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.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com