The Formation of The Miami County Chapter of the American Red Cross
“The American Red Cross is the development of the idea in the mind of a noblewoman that loving one’s neighbor means helping him in time of trouble and relieving or decreasing his suffering and pain in sickness, accident or misfortune.”
~ Peru Journal 4/24/1917
It is mid-July of 1917 and a large crowd swarms the lawn on the West side of the Miami County, Indiana Courthouse. Broadway is jammed with traffic and impassable. It is evening. Girls walk among the crowd dressed in Red Cross uniforms. They are gathering free will offerings from the assembled crowd. The entertainment for this first fundraiser of the local Red Cross is the daredevil Billie Mars who is also known as “The Human Fly”. He is going to scale up the side of the Court House. Large searchlights are shining on the side of the building where he will perform the stunt. Excitement ripples through the crowd as they wait for the 8 pm climb to begin. Some saw him earlier in the day when he scaled up the side of the First Baptist Church but this evening’s crowd is much larger and hundreds of people are present. The event will raise one hundred much-needed dollars for the war work of the local Red Cross. What follows is an explanation of that work during the First World War at the national and local level including short biographies of the people who were responsible for the formation of the Miami County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
When June 1917 arrived the newspaper in Peru, Indiana announced that a large meeting was to be held at the Wallace Theater. It would be a brainstorming session to come up with Red Cross fundraising ideas. Appeals began appearing in the local paper for fundraising events. Late in June a market, social, and parcel post-sale was given as a benefit for the Red Cross in Chili and fifty dollars was raised. Mid-July the Red Cross hosted the aforementioned “Exhibition of The Human Fly” and used the money raised from that event along with donations to get their hospital garments and surgical dressings committees started. The women of the local Red Cross chapter worked with the Peru Journal and published one edition to raise funds for the Red Cross which netted $250. County Commissioners appropriated $12,000 in $1000 monthly installments. John Miller donated a cow to be auctioned off to raise funds for the Red Cross and the Red Cross women made a dinner at the auction event. A cash donation was made to the Miami County Red Cross from employees of “John Robinson Ten Great Shows”. The money was collected by the boss harness maker. The Miami County Red Cross put on a play about the Red Cross’s work in France. Another play was put on titled “Somewhere in France” to raise money for the Red Cross at the Miami Methodist Episcopal Church by the youth group. Mrs. J.H. Shirk hosted a tea to raise money for the Red Cross. Throughout 1917 the local papers continue to offer public support of the Red Cross work. Appeals were placed in Peru papers to not spread false rumors that Red Cross donations were being misused, for not only was the Miami County Red Cross hardworking about raising funds for their war work, but they were diligent with monitoring the use of the money. In addition, all the people involved were unpaid volunteers. The newspapers also printed letters soldiers had written home about how much help the Red Cross was overseas to the troops. By the end of 1917, the Miami County Red Cross announced its membership totaled 6,704.
Written and submitted by Mary Rohrer Dexter
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