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Interpreting the Evidence

Red Cross Nurses

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load World War I Red Cross Nurses, June 11, 1919 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
World War I Red Cross nurses pose for a photograph, June 11, 1919.
Historical Context
By 1916, America itself was on the brink of war with Germany.  At the request of the Surgeon General of the Army and Navy, the American Red Cross organized 50 base hospitals in France and elsewhere. Surgeon General George M. Sternberg, believed that women nurses should not be permitted on the battlefield but instead should be confined to base hospitals. Sternberg appointed physician and anthropologist Anita Newcomb McGee as acting assistant surgeon general and charged her with recruiting qualified graduate nurses to staff army hospitals and later to serve in overseas camps. At the end of the war, McGee helped organize a permanent Army Nurses Corps.

When the United States went to war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson quickly mobilized the American people behind the American Red Cross.  Many propaganda posters had pictures or cartoons of Red Cross Nurses. Wilson appointed a War Council to run the Red Cross. More than 340 million adults and young people became active supporters.

As the war went on, Red Cross workers provided medical and recreational services for the military at home and abroad. Red Cross nurses worked at American base hospitals, at field units, and aboard ships.  Some of the nurses served at home combating the 1918 influenza epidemic and providing medical services to military camps, munitions plants, and shipyards.

Essential Question
How do women contribute to national issues?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the role of these women during World War I.
Historical Challenges
Research the life of a famous Red Cross Nurse in World War I and write a short biography about her.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a short story describing the day to day events of a Red Cross Nurse stationed in France during World War I.