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History of the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross, Pt. 2

July 30, 2016

Everyone is familiar with the name and what they are most known for, but do you really know about the history of the American Red Cross? Specifically, the history of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. This is part two of their story (explained as brief as possible) discussing their involvement during the second world war and the many years after. 

As promised, here is part two of the history of the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross. If you haven't read part one, click this link. I'll try to keep this post shorter than the last, but no guarantees. And be sure to check out the slideshow at the bottom of the page. 

I believe we ended with the depletion of funds for the Nashville Chapter in August, 1932. Well I hope you didn't fret too much, because instead of suspending operations as it may have been considered, the chapter requested the Governor to submit an "application and certificate of need" to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and requested the amount of $50,000 for relief. For all of the services that the Red Cross offered, it was simply impossible for them to suspend operations. If anything, the Red Cross was needing to extend their operations to surrounding counties that were afflicted in a variety of ways. 

What's the answer then? How do you find more money where there isn't any? Or where do you find more supplies where none exists? One of the best answers/resources that the Red Cross has had available to them from the beginning is the never-ending help of volunteers. According to Mrs. Harry Evans, a former Chairman of Volunteer Services, volunteer service "is the very heart of Red Cross." She continued to say that "they are unselfish people who hold themselves ready upon call of those in charge of the Chapter to do any work which it has in is upon the volunteer that the chapter depends for the accomplishment of its task" (82 Years of History - Nashville Area Chapter, 40). 

In fact, in the year 1943 alone after the US' entry into the war, there were over 768,002 volunteer hours given by 32,086 volunteers. This many hours with this many volunteers, with only 24 paid staff members. Quite impressive. And this tradition of success has carried on through today, thanks to the countless hours given by volunteers. 

Highlights of the Red Cross' various service throughout the war...

Prior to the US' entry into the war, the Nashville chapter joined with Davidson County on September 18th, 1941 to become officially the "Nashville-Davidson County Chapter."

Another solution to the problem of lacking funds/resources was in the form of First-Aid training, Life-Saving courses, as well as Home Hygiene courses. With the strong winters that brought on Flu epidemics, natural disasters such as tornadoes (such as the one that struck on the evening of March 14, 1933 in East Nashville) and floods, and even highway safety - training citizens helped the Chapter out tremendously. For in the case of Home Hygiene, the fewer the people afflicted due to poor hygiene or home care, the less patients the Chapter had to attend to. As the war continued, with more and more men drafted into the military, training for all became vitally important as the Chapter continued to see the loss of young men. 

One example of a Home Nursing Class that took place at Vanderbilt in 1944 simulated what could be done in an emergency with improvised sickroom equipment. This included various home products that might be lying around that could be turned into needed equipment, including: a wheel chair made out of an old chair and extra plants, a crib made from windowpane packing cases, and even a hot water bottle made from an old inner-tube, jar rim, and top. 

In that same year (1944), a new committee was founded focusing specifically on prisoners of war. Though the name of the committee was not revealed, one of the key elements of the committee was its collaboration with WLAC radio. A special broadcast aired by the station entitled "I am at his side" helped answer questions about POW's.

Perhaps what the organization is most commonly known for now (well at least for me), the blood donor program was another duty for the Red Cross during the war. However, the Nashville Chapter almost lost this service during the war when headquarters informed them that they would temporarily, be asked not to participate due to not having a close processing center. But the executive director at the time disagreed, and continued their program anyway. 

During the last year of the war, one of Nashville's hospitals saw a change in ownership. The property that Thayer General Hospital sat on (present day location of Nashville State Community College) was transferred to the government, becoming officially the Veterans Hospital. Hundreds of wounded men and women were transferred to this hospital. Check out the slideshow below to see a view images of the hospital. The Veterans' Hospital has since been moved closer to Vanderbilt. 

