...Negro Women in War Work
Enthusiastic Service of Colored Women in the Wartime Emergency ---Overcoming the Problems of Race, by Pure Patriotism---Work for the Red Cross---The Young Women's Christian Association---The Colored Hostess Houses and Rest Rooms for Soldiers---War Problems of Living---The Circle for Negro War Belief---Colored Women in the Loan Drives---Important Work in War Industries.
By ALICE DUNBAR-NELSON
When the world war began, even before the United States had entered the conflict, the women of this country were thrilled as women have ever been since wars began, with the desire to serve. As if in anticipation of the days soon to come when their own men would be sent forth to battle, they began to sew and knit and plan relief work for the men of other nations. It was but an earnest of the days to come, when every nerve of the nation would be strained to care for its own men.,
When, after that day in April, 1917, so filled with direful possibilities for the nation, the women realized that they were indeed to be called upon to give up their all, there was but one desire in the hearts of all the women of the country---to do their utmost for the men who were about to go forth to battle for an ideal. Overnight careless idlers were transformed into busy workers; social butterflies into earnest grubs; thoughtless girls into poised women; card clubs into knitting circles; aspirants to social honors into workers whose sole ambition was to be a definite factor in helpful service. Where there had been petty bickering, there was now a realization that this was -no time for the small things of life. The one common sorrow of loss of the men dearest to them, of seeing their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in the great conflict, welded together the women of the nation, and purged the dross of littleness from their souls by the fire of service.
One thing which served to strengthen and intensify the feeling of responsibility and seriousness of the women of the country was the fact that for the' first time in the history of the world, a nation at war recognized its women as a definite asset in the conduct of the war. Hitherto, her place had been that of those in the poem, "For men must work, and women must weep." Hers was the task of sending her men forth to return with their shields or upon them, while she remained at home to weep and perhaps make bandages against the return of her wounded men, As a factor in the war she was nil, save in those isolated and abortive cases in history where she became an Amazon or a Molly Pitcher.
But in April, 1917, all this was changed! The nation called, upon its women to do definite and constructive work, far-reaching and real. It called them not only to nurse the wounded, but to conserve the health of those at home; not only to give aid and comfort to the fighting men, but to preserve the health and morals of the women whom they must meet, love, and marry; not only to make bandages for the stricken soldiers, but to provide ambulances and even drive them; not only to give love and tears, but money, which they raised from every legitimate source; not only to cheer the men as they marched to the front, but to keep up the morale of those left at home; and to fan into a flame the sparks of patriotism in the breasts of those whom the country denied the privilege of bearing arms. With one stroke the Government organized every woman of the nation into an inclusive body, and mobilized the formerly overlooked greatest asset of the nation.
Into this maelstrom of war activity the women of the Negro race hurled themselves joyously. They asked no odds, remembered no grudges, solicited no favors, pleaded for no privileges. They came by the thousands, hands opened wide to give of love and service and patriotism. It was enough for them that their country was at war; it was enough for them that there was work to do. Centuries of labor had taught them the love of labor; a heritage of service had taught them the beauty of giving of themselves, and a . race record of patriotism and loyalty had imbued them inherently with the flaming desire to do their part in the struggle of their native land.
The problem of the woman of the Negro race was a peculiar one. Was she to do her work. independently of the women of the other race, or was she to merge herself into their organizations? There were separate regiments for Negro soldiers; should there be separate organizations for relief work among Negro women? If she joined relief organizations, such as the Red Cross Society, and worked with them, would she be assured that her handiwork would reach black hands on the other side of the world, or should she be great-hearted and give her service, simply for the sake of giving, not caring who was to be benefited? Could she be sure that when she offered her services she would be understood as desiring to be a help, and not wishing to be an associate? As is usually the case when any problem presents itself to the nation at large, the Negro faces a double problem should he essay a solution---the great issue and the lesser problem of racial adjustment to that issue.
However, the women of the race cut the Gordian knot with magnificent simplicity. They offered their services and gave them freely, in whatsoever form was most pleasing to the local organizations of white women. They accepted without a murmur the place assigned them in the ranks. They placed the national need before the local prejudice; they put great-heartedness and pure patriotism above the ancient creed of racial antagonism. For pure, unalloyed unselfishness of the highest order, the conduct of the Negro women of the United States during the world war stands out in splendid relief, a lesson to the entire world of what womanhood of the best type really means.
