Before the war
After the war
An exhibit by the
Oregon State Archives
the Home Front
The Red Cross at the center of it
Red Cross brochure. The caption above reads: "A great
net of mercy drawn through an ocean of unspeakable pain." (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Publications and Ephemera,
Box 8, Folder
2) View brochure. (2
Patriotism and obligation
Oregonians often worked
extra hours on their farms or at their jobs to meet the added production
their homes by conserving wheat, sugar, and other war necessities.
Yet, that was not
enough in the eyes of 15 year old Harriet Rolfe of Sherman County:
"A person who does not take any interest in the war or help carry
it on, is just as much a slacker as the person who tries to shirk military
duty." Thus it was that genuine patriotism mixed with obligation,
conformity, and competition to power a remarkable range of activities
in large and small communities across Oregon. While many groups and
organizations participated and contributed to the war effort, none
was more prominent than the Red Cross.
Organizing Red Cross chapters
A large number of Red Cross chapters, branches, and auxiliaries
formed in Oregon in the days and weeks after the declaration of war in
April 1917. The
began then after members of the Ontario Woman's Club "decided
to pigeon-hole their studies of South America and devote their energies
to the making
of surgical dressings." They contacted a Red Cross field representative
for help in organizing and within a month the new chapter had over
360 members, including "three Japanese, one of whom pays annually
$20.00 to the Japanese Red Cross Society."
Similarly, an April 16, 1917 meeting in Grants Pass yielded the organization
of the Josephine County chapter of the Red Cross. Soon, numerous branches
and school auxiliaries formed throughout the county.
However, the largely mountainous terrain of the southern Oregon
county made for
"[There were] extremely difficult conditions
under which the Chapter outside
of Grants Pass operated. Only three of the ten branches are
on the railroad, the others being situated at points from
eight to forty miles by stage. Much of the County is in the
Forest Reserve. There are no factories, and hence practically
no payrolls. In spite of these conditions, much work was
done by our branches, some of it showing patience and perseverance."
Local fund raising activities
Chapter members showed no lack of imagination in devising ways
to raise money. Breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, bake sales, ice cream
socials, plays, operas, dances, bazaars, raffles, rummage sales, carnivals,
lectures, recitals, and readings were among the ways that organizers
collected money. Often the venue, food, and other considerations were
local businesses. Sometimes, several events were planned in conjunction
to appeal to the broadest audience possible. This occurred in Grants
Pass when "a two-day Bazaar was held by the ladies of the Red Cross...in
of the Court House, while in the evening, in the street in front of the
Court House, a Carnival was held by the men.... At the same time, A
Vaudeville performance was put on in the Court House building by Mrs.
A.H. Gunnell. The net receipts of the two days were over fifteen hundred
yarn for the doughboys
At the Williams Branch of the
Red Cross, yarn for knitting was hard to come by so,
beginning in the fall of 1917, they decided to make
their own. The group pulled down three old spinning
wheels from attics and decided to raise some funds
while they worked.
The women dressed in "old
time gowns" and for five cents showed the younger
generation how to pick, card, and spin wool. Their
take: 23 dollars. The donated wool from the spinning
party made its way into a sweater, which was sent to
France to "Sgt. Eugene Morrison, the only boy
from Williams who had no Mother." (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Oversize Photographs, Box
Across the state in Nyssa, Red Cross volunteers held an auction with
a particularly red, white, and blue flair. The patriotic event featured
a coop of snow white chickens sporting red combs and blue wings. According
to one chronicler, "most surprising of all, a couple of eggs were
found in the coop striped with the national colors." The auction
Red Cross volunteers set up work rooms in many of the chapters,
often in space donated by local businesses, churches, and schools. The
bread and butter work was sewing an array of articles for both civilian
and military use. These often fell into categories for statistical purposes.
Descriptions such as hospital garments, surgical dressings, hospital
supplies, soldiers supplies, knitted articles, and refugee garments headed
the production lists submitted by chapters. Output was high by any standards.
The Ontario chapter alone claimed delivery of 90,000 finished articles.
The Josephine County chapter, which included several men who worked
as volunteer knitters, reserved "special mention" for one
Williams, eighty-four years of age, has knit 103 most beautiful sweaters.
Her sweaters brought to the Chapter high praise from headquarters,
gave pleasure to the men who received them. One of our own boys had
one on when wounded, and prized it so highly that it was a real grief
it had to [be] cut from him; so when this was known, another knit
by her was sent to him." Grandma Williams received a medal for
of service to the Red Cross.
Meanwhile, in far off Malheur County along
Oregon's border with Idaho, one reporter described the work in heroic
"...the women arose with the sun, cooked
for hay hands, walked over dusty roads, one, two, three miles
to sew on pajamas or layettes, could one doubt the outcome of
In addition to the standard sewing and knitting work, some chapters
were "particularly adapted" to more specialized contributions. For
example, rainy Clatsop County excelled in the collection of sphagnum
moss used in surgical dressings for the war. The Astoria chapter set
aside a special room for the moss work. This included picking, cleaning,
sorting, and drying the moss and then placing it between two sterilized
gauze coverings. Every day about 15 women worked in the room producing
thousands of dressing pads.
Drying racks hold sphagnum moss ready for use in
surgical dressing pads. (OSA, Oregon Defense
Publications and Ephemera, Box
Sometimes the numbers of volunteers in the work rooms needed to be
augmented, either because of fatigue and drop outs or because of expanded
production goals. The Clatsop County chapter went door to door attempting
to enlist more needleworkers for the work rooms. While the results
"were not commensurate with the amount of work devoted to this campaign,"
planners were at least satisfied "that the opportunity had been presented
in person to every household in the city to enlist in the work of the
Canteens and home service
Red Cross chapters served, often on short notice, groups of soldiers
and sailors passing through the area. Typically, the appropriate
committee would spring into action as was the case when the Astoria
chapter found out that it was to provide lunch for 500 men on two
hours notice. The volunteers quickly set up tables and chairs in
the depot, drafted 50 high school girls to serve the men, and "requisitioned"
food and supplies from local restaurants and bakeries. The lunch
went off without a hitch. In Grants Pass, the local Red Cross chapter
also learned on short notice that a large number of soldiers was
passing through by train and that the chapter "was responsible for
seeing that they were properly fed." The experience caused the chapter
to form a "breakfast committee" that was ready to respond to similar
needs in the future.
Cross home service offices often kept records of the returning
veterans they served. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records,
Publications and Ephemera, Box
"Home service" work by the Red Cross took many forms in
Oregon. As more veterans returned home in the later stages of the
in the postwar period, readjustment assistance became important.
Many of the returning men went back to their old jobs, but for those
without work, the Red Cross often served as an employment bureau.
The Astoria chapter formed a "committee of After Care" for
returning disabled soldiers and sailors. To better serve the veterans,
of the chapter members completed a six-week course on home service
work at a Seattle institute.
Mrs. E.L. Tuttle, the executive secretary of the home service section
of the Astoria chapter, also tried to reconnect local families with
relatives overseas who had lost touch. The work was bittersweet
as she found: " Some of these have been found alive and well, one
son of an Astoria mother, however, was traced to his death-bed in
a French Hospital after a mysterious silence of six months." Mrs.
Tuttle's efforts were prodigious. She gave information to over 2,000
individuals. She cared for 25 disabled soldiers and sailors. And,
she helped 199 men find work in the area.
(Oregon State Defense Council
Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 37)