How has youth volunteerism changed since World War I? Is it the same now? Is it different?
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The Junior Red Cross

The work of the Red Cross is well known today. The group is recognized for its work around the world when disasters strike. The organization had its start in the early 1880s. Almost from the start young people volunteered with the group. But it was in 1917 that the Junior Red Cross was officially formed.

The Early Years

Membership dues were 25 cents and by the summer of 1918, about 3,000 Iowa schools had Junior Red Cross groups. About 41 percent of the school children in the state were members. Initially the group was formed to help with the war effort. World War I was raging in Europe, and people in the United States were busy with projects to help the soldiers.

Civilian Red Cross workers made and packaged supplies, including clothing and bandages. Americans also provided supplies for people living in war-torn countries—Belgium, France and Italy. The war effort meant hard work for everyone, and the Junior Red Cross gave children a way to do their part.

Join Through the School

Most Junior Red Cross members joined through their schools. When a school became an "auxiliary," the school received a certificate and a banner. Junior members wore Red Cross badges. Typical Iowa Junior Red Cross members learned how to cook and care for sick people at home. They learned first aid techniques. High school students made furniture and surgical dressings. Elementary students made gun wipes and clothing. Gun wipes were patches of cloth used to clean gun barrels. Junior Red Cross members also worked in gardens, since raising as much food as possible was important during wartime.

Iowa Junior Red Cross members worked hard for the war effort. Many students participated in the activities in all parts of the state. During four months in 1918 students at two high schools in Muscatine County made 3,500 surgical dressings.

Work Continued After the War

When the war was over, the Junior Red Cross continued its activities. Beginning in 1923, the Junior Red Cross provided funds to support Indian schools in the American Southwest. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the youth organization assisted in the distribution of surplus wheat and cotton, the collection of clothing and food, and the canning of fruits and vegetables.

And Another War

In the 1940s during World War II the group increased its activities for the war effort. Members produced clothing, toys, furniture and art works. They entertained at military camps and hospitals. They helped collect paper, cloth and scrap metals for use by the military. They volunteered in hospitals and for the first time youth members recruited blood donors for the Red Cross.

Young People and the Red Cross Today

Membership in the Junior Red Cross began to decline after the second world war. Activities by junior members was less visible during the Korean and Vietnam wars. But that doesn't mean young Iowans aren't involved in volunteer work. The term "Junior Red Cross" is no longer used to signify the young members. Many young people participate in Red Cross work and projects across the state. The Red Cross Club, American Red Cross Babysitters Training Course, Youth Against HIV/AIDS and Masters of Disaster are Red Cross activities designed for young people.

Sources:

  • American Red Cross. http://www.redcross.org
Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch 9, No. 4 (April 1988). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


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