross Chapter for Quincy,” The Quincy Daily Whig. March 28, 1917.
“Quincy is in Need of a Red Cross Chapter,” The Quincy Daily Herald. April 6, 1917.
“Quincy People are Generous,” The Quincy Daily Herald. February 17, 1916.
“Quincy Surgeon, Stationed In Belgium With Red Tells Interesting War Story,” The Quincy Daily Whig. December 12, 1916.
“Red Cross Chapter is Ready to Start Work,” The Quincy Daily Whig. April 27, 1917.
“Red Cross Organizes,” The Quincy Daily Herald. April 10, 1917.
“Social News of People and Events,” The Quincy Daily Herald. June 20, 1916.
“The Need is Urgent,” The Quincy Daily Journal. February 5, 1916.
“Total of 460 Packages Sent from Quincy to War Countries During Last Week,” The Quincy Daily Whig. April 29, 1916.