Colored Women and the Red Cross
At the very beginning of the war, the first organization to which the
women of the country naturally turned was the Red Cross Society. It was
to be expected that the colored woman, preeminently the best nurse in the
world, would necessarily turn to the Red Cross Society as a field in which
to exercise her peculiar gifts. Red Cross branches were organized in practically
every community in the country. Yet it is extremely difficult to tell just
what the contribution of the colored woman hag been to this organization.
We are told that, "The American Red Cross during the war enlisted workers
without regard to creed or color and no
In the Northern cities the colored women merged their identity in their Red Cross work with the white women, that is, in some Northern cities. In others, and in the South, they formed independent units, auxiliaries to the local branches presided over by the women of the other race. These auxiliaries sent hundreds of thousands of knitted garments to the front, maintained restaurants, did canteen service where they could; sent men from the local draft boards to the camps with comfort kits; in short, did all that could be done---all that they were allowed to do.
But the story of the colored woman and the Red Cross is not altogether a pleasant one. Unfortunately, her activities in this direction were considerably curtailed in many localities. There were whole sections of the country in which she was denied the privilege of doing canteen service. There were other sections in which canteen service was so managed as to be canteen service in name only. Local conditions, racial antipathies, ancient prejudices militated sadly against her usefulness in this work. To the everlasting and eternal credit of the colored woman be it said that, in spite of what might have been absolute deterrents, she persisted in her service and was not downcast in the face of difficulties.
The best part of the whole situation lies in the fact that in the local organizations of the Red Cross the Negro woman was the beneficiary. The Home Nursing classes and the classes in Dietetics not only served to strengthen the morale of the women engaged therein, but raised the tone of every community in which they were organized. This was shown during the influenza, epidemic of 1918, when a panic-stricken nation called upon its volunteer nurses of every race and color, and the women of the Red Cross were ready in response and in training.
Theodore Roosevelt has said, "All of us who give service and stand
ready for sacrifice, are the torch-bearers. We run with the torches until
we fall, content if we can then pass them to the hands of other runners."
If that be the case, the gray chapter of the colored nurses in overseas
service is a golden one. Early in 1918
The Service of Colored Nurses
Colored people throughout the country felt deep satisfaction over this authorization of the enrollment of colored nurses at the base hospitals and camps. Hundreds of competent colored nurses had registered their names for many months with the Nursing Division of the American Red Cross, in the hope of finally securing positions where their skill and experience could be utilized to proper advantage. These last were particularly gratified over the happy turn of affairs. At the convention of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses held at St. Louis, Missouri, a formal message of appreciation was sent to the War Department, the American Red Cross Society, and other agencies that had been instrumental in pushing their claims.
Mrs. Adah B. Thomas, R. N., president of the National Association of
Graduate Nurses, attached to the staff of the Lincoln Hospital and Home
in New York City, gave a typical expression of the sentiment of the colored
nurses and the colored people generally with reference to the admission
of colored women to this branch of service. She was the first to offer herself
for overseas service. Indianapolis, Indiana, sent a contingent for active
service at once. Elizabeth Miller of Meharry Medical College, Nashville,
These were but sporadic instances indicating the instant response to the long-waited call to service. Unfortunately, before any considerable change in existing circumstances surrounding this branch of service could be made, the Armistice was signed and history will never know what the colored woman might have done on the battlefields of France as a Red Cross Nurse. Rumor, more or less authentic, states that over 300 colored nurses were on the battlefields, though their complexion disguised their racial identity.
Young Women's Christian Association
Of the remedial agencies at work for the relief of humanity, and the shouldering of responsibility for the health, morals, and happiness of those also working for the relief of humanity, the Young Women's Christian Association in its operation among the colored girls, women, and men stands out pre-eminently. The reason for this is not hard to seek---the qualities of personality in the leader of this work among colored women, Miss Eva D. Bowles.
At the time the country faced the possibility of war, the National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association was confronted with the great responsibility of helping to safeguard the moral life of women and girls as affected by war conditions. Request came from the United States War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities and from the Young Men's Christian Association, for women workers to undertake work among girls in communities adjacent to army and navy training camps. Hence the formation of the War Work Council. It was organized in June, 1917, with a membership of 100, its function to help meet the special needs of girls and young women in all countries affected by the war. Allied with this was the Junior War Work Council, and the Patriotic League. The extension of these activities among colored girls and women was simultaneous, and one of the brightest chapters in the story of women in the war is the one which records how this work measured up to the responsibilities laid upon it.
