Raney: Women labored to help the U.S. win World War I

Raney: Women labored to help the U.S. win World War I

October 8th, 2017 by Suzette Raney in Opinion Columns

Junior League workers in the canteen.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

During World War I, some women joined the Marines and Navy, and many worked as nurses, but most female workers secured the home front.

Through Red Cross canteens and hospitals, charity balls and sacrifice sales, women labored to win the war. They rolled bandages, made coffee, danced with soldiers, read to and drove the wounded and knitted mounds of socks.

The National League for Women's Service, led by Mrs. Dwight P. Montague in Chattanooga, brought together women's organizations for maximum results. In 1917 the other officers of the League, Mrs. M.M. Allison, Mrs. M. Howard, Mrs. H. Goodman, Mrs. Perry Fyffe and Mrs. Earle Cook, joined in and led with great efficiency and productivity.

Mrs. Loarding-Clark was in charge of medical and nursing affairs. Mrs. R.B. Cooke shaped the home economics arena. Zella Armstrong, publisher of The Lookout magazine, managed publicity. Mrs. Joseph Brown organized the canteen; Mrs. Theodore King ran the automobile committee. Mrs. Harry Lacy oversaw general service; and Mrs. C.M. Willingham chaired the Army Comforts Committee. In charge of literary and musical entertainment were Mrs. L.G. Brown, Zella Armstrong, Mrs. Earl Cooke and Mrs. C.E. Benk.

R.R. Atkinson, a Chattanooga member of several national groups, said that rather than offering those ladies advice on how to take up this work, others should be asking them for their help. "In Chattanooga, the work is so splendidly organized, so completely under way, that we are giving advice to other cities. In fact, every city is turning to Chattanooga for help and direction as to system," according to the Aug. 4 edition of The Lookout.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

The Home Economics Committee encouraged thrift and savings by purchasing canning supplies and teaching girls and women canning and other household economy measures. Posters in schools and public buildings exhorted Americans to plant gardens for victory. The Comforts Committee sent flowers to hospitals and was assured that they were "received with joy by the men." Weekly concerts and dances uplifted the men's spirits with "girl companionship."

Chattanooga Golf and Country Club hosted balls, and committee members chaperoned. The Literary Committee gathered books, magazines and pamphlets for Y.M.C.A. tents, hospitals, and army camps. Zella Armstrong wrote that this service was "doubtless more appreciated than any other as books while away many hours "

Two committees prepared women to replace men as mechanics, chauffeurs and clerks in offices left vacant by men called to the Army. The Automobile Instruction Committee instructed young women in the art of driving and repair. Mr. W.O. Jones taught, and members learned "to drive, to change tires, repair tubes, and to clean and adjust spark plugs."

The female auto mechanics agreed to drive or aid the government in any way. The General Service Committee trained women in shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, and general office efficiency and gave them classes in French, German and Spanish.

The Red Cross worked with the Junior League to fill 500 comfort bags for three local units, Company K, Troop B and Battery B. The bags included needles, thread, toothpaste, combs, playing cards, pocket knives, shoe laces, drinking cups, handkerchiefs and writing materials. Women in white uniforms staffed canteens and operated mess tents. The Canteen Committee cooked and served food for Company K in Warner Park until all 160 men mustered into federal service.

The Junior League of Chattanooga was a pivot for much of the women's work. The League voted on April 12, 1917, to "join the National League of Women's Service as a unit." Minutes for 1917 and 1918 showed the women discussing the best way to assist in the war effort.

League members were urged to join the Red Cross Association. In September 1917, the League requested volunteers to work once a week with the Red Cross.

The June 21, 1918, minutes described the Junior League's organization of companies, captains, lieutenants and aides. The mission was to "give a word of cheer and welcome to the soldiers passing through Chattanooga on the trains and also to give them cigarettes, chewing gum, candy, and postals."

With Mrs. McClure, League president, as chairman of the Red Cross Canteen Service, the League devoted much of its money and effort to that cause and helped win the war.

Suzette Raney is archivist, Chattanooga Public Library. For more World War I information, call 423 643-7725 or visit the library. For information, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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