The image of American soldiers shivering in the cold, wet trenches of the Western Front motivated the women of the Lykens, Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross to act.
In a newspaper article notifying residents of upper Dauphin County about the activities of the local relief organization, the writer used the imagery of soldiers’ suffering to encourage others to assist in the cause. The update ran in the January 11, 1918 edition of the Lykens Standard. “During the extreme cold weather, when you were making a desperate effort to keep warm, did your sympathy go out to the boys in the trenches and camps?” the writer asked. “The Red Cross was exceedingly interested and anxious about them.”
With American entrance into the Great War, chapters of the American Red Cross were founded across the United States by patriotic citizens seeking to provide assistance on the home front. “Membership had swelled to twenty two million,” writes historian Jacob Downs, “with eight million volunteers, by the end of [1917.]”
As the First World War entered its final year in 1918, the women of Lykens gathered together supplies and treats for the town’s soldiers serving throughout the world in the American armed forces. Established in May 1917, the local chapter of the Red Cross was made up of the community’s most prominent women, including civic organizers and the wives of business-owners and mining officials. Much of the work of knitting, baking, and other work for the organization was done by a broad cross-section of the women of Lykens, many of whom worked in clothing factories in the mining district of Williams Valley at the northern end of Dauphin County. Their work sustained soldiers in the field with resources that the military oftentimes failed to supply during the rapid mobilization required by the American entrance into the conflict.
The writer of the short piece in the Standard shines a light on the work and impact of the Lykens chapter of the American Red Cross:
FROM THE LYKENS RED CROSS
During the extreme cold, weather, when you were making a desperate effort to keep warm, did your sympathy go out to the boys in the trenches and camps? Many of them with frost-bitten frost-bitten ears, cold, wet feet.
The Red Cross was exceedingly interested and anxious about them.
A consignment of knitted articles were sent to the Harrisburg chapter. Nineteen sweaters, eleven mufflers, nine pairs of wristlets, and nine pair of socks. Seven pairs of the socks were knit by Mr. Edward Hoffman of West Main street, as his bit. Two of the sweaters were knit by Walter R. Myers, of East Main Street, one of the High School boys.
At Christmas time a kit and box of Lowney’s chocolates were sent to all the Lykens boys that left to serve in France and the camps in this country. Come to the Red Cross and read the letters of gratitude and appreciation received from the boys. Are you interested in the Red Cross? Every dollar paid by Lykens for membership, our Red Cross receives credit from the Harrisburg Chapter for 50c. That is used to buy yarn and hospital supplies. The boys do receive the benefit of all membership money. Do you have a son called to the colors? If not, help the Red Cross, the K. of C. and the Y. M. C. A. take care of your neighbor’s boy.
Every boy that has enlisted knows what these societies mean to the soldier. They are a united force bound together for the best that is in them, they will stand firm until the victory is ours. If you can’t knit, make a bath robe, a suit of pajamas, surgeon’s coat or some of the numerous surgical dressings, so much needed for the boys in the hospital. Does the Red Cross mean anything to you? Do your bit, and we will all be happy WHEN THE BOYS COME MARCHING HOME.
Featured Image: A Red Cross poster (Library of Congress)