The War Work Council of the Young, Women's Christian Association, recognizing
the loyalty and the need of the colored
There were opened up in the various camps fifteen hostess houses with complete staffs of colored women. These houses served a splendid purpose. When the War Department planned the great training camps it may not have remembered the women of the country in the stress of making up the army of men, or it may have thought that if it said that there were to be no women in the camps, there would be none. But every woman knows that as long as there is a path to the camps, that path the women will follow; be it on foot, by boat, in cars, trains, trolleys, motor cars, or on horseback; and if there be no trail, the women will blaze one. They must see if their men are ill, or living, and how they are living. If they are ill, they must get to them; if homesick, they must cheer them; if they are leaving for overseas, they must say good-bye to them. And if there are none of their own, they must be charitable enough to extend their good-will to the lonely and heart-hungry of others.
Hence the birth of the, Hostess House idea; a bit of home in the camps, a place of rest and refreshment for the women folks belonging to the soldiers; a sheltering chaperonage for the too-enthusiastic girl; a dainty supplement to the stern face of the camp-life of the soldiers; an information bureau for women and soldiers alike; a clearing-house for the social activities which included the men in camps and their women visitors.
As the colored troops came into the camps in large numbers, there was
an urgent appeal to meet the needs of their women. The first house to be
opened was at Camp Upton, when the "Buffaloes" (367th) were being
made into the crack regiment that it afterward became; Mrs. Hannah O. Smith,
the pioneer among the Hostess House leaders, going there to take charge
in the early part of November, 1917. Only great enthusiasm and faith in
the value of the work to be done could have brought about the results
In no very great while Hostess Houses in seven of the large camps were in operation and others soon followed. In some camps, where there was a definite surety, work was begun in the barracks. From many Southern camps came the request for the immediate erection of houses on an insufficient plan, but these plans were rejected. Finally, in the natural progress that came, the houses were erected, and used the same as other Hostess Houses. The relationship of the staff to the whole staff of the camp developed into an ideal, and all groups working under the general tutelage of the Young Women's Christian Association understood each other and had a better appreciation of mutual problems by working together.
The Y. W. C. A. and War Industries
As the war progressed, our colored girls were taken into almost every phase of the industrial field. It was then recognized early in the work that the success of the movement depended largely upon the correct interpretation of the colored girl to her employer and her white co-worker, and of a fair, just attitude of the white worker toward the colored girl. The war opened up many avenues of employment and service to the colored girls that bad not hitherto been her privilege to accept, principally in the industrial field, and with the opening up of these new lines of work, new problems were developed; consequently there came a demand for women to go into localities where factories were located, to make investigations as to working conditions, housing and recreational facilities; to create a better understanding between the employer and employee, and to assist in the opening up of new opportunities for work. As a result of this, an industrial worker was placed at such vital points as Detroit, St. Louis, Louisville, East St. Louis, Nitro, West Virginia; Penniman, Virginia, and Philadelphia, with one appointed for Baltimore, and an acute situation in Washington cared for.
Not only was there need for the care and protection of the girl in the
factory, but equally as much so for those in more social
Splendid Colored Women Workers
Not only in groups, but as individuals, the women felt the call of this great and important work, and responded from every walk of life. There were many offers of volunteer service, and Miss Mary Cromwell, of Washington, D. C., was one of those to offer. She spent the summer at Camp Dix as a volunteer information and emergency hostess, and completed her two months of observation and service, feeling that there was an imperative need for the workers to be able to differentiate between types of people and to deal with each type scientifically as well as sympathetically; to know enough about such things as Home Service, War Risk Insurance, Protective Agencies, and Allotments, to answer any question that might be asked.
Miss Cromwell was well fitted both by training and experience for her work. As an undergraduate at Ann Arbor, she spent her summers in New York doing special investigations for the Charity Organization Society. After graduating, she became a teacher in the Dunbar High School of Washington, and there she became interested in the Washington alleys, and opened a settlement in one of the most congested districts. Later, she received her "master's degree" from the University of Pennsylvania for special research work in psychology.
The arduous task of directing the work of the Industrial Section of the War Work Council was given over to Miss Mary E. Jackson, as Special Industrial Worker among Colored Women for the War Work Council. She was appointed in December, 1917. Prior to that time, Miss Jackson did statistical work in the Labor Department of the State of Rhode Island.
