Junior Red Cross Manual Training event in Detroit Michigan

The Kid Army in World War I

(Frank Leslies Weekly/June 21, 1919 – by Elizabeth M. Heath) Nine million boys and girls found citizenship through the war and made their claim good by national service. Early in the game they demanded an active part in the business that was absorbing their elders. As the war comes to an end, their organization covers every State. Their service flag, the Junior Red Cross banner, hangs in 60,000 schoolhouses —in the one-room rural school in the lonely Ozarks as in the swarming high schools of New York City. Sixty thousand Junior auxiliaries, organized in 4,000 chapters of the Red Cross, stand ready to deliver the goods on a national order, whether it be to turn out thousands of garments and pieces of furniture from their school workshops, to collect tons of secondhand clothing, to earn a million or two dollars by the ingenious methods known only to childhood, to clean up a town and make substantial profit on the accumulated waste, or to run a country-wide competition in deep breathing and scrubbing behind their ears.

Junior Red Cross Poster

Junior Red Cross Poster

Since time was, children have wanted a share in the events that absorbed their elders’ interest. In the year 1212 of the topsy-turvy Middle Ages, when the Great Adventure centered around the rescue of Jerusalem, 50,000 children started on a crusade of their own. That gallant wave of singing, white-clad youth was pitifully broken against human treachery and natural obstacles, but the spirit that prompted it is the heritage of all children. In the chaotic months that succeeded April. 1917, boys and girls felt that once more great doings were afoot in which they had no place. Father, mother, big brother and sister, even cook— everybody was busy winning the war. Well, they would win the war too. “What can we do?” they asked insistently. No one answered. Quite plainly it was the children’s business to go to school, to study history and geography and other useful things that would make them good citizens when they grew up. Then came the Junior Red Cross to prove that national service was also education, and that the children’s enthusiasm for it would put new vigor into every study in the regular curriculum. Convinced that it meant neither overwork nor neglect of studies, and that it would supply an outlet for the children’s enthusiasm, parents and school authorities gave the scheme their support, and the simple machinery of the Junior Red Cross was soon in running order.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Native Alaskan Junior Red Cross in Juneau

Native Alaskan Junior Red Cross in Juneau

Each school joined as a unit, winning its membership by raising a school fund equal to 25 cents for each member or by making a satisfactory pledge of service to the parent chapter. Red Cross activities were incorporated into the regular program, but their range and number were an individual matter with each auxiliary. A special committee representing all the school interests of the community was the connecting link with the Red Cross chapter, and kept the schools informed of the work they could do for the Red Cross. Every part of the country was controlled and kept in line with Red Cross policy by National Headquarters, working through the fourteen divisional organizations. Since the beginning no change has been made in this scheme of organization. That the intermeshing of two great systems —the schools and the Red Cross—has been so successful is due to hard work and enthusiasm on both sides. In general the children were asked to make war supplies instead of the usual “models” in their sewing and woodwork classes, to help as they could in chapter activities and to raise enough money to support their own work.

Junior Red Cross Band

Junior Red Cross Band

In the first four months of 1918 they over-subscribed their allotment of 255,000 refugee garments by many thousands. Ten of the fourteen Red Cross divisions reported 180,085 knitted articles as the children’s total for the school year 1917-1918. Nine divisions totaled 588,353 hospital garments and supplies. Most of this sewing was done in school classes and workmanship took a voluntary upward leap to meet Red Cross standard of perfection.

Early in March, 1918, the boys of the Junior Red Cross received a hurry-up order to furnish the new Red Cross Convalescent houses, just being erected in connection with certain military hospitals. Before the end of June 4, 104 pieces of furniture were packed ready for shipment.

“Call up the Juniors!” has become a slogan with harassed chapter officials. They have served as messengers, odd-jobbers, stenographers, file clerks, sorters of salvage and collectors of old clothes— not in haphazard fashion but in orderly relays, working on schedule time. Their enthusiasm for parades and pageants is forever undiminished. Many a chapter workroom has drawn its full equipment of tables, benches, cabinets, packing cases and knitting needles from school carpentry shops.

Three million dollars is the estimated sum already raised by the Juniors to finance their work. Remember that in the penniless years below fifteen, a quarter looks as big as a dollar. About twelve million dollars’ worth of energy and perseverance and self-sacrifice went into the raising of the school fund. It grew by pennies saved from the movies and the candy stand or earned by minding the baby and chopping kindling. It grew, too, by thousand dollar checks, the profit on such enterprises as school shops and bazaars, vegetable markets, entertainments or the collection and sale of a city’s waste materials. The school fund has taught millions of boys and girls more about the value of money and about ways of earning and saving it than they will ever learn in their arithmetics.

Sewing for the Soldiers in 1917

Sewing for the Soldiers in 1917

The Junior Red Cross was born of the war emergency but it will not pass with the signing of peace. Fundamentally it has nothing to do with the war. It is based upon the desire of young people to have a part in the life going on around them, to share the conscious purpose of their race and nation, to do things that they can see are of real use. Already the children are adjusting their work to the new problems. Recently the school auxiliaries entered a competition in habits of personal health. Boys and girls are striving for the highest average in keeping themselves clean, in getting the proper amount of sleep and food and fresh air. Incidentally they are laying the foundations for greater physical efficiency—better public health. Knowing that the end of the war has not erased the awful need of devastated Europe, they are still making refugee garments. They have promised 10,000 tables and 30,000 chairs to help furnish the rebuilt villages of France.

In America’s sixty thousand schools the children are organized for service. They are growing up in the idea of social responsibility. They understand it, not as an abstract but in terms of actual work and accomplishment. This organization that can bring a national purpose to the door of an isolated mountain school, that can mobilize millions of children in thirty days for a national effort, finds its strength in its adaptability to the terms of child life everywhere. It has merely helped the children of America to hitch their school work to the supreme purposes of the present hours. The resulting breadth of vision and sympathy, the clarity of purpose, is something never before dreamed of. It is hard to estimate what it will mean to America in the next fifty years, for the Kid Army is learning its future good citizenship at first hand—by being good citizens in the present.

Our collection, America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers, addresses a topic and period that continues to be of the widest interest and importance to scholars, students, and the general public – America in the World War I Era. Camp newspapers make important original source material—much of it written by soldiers for soldiers—readily available for research.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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