The Toledo Red Cross

In the height of World War II, contribution to the war effort was at an all-time high, especially for women.  More women than ever were entering the industrial field, working in agriculture, and receiving a nursing education.  As these roles were being filled, though, volunteers were continuing their work.  The Red Cross was a pillar of support in war relief – serving as nursing aides, running blood drives, and providing materials to ensure the health and safety of the men and women at war.  So, as the country needed women to enter the workforce, it needed the help of volunteers just as much. This effort, however, was also evident here in Toledo; The Toledo Chapter of The Red Cross was engaged with the war effort from the very beginning, working tirelessly, and unpaid, to ensure that the people of Toledo were safe and secure.  This effort resulted in peace during wartime, allowing the stresses of the hospitals to be alleviated and become stronger than ever.


The Toledo Blade


Margaret Waite

The impact that Toledo women had as Red Cross volunteers during the war was insurmountable.  In fact, they had always been prepared since the beginning. In 1941, before the United States had entered World War II, a Disaster Relief Preparedness for the Red Cross Association was enacted and enforced by the Toledo Chapter; multiple, women-run groups also pledged to join the efforts when and if they were needed, including but not limited to The American Association of University Women, the Junior League, and the Toledo Council of Catholic Women.  The collectiveness of community support during dire times represented the value that women put into their country.  Even before the United States was involved, they were on board to ensure that community would feel safe and taken care of.  

The efforts of the Red Cross in Toledo went beyond typical volunteers by 1942. When the United States entered the war, the Toledo Chapter brought the Gray Lady Corps into Mercy Hospital. Led by Margaret Waite, the Gray Lady Corps provided non-medical services to patients as volunteers during World War II.  Although this was a service offered across the country, Toledo valued its nurses, doctors, and hospitals so much that they brought in specialized volunteers. When the country entered peacetime in 1946, the Corps was withdrawn.

Outside of hospitals, however, Red Cross volunteers were still doing their work. In order to get those who hadn't been solicited in the war effort to contribute, the Toledo Chapter set up stations around the city to suggest donating to the war fund.  This was not only a successful tactic, but also an empathetic one.  The Red Cross understood that not everyone could contribute their time to the war effort like others had.  This is especially true when one considers that volunteers went unpaid.  Although there were hundreds-of-thousands of women who were entering the workforce, or the military, to help defend the country, there were also women who donated their efforts without pay.  With this in mind, and with the country's safety on the line, many passerbys donated money at the war funding stations.

Volunteers in hospitals also extended beyond The Red Cross, however. For fourteen Toledo girls from Glenwood School, joining The Red Cross wasn’t an option because of their inability to meet the standard age requirement. Rather than accepting their rejection, however, the group of friends created their own club which they titled the Girls’ Activity Friendship Society (or GAFS).  By establishing themselves as motivated, forward-thinking, and committed to volunteerism, the GAFS was accepted into Robinwood Hospital to volunteer for one afternoon per week.  During their shift, they assisted in making bandages along with any other tasks that would help alleviate the pressures of the overworked regular and volunteer staff.  The work of these young women was not only inspiring for the youth, but they also exemplified the influence that the work of The Red Cross had on the community.

The Toledo Red Cross was also involved overseas.  As the need for more women in the Army hospitals during WWII increased, and as recruitment levels remained low, the Red Cross was eventually invited to extend its service as nurses' aids to the men on the battlefield in 1943.  Women from Toledo volunteered in the European Theater, the Pacific Theater, as well as in Hawaii.  Suzanne Schroeder, a Toledo volunteer, responded "a thousand times YES" when asked by her parents whether or not she enjoyed her time overseas.