Associated with Miss Bowles in this War Work Council of colored women
as heads of departments in addition to Miss Mary E. Jackson, were Miss Crystal
Bird, girls' worker; Mrs. Vivian W. Stokes, who at one time was associated
with the National Urban
The field workers were Mrs. Adele Ruffin, South Atlantic Field, appointed in October, 1917. Mrs. Ruffin was a, teacher for some years at Kittrell College, and then secretary of the Y. W. C. A. branch at Richmond, Virginia. Miss May Belcher had charge of the South Central field and Miss Maria L. Wilder of the Southwestern field. Miss Elizabeth Carter was loaned to the Association Work by the Board of Education of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where she is the only colored teacher in the city. She is chairman of the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, and former president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She was placed in charge of the center in Washington, D. C.
Aside from these, there was a small army of club and recreation workers, Hostess House workers, industrial workers, and supervisors. Throughout the trying ordeal of directing the work of these assistants, and meeting the huge problems presented to the council, Miss Bowles remained perhaps the most effective and achieving, and at the same time, noiseless worker among the colored women in this country.
Women's Division, Council of National Defence
The Council of National Defense made the best organized attempt at mobilizing
the colored women of all the war organizations. In most Northern States
it was felt that separate organizations were superfluous, yet, on the other
hand, in many cases it was agreed that the work could be best served by
distinct units. There were many ramifications to the work of the Council
of Defense; registration of women, the weighing and measuring of babies,
the establishment of milk stations, health and recreations centers, supervision
Service in Various States
Two women in Florida stand out as doing yeoman service under the work of the Women's Committee of the Council of Defense. Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune,. who at Daytona, where her splendid school is situated, pushed forward the work of the Emergency Circle, Negro War Relief, and Miss Eartha White, the State Chairman of the Colored Woman's Section of the Council of Defense. Under her direction Florida was organized into excellent working units, with a particular concentration on a Mutual Protection League for Working Girls, who had taken up the unfamiliar work of elevator girls, bell girls in hotels, and chauffeurs. From this it was not far to a Union of Girls in Domestic Service, a by-product of war conditions that might well be continued in every city and hamlet in the country.
In Colorado, the women formed themselves into a Negro Women's Auxiliary
War Council, a Negro Women's League for Service, and a Red Cross Auxiliary,
all apparently working under the general management of the Council of Defense.
In Georgia, the president of the Georgia State Federation of Colored Women's
Clubs, Mrs. Alice Dugged Carey of Atlanta, reported organizations in Tallapoosa
County, a community canning center in Bremen, Coweta and Cobb counties,
with other organizations in every im-
Delaware did not have a separate organization of the Council of Defense, but the race was represented on the State Committee, and through them work was carried on. Mrs. Blanche W. Stubbs, president of the City Federation of Christian Workers, represented the women, and through her efforts the usual classes in food conservation were established at the Thomas Garrett Settlement, while a baby-weighing station was established, and a public nurse appointed.
The work in Indiana was carried on by a separate division, largely directed by the State President of Colored Women's Clubs, Mrs. Gertrude B. Hill. Kentucky, with no special woman's division, specialized on the protection of girls. The best work done in Louisiana was in the conservation of children through the weighing and measuring of babies, and in the effective registration of the women and the conservation of food.
Maryland did some splendid and effective work under the direction of Miss Ida Cummings, the State Chairman of the Colored Women's Committee. Practically every phase of the inclusive program mapped out by the Council of Defense was carried through, and a public-speaking class at the Bowie Summer School was most successful. Mississippi was organized by Miss Sallie Green, of Sardis, into eleven sections, corresponding with a similar organization among the white women, with good work done in child conservation at Jackson. Mrs. Victoria Clay Haley saw to it that Missouri did effective work. Colored women in North Carolina merged their war activities into one, and were most successful in training camp activities, the War Camp Community Service maintaining an interesting work at Charlotte. In Portland, Oregon, the Rosebud Study Club, as was the case with so many clubs, turned its attention to knitting and a practical study of food conservation. In Columbia, South Carolina, the Phyllis Wheatley Club opened a community center to be used as a clearing-house for war activities, welcoming all war organizations to work within its walls---Y. W. C. A., Red Cross, War Camp Community Service, and Council of Defense.
In Tennessee, Mrs. Cora Burke, of Knoxville had a successful
War Problems of Living
The problems of living, made by the war, which were solved sometimes in whole, sometimes in part by the Woman's Committee of National Defense, were many and various. For instance there was the shifting of the percentage of women in the rural population particularly in the South, the same condition which was met in the North in industrial plants. The employment of women in the cotton fields was as great a problem in its way as the mass of girlhood in the Northern mills. This employment of the women could not but react upon the child, with a consequent lowering of child vitality and raising of infant mortality. It was this condition which the Council of Defense tried to meet, and to forestall the inevitable problems of reconstruction. Hence the establishment of stations where babies were weighed, measured, tested, and placed under weekly supervision with competent nurses in charge. Perhaps the, various units did not always accomplish this end, but it was an ideal worth striving for.
"The Lure of the Khaki"
One of the fundamental problems of the War---no new one but suddenly
aggravated by the abnormal atmosphere and excitement accompanying the presence
of large numbers of soldiers---was that of the relationship of the young
girl and the soldier. What has been called "the lure of the khaki"
is but an expression on the part of the girl of her admiration for the spirit
of the men who are willing to give their lives, if need be, in the defense
of their country. How to win this feeling into the right channels was one
of the problems of the women in the war. It was met by two organizations,
the Young Women's Christian Association, of which we have spoken, and the
War Camp Community Service. It was the duty of the latter
This working together for a common purpose is resulting in building up a new community consciousness among our own people and in turning our thoughts to community projects of a permanent nature. Early in the war, work was started at Des Moines, Iowa. From that time, with the next two centers at Chattanooga, Tennessee, there were established in all sixty-six centers, located in Richmond, Newport News, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Petersburg and Peniman, Virginia; Nitro, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Williamsport, Germantown, Pennsylvania; San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth, Texas; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Washington, D. C.; Winston-Salem and Charlotte, North Carolina; Youngstown, Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; St. Paul, Minnesota; Orange, Jersey City, Burlington and Montclair, New Jersey; Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; Brooklyn and New York City; Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina; Detroit, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago, Illinois; with a special industrial worker at Chester, Pennsylvania, in the person of Mrs. Sarah Fernandis, of Baltimore, an experienced social worker.
The Circle for Negro War Relief
Time and time again it was borne in upon the inner consciousness
of the women of the race that though the various organizations for war relief
were doing all that was humanly possible for the soldiers of both races,
they were inadequate for all the needs of the Negro soldier and his family.
There were avenues open for more
The success of this Circle was immediate and phenomenal. Within a few months, sixty "units" were formed, extending from New York to Utah, to the far South, throughout the East, and middle West. Each unit dedicated itself in its particular locality to the relief of some vital need either in the Community or in some nearby camp. For instance Ambulance Unit of N.Y. gave a two-thousand dollar ambulance to Camp Upton. Unit No. 29 in St. Helena, South Carolina, not only did the usual war knitting and letter writing, but during the influenza epidemic formed itself into a health committee in cooperation with the Red Cross.
It would be difficult to give a complete report of the work of all the units. It forms a voluminous mass of interesting and illuminating statistics. The activities of the Circle ranged from the making of comfort kits to the furnishing of chewing gum to the soldiers; from the supplying of victrolas and records to the introduction of Theodore Roosevelt, Irvin Cobb and Needham Roberts at Carnegie Hall; from the giving of Christmas trees in Harlem to Southern dinners for the home-sick boys in Augusta, Georgia; from contributions of air-cushions from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to the issuing of educational pamphlets on the subject of the Negro soldier.
The Circle of Negro War Relief and the Crispus Attucks Circle organized
in Philadelphia in March, 1918, constituted the nearest approach to a Red
Cross or other organization of this character through which the colored
people cooperated during the war. The Crispus Attucks Circle did for Philadelphia
what the Circle of Negro War Relief did for New York. Its name fitly commemorated
the first Negro who gave up his life to help make "the world safe for
democracy." The one great project to which it directed all its
It may be objected and is frequently a source of controversy that separate hospitals are non-essential. Idle and fallacious reasoning!, They are needed in some places as schools, churches and social organizations are needed. A moot question, not to be thrashed out here; merely a remark in passing that the Crispus Attuck Circle saw a need, a vital need, and aimed to fill it. Certainly if every individual in the world saw the vital need in his own particular home circle or community and met that need with joyous service, there would be no more wars. This is what the women of the race have done since April, 1917.
As the Circle of Negro War Relief radiated its influence from New York City and the Crispus Attucks Circle concentrated its efforts in Philadelphia, so all over the United States various independent and private organizations for the relief of the soldier came into being. The Soldiers Comfort Unit of the War Service Center opened headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. It was one of the hundreds of similar organizations made up of women who instinctively got together to work for the great cause, and who, with a small beginning, found themselves a part of a big work with possibilities only limited by the ability to meet them. In February, 1918, Mrs. H. C. Lewis called together a small group of women who in a week's time supplied an urgent need for knitted garments at Newport News. From this beginning, made with a dozen women, the unit grew into an organization of a hundred and seventy-seven women and eventually connected itself with the Circle of Negro War Relief.
In the first days the work was almost exclusively for the comfort of the soldiers, but before many months had passed the scope of the organization had widened to a place of entertainment for the soldiers, visits to hospitals, visits to the nearby camp-Devens, with home-made pies and cakes; liberty sings on Sunday afternoons; lectures on social hygiene and special educational lectures; cooperation with "Company L" auxiliary, and with the Red Cross.
The officers of the Soldiers' Comfort Unit were: President, Miss M. L.
Baldwin; first vice-president, Mrs. C. H. Garland; second vice-president,
Mrs. Mary E. Rollins; recording secretary, Mrs.
Executive Committee---Mrs. Lucy Lewis, Chairman; Mrs. Wm. J. Williams, Mrs. Maud Cuney Hare, Mrs. Win. Cromwell, Mrs. Geo. B. Lewis, Mrs. Amos Mason, Mrs. Alice Casneau, Mrs. Jas Hinton, Mrs. Agnes Adams. Chairman Red Cross, Mrs. A. M. Gilbert; Chairman House Committee, Mrs. Geo. Drummond; Chairman Hospitality Committee, Mrs. Nellie Brown Mitchell.
After a year of work the Soldiers' Comfort Unit found itself facing a still larger field, the returning soldiers coming from scenes of horror and devastation with problems and needs. Like all of the war organizations of the women of the race, they found their work bad only just begun.
Woman's Auxiliary of the 15th Regiment
In the early days of the old Fifteenth New York Regiment, when colored men were volunteering as members of the military organization which was to become the first New York State Guard composed of colored men, it occurred to a thoughtful woman of the race, a New Yorker by birth, that earnest colored women banded together could be a potent factor in the life of the regiment.
The idea was carried out, and the Woman's Auxiliary, Fifteenth Regiment, was organized May 2, 1917, with one hundred members. It received its credentials from Colonel William Hayward, May 9. The first definite work undertaken was the investigation of the cases of men whose dependents claimed exemption for them. This was an important factor in the perfect recruiting of the regiment and won commendation from the commanding officer and his official staff.
It is the exclusive privilege of the colored people to adopt the slogan,
"No Color Line." It would seem a strange commentary on the magnanimity
of the American people to note that those who are the first to adopt the
policy of no discrimination are the ones against whom that discrimination
is most often practiced. We have noted how in every instance where organizations
of colored women have been formed for War Relief there is a definite policy
of "No Color Line. " Now and then the fact was proclaimed publicly
in sign or in motto, as in Boston and by the Josephine Gray Colored
Colored Women in the Loan Drives
But not only in the definite work of relief, in knitting, sewing, care of dependents of soldiers or in the more spectacular forms of war work were the women engaged. The raising of the sinews of War was a problem which the United States faced. Every man, woman, and child in the country needed to be taxed to the utmost. How to make the giving a pleasing privilege rather than a doleful duty devolved upon the women of the country. Five Liberty Loan drives, six Red Cross drives, the constant Thrift Stamp. Drive, and a tremendous United War Camp Drive, wherein uncountable billions were spoken of airily, staggered the average mind both in prospect and retrospect. But Americans learned to think in big figures. Every one got the habit of saving; and the purse-strings of America were permanently opened for the relief. of the needs of the nation and to aid needy peoples overseas.
This reaction on the national conscience is of inestimable value. Charity will never again be the perfunctory thing that it was before the Great War. Penury in giving will be frowned down upon as immoral. And this quickening of the national conscience, this loosening of the national purse, is due in no small measure to the fervor and zeal with which the women of the nation threw themselves into the campaigns for filling the war coffers.
As was to be expected, the colored women were foremost in all the financial campaigns. The National Association of Colored Women organized at the very beginning of the war to cooperate in every way with the Woman's Council of Defense. Mrs. Philip North Moore, President of the National Council of Women, says, "No women worked harder than the women of the National Association of Colored Women."