One of the books on display in the Red Cross exhibit titled Recollections of World War II includes several short recounts and memories from Red Cross volunteers and workers throughout the second world war. One Red Cross worker that spent most of her time in the UK during the war provided a rather lengthy recap. Here's one short quote from Sylvia Risman Hyman Gunzberg's experience:

"...Here was an opportunity to serve my country, to travel overseas, to enjoy undreamed-of-experiences, to earn more than my salary as a teacher, and to catch up with the guys who had all gone away."  

Postwar and the Many Changes...

Similar to the aftermath of World War I, the Red Cross encountered severities and needs in other areas of service when the armed services returned home. As usual, First Aid and Safety courses remained popular and continued on schedule. The Blood Donor program began a new chapter with the chapter as well...haha, didn't even mean to do that. But a new committee was created to seek out donors, and it was called by a board member - "the grandest peacetime program that any organization has ever attempted to render." 

The Disaster Preparedness and Relief Committee found themselves to be rather busy in the following years as well, with one rather humorous incident during a flood in February, 1948, making national news. Director of Safety Services reported: 

"One of the most hilarious moments of the rescue work happened when the Navy Reserve Unit was sent to rescue 43 hogs from an island that was rapidly disintegrating. After trying for 3 hours to corral the hogs, the Navy gave up in disgust, so a daily check was made on the condition of the island and food was distributed to the hogs. The maneuver was labeled, 'Operation Bacon!"

The Nashville Chapter changed locations several times over the years, one of the reasons being the expansion of services. In February 1949, they opened a regional blood center on Church Street with Governor Browning as the first official donor. This came in handy especially since the next decade (the 50's) has been recorded as the most expensive disaster period in American Red Cross history - due to floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Then, the decade of the 60's brought with it more foreign conflict (Vietnam), but further advancements in medical operations that required the Red Cross' vital assistance. 

The Chapter changed locations a few more times - to West End, then to 22nd Ave N where a campaign was initiated to raise funds for the new building. Their present location is located on Charlotte Ave, at the corner of 22nd Ave N and Leslie Ave. I wasn't able to find out when they moved to that location, but it is within the last 30 years or so.  

Throughout the next several decades, the organization as a whole and the chapter saw many changes structurally and in new programming. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The Mobile Laboratory was created to keep residents informed and to continue their mission. 
  • A new screening test was created for Hepatitis.
  • A new internal computer system was established (as opposed to previously outsourcing the work).
  • TN Division of the American Red Cross was formed in 1977, making the Nashville Chapter the headquarters of the Tennessee division and its manager was the division manager.
  • New program created for high school students to receive academic credit for volunteer work, to help incentivize more young people to participate. This was a success with the results of 738 young people working as volunteers in more than 50 community service agencies. 
  • 1978 - The Nashville-Davidson County Chapter of the ARC was re-chartered as the Nashville Area Chapter of the ARC. The adjoining counties of Robertson, Wilson, and Cheatham were incorporated to be added to the new Chapter’s area. 
  • Nashville joined in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ARC's founding and many years of service. This carried over into the next year with many celebrations, including a Red Cross night at Greer Stadium, a booth at the Tennessee State Fair, and a Centennial Red Cross Tree at the “Trees of Christmas” exhibit at Cheekwood during the month of December.

Beginning as a variety of organizations that formed into one, the chapter and organization as a whole has saved thousands of lives through their many programs and services. With already a little over one hundred years under their belt, it's a wonder to imagine what the next several decades could bring with the American Red Cross at the healm.  

History and Information regarding the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross provided in the book, "82 Years of History - Nashville Area Chapter" by Owen Meredith and Lee Seitz.

Special Highlight:

On July 20th, Metro Archives and NPL sponsored a blood drive, with several other willing donors, at the Main Downtown Library. It was officially titled Add Pages to Someone's Life Story, and it was a success! I'm so proud of our Library and everyone that helped for allowing us to not only accomplish our goal, but to surpass it as well! Great job, everyone!  

Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross, pt. 2
lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.