The recent meeting between the original six World War II "Rosie the Riveters" and President Obama and Vice President Biden - as well as our recent celebration of National Volunteer Week - got us thinking about the women who served in the Red Cross during those first two World Wars.
That's when we came across the Gray Ladies. This group, mostly comprised of women, went through rigorous training to provide non-medical care to patients in military hospitals. They acted as hostesses and provided recreational services to patients, many of whom were injured during World War I.
By the 1930s, the Gray Lady Service spread to other hospitals around the country, both military and civilian. Their services also expanded to include blood centers and providing assistance with disaster response. During World War II, the service reached its peak with almost 50,000 women serving as Gray Ladies in military and other hospitals throughout the U.S. Following the war, some Gray Ladies even served in U.S. military hospitals overseas. While the number of Gray Ladies decreased after the war, these women continued serving in American hospitals until the mid-1960s when the Red Cross shifted to a unified concept of volunteers.
Our archives are full of pictures and news articles about these extraordinary volunteers. In this November 1955 article from the Daily Sun of Arlington, VA, local Gray Ladies are featured during the presentation of their service caps, pins, and certificates. These volunteers served at the Fort Meyer Dispensary, on the Bloodmobile, and at the Arlington Chapter House.
For more information about these amazing women, check out this Red Cross retrospective.