Mrs. Mary B. Talbert, President of the National Association of Colored
Women, which has a membership of a hundred thousand, is authority for the
statement that in the Third Liberty Loan the colored women of the United
States raised about five million dollars. Savannah, Georgia, alone raised
a quarter of a million dollars. Poor colored women in a tobacco factory
of Norfolk, Virginia, subscribed
The National War Savings Committee appointed colored women to conduct campaigns for the War Savings Committee. One of the most notable of these appointments by the Secretary of the Treasury was that of Mrs. Laura Brown, of Pittsburgh. She maintained an office from which whirlwind campaigns emanated, and set a standard of efficiency of organization not easily equaled.
War Work Among Negro Children
One of the most effective ways of reaching the people of any community is through the children. Hence the work of the colored teachers in reaching the race through the children under their care, has been in the highest degree effectual. Throughout the South, in the middle Atlantic states in which there is a separate school system, in the Middle West, and in the Southwest; in public schools, in endowed institutions, in colleges---in short wherever colored teachers are employed to teach colored children, there was a constant and beneficial influence being exerted in the entire race through its children. This influence made for loyalty, patriotism unquestioning and devoted; and particularly did this influence raise the quota of the race's contribution to the National war chest. Colored schools taught by colored teachers sent in every community a pro rata to the Thrift Stamp, Red Cross, United War Campaign, and Liberty Loans in considerable excess of the natural percentage. It would have been easy to have failed just here with the children; it was difficult in many communities to overcome the natural obstacles. But they were overcome. The amounts raised in all National drives through the colored women teachers working with their children, are a monumental credit to the women of the race.
The Negro Exodus of 1917-18
Such a move as this was more important than appears on the face of the
bald statement of the fact. In the Northern cities directly affected by
the exodus of Southern Negroes in 1917 and 1918, a byproduct of the war,
there was suffering, intense and widespread, among the Negroes suddenly
thrust into a climate and conditions for which their life in the South had
given them no preparation. Some cities, notably Detroit, met the situation
with a whole-hearted
The tide of migration swept northward, and broke in a huge wave, beginning at Chester, Pennsylvania, in the East, St. Louis and East St. Louis in the Middle West, and Los Angeles in the West, the crest of the wave breaking in Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago. It was a situation which the war had inevitably brought about---the increase in munition plants and shipyards, with their need for more help, and consequent high wages; it was helped by nature---the bollweevil devastating the little which the, Southern laborers owned in cotton-field and home; it was fostered by the growing unrest and bitterness due to lack of economic and educational opportunities and to injustice dealt at home. When the true history of the great Negro Exodus of 1917-1918 shall be written, it will prove as fascinating and as peculiar in its psychological ramifications as the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Not the least interesting and splendid is the part played by the colored
women in those cities where the crest of the wave broke. Hunger and privation,
even in the face of the big wages paid by the huge war plants, stared the
newcomers in the face, for there was not always work enough, and illness
laid off many of those who had made places for themselves in the industrial
elysium. The housing conditions, or rather the lack of them, constitute
one of the blackest chapters in the history of the movement. Here is where
the Christian fortitude and love of the colored women who lived in those
cities shine forth resplendently. They gave up their own homes to the newcomers;
they endured discomforts and inconveniences to help the women thus pitifully
thrust into these adverse conditions; they taught the women from the South
the art of coping with the northern
Maintaining the Negro Morale
Rumors, many and various, of the disaffection of the Negro, of his lack of patriotism , of the influence upon him of so-called German propaganda, of the need of stimulating his patriotic fervor, swept through the country in the spring and summer of 1918. Just how much of this so-called propaganda was German, and how much American, and how much of it rumors which had their rise in hysterical fear, it is not given us to know. Why there was a loss of patriotic interest in certain localities was not hard to discover. Here and there studied indifference on the part of certain organizations toward the well-meant efforts of the colored women in attempting to help in war relief; labor conditions; the old, old stories of prejudice and growing bitterness in the labor situation; rumors of increased lynching activities---from all these a lukewarnmess towards the conduct of the war had grown up in-various cities. And it was here again that the women met a difficult problem and helped to solve it.
Again we look to the army of women teachers, and, their subtle and pervasive influence over the youth of the race, and through children over their parents. It would be difficult to measure the service of these women in this particular direction.
Here and there, however, there was a more spectacular appeal made to the patriotic emotions of the race through pageants, demonstrations, or mass meetings. In some cases, the schools through school pageants and plays appealed directly to the patriotic emotions; plays written by Negro authors were staged, commencement exercises became rallying grounds of calls to the warmth of the race in its love for the nation.
Colored Women in War Industries
War has a way of forcing expedients. From 1914 until November,
1918, the economic balance of the nation was sadly upset, first by the stopping
of the tide of immigration from Europe, second by the exodus of the Negro
to the North, third by the
"For generations colored women have been working in the fields of the South. They have been the domestic servants of both the South and the North, accepting the positions of personal service open to them. Hard work and unpleasant work has been their lot, but they have been almost entirely excluded from our shops and factories. Tradition and race prejudice have played the largest part in their exclusion. The tardy development of the South and the failure of the colored woman to demand industrial opportunities have added further values. Clearly, also, two hundred years of slavery and fifty years of industrial boycott in both the North and the South, following the Civil War, have done little to encourage or to develop industrial aptitudes. For these reasons, the colored women have not entered the ranks of the industrial army in the past."
But war expediency, for a time at least, partially opened the door of industry to them. it was an experiment and like all experiments, it fell against problems, and those problems were met by the earnest consideration of several agencies. We have already spoken of the splendid work of this department of the Young Women's Christian Association, under the direction of Miss Mary E. Jackson of Providence, Rhode Island. In June, 1918, a joint committee was formed in New York to study the employment of colored women in that city and its environs. Serving on that committee were representatives from practically all the philanthropic organizations in the city, and the result of its labors through two investigators, Mrs. Gertrude McDougald (colored) and Miss Jesse Clarke (white), were given publicity in an interesting pamphlet, from which the above paragraph was quoted. It is a significant fact that the colored woman in industry in a short time had reached the point where she merited trained investigation.
"Come out of the kitchen, Mary," was the slogan of the colored woman in war time. She doffed her cap and apron and donned her overalls. Some States, such as Maryland and Florida, specialized in courses in motor mechanics and automobile driving.
The munition factories took the girls in gladly. Grim statistics prove that their scale of wages was definitely lower than a man's doing the same work, and sad to say a, considerable fraction below that of white girls in the same service, although Delaware reports some very high-priced, skilled ammunition testers, averaging seven to twelve dollars a day. The colored girls blossomed out as switch board operators, stock takers, wrappers, elevator operators, subway porters, ticket choppers, track-walkers, trained signallers, yard-walkers. They went into every possible kind of factory devoted to the production of war materials, from the most dangerous posts in munition plants to the delicate sewing in aeroplane factories. Colored girls and colored women drove motor trucks, unloaded freight cars, dug ditches, handled hardware around ship ways and hardware houses, packed boxes. They struggled with the discomforts of ice and fertilizing plants. They learned the delicate intricacies of all kinds of machines, and the colored woman running the elevator or speeding a railroad on its way by signals was a common sight.
Just what the effect of this marvelous influx of colored women into the industrial world would have upon the race was a problem viewed with considerable interest. Pessimists predicted a sociological and psychological upheaval in the ranks of the women of the race. A strange thing about it was that there was no perceptible racial disintegration and the colored women bore their changed status and higher economic independence with much more equanimity than white women on a corresponding scale of living. The reason for this may perhaps be found in the fact that the colored woman bad a heritage of 300 years of work back of her. Her children were used to being left to shift for themselves; her home was used to being cared for after sundown. The careful supervision of the War Work Council and the Council of Defense over the health and hours of the woman in industry averted the cataclysm of lowered vitality and eventual unfitness for maternity.
The possible economic effect of this entrance into the unknown fields
of industry on the part of the colored woman will be that when pre-war conditions
return and she is displaced by men and is forced to make her way back into
domestic service, the latter will be placed on a strictly business basis
and the vocation of
We have touched lightly the Negro woman in the world war. Lightly perforce, because of her innate modesty and reticent carelessness in proclaiming her own good deeds. She emerges from the war more serious-minded, more responsible, with a higher opinion of her own economic importance; with a distinct and definite aim and ambition to devote her life to the furthering of the cause for which her men died on Flanders fields. She has served the Red Cross at home and begged to serve it abroad; she has probed to the depths the real meaning of the word Christianity; she has formed a second line of defense at home; she has learned the real value of community service, and what it means to give of her time, means, and smiles to the weary soldiers passing through her town; she has organized special circles of war relief on her own initiative, and given all that she could afford, from the homely apple and sandwich and cigarette to an ambulance for service overseas.
She has given regally, munificently of her little to help fill the national war chest, and when there was no more in her slender purse she has given her time and persuasiveness to induce others to follow her example. She has endowed and maintained Hostess Houses and