Nurses of the Red Cross

  • A New Hampshire Red Cross Nurse is pictured in 1925 traversing the lonely roads of New Hampshire on snowshoes with her medical supplies and a desire to serve those in need. Spain—Concord Public Library

For the Monitor
Published: 2/26/2020 11:13:45 AM

There are people in this world that derive great pleasure through the selfless act of simply helping other people. Sometimes these unique individuals are placed at risk themselves in the act of helping others. Regardless of the outcome, many people in need have benefited greatly from people that simply want to help other people.

As the Civil War raged, we find one of these truly unique individuals on the field of battle administering her medical skills to the wounded soldiers. Many soldiers died with their last glimpse of this world being the kind and caring face of a nurse doing the best that she could do in the worst imaginable conditions. The caring person that I refer to today is Clarissa Harlowe Barton, commonly known as Clara Barton. You might recognize her name because she was a true hero during the Civil War and supported soldiers that needed medical attention, a caring hand or someone to listen to their request to send a message to the family that they would never again see. Clara Barton administered her medical skills as well as her skills as a beautiful person to many men that perished on the field of battle. Clara’s eyes did not see the blue or the gray uniform that a man near death wore, she simply saw the need to comfort. It was this wonderful, caring person that continued to help those in need after the war with her nursing skills as well as her desire to help as many people as possible. It was with this thought in mind that Clara Barton established the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881.

In the years following the establishment of the Red Cross, there were many young women that were also inspired by the founder of the American Red Cross. These women desired to help those in need with their skills. The Red Cross further developed during World War I by providing care to American soldiers and many civilian war victims. Each and every war and conflict in the following years find the caring nurses from the Red Cross deployed beside the American soldiers providing the same gentle care that Clara provided on the Civil War battlefields years before.

After World War I, when the troops returned to Concord, there were Red Cross nurses practicing their skills here in New Hampshire. During the 1920s there were 23 Red Cross public health nurses providing care to the residents of New Hampshire. The war was over but the need was still great in the communities around New Hampshire as well as across the country.

The Red Cross nurses in the greater Concord community provided care for everyone in need with much emphasis placed on children and women. A Red Cross nurse in Concord would provide baby information classes for a dozen young mothers with their babies attending too. The nurses would provide training on caring for children, nutrition and hygiene. They would also provide training on women’s health as well as listening to the concerns from the young mothers. As the children grew the Red Cross nurse would monitor the health and provide constant advice relating to needs.

When the children entered school, the area Red Cross nurse would weigh the children and keep an eye on general health, providing nutritional milk and hot lunches each day to keep the young children well. Wherever there was a Red Cross nurse, the children in the community benefited very well.

The Red Cross nurses in the Concord area held a New Year’s dance and motion picture benefit to raise money in the year 1925. The proceeds collected by the Red Cross nurses helped to pay the hospital expense for a 16-year-old girl that was in need of life-saving surgery.

Wherever a New Hampshire Red Cross nurse was found she was ready to travel about the community from home to home administering her aid to those in need. Regardless of the patient being rich or poor, young or old, the nurse provided the same loving service and only accepted payment if the money was available. Where there was no money to be paid to the nurse, the services were provided free of charge.

The winter months in the Concord area would find an increase in illness requiring the local Red Cross nurses to travel more frequently over greater distances. The roads were lonely and traveled at all hours of the night, sometimes by cars, horses or old wagons. Many a dark night, a Red Cross nurse would walk the roads in the greater Concord community with nothing but her medical supplies, a warm jacket and hat, while on snowshoes. Her most important possession was her will and desire to help those in need.

As the years progressed and the Great Depression continued, the Red Cross nurses continued to provide a very valuable service. Educating the public was certainly very important, for this could ward off future illnesses and steadily improve the general health of the community. With proper hygiene and nutrition, the defects of teeth, eyes and throat were sometimes remedied before they started. Education and nourishment were a daily conversation held between the nurses and the community members. With many patients in the community, the Red Cross nurses would train members of the family to provide the most efficient and accurate care for those in need within their own households.

The brave young nurses traveling the winter roads of New Hampshire were constantly supported by the American Red Cross as the same services provided in Concord were also provided across the country and onto additional battlefields. Each nurse reported to a Red Cross chapter that was developed from a wartime organization to a peacetime working unit. The Red Cross  chapters were supported by the National Red Cross that was organized to relieve and prevent disaster in both war and peace. During the time of peace, the priority always remained the health, education and care of the families in each and every community.

The American Red Cross has certainly adapted since Clara Barton founded the organization almost 140 years ago. This adaptation continues to benefit those in need with training and certifications, numerous lifesaving services and programs as well as the continuance of the first nationwide civilian blood program that started in the 1940s and today provides more than 40% of the blood products in our country.

When I think of Clara Barton, I think back to a woman with a strong desire to help those in need. Whether witnessing the horrors of war or traveling the snow-covered roads of New Hampshire on a cold February night while on snowshoes, the desire to help remains the same. This world is a better place because of the American Red Cross nurses that have served both past and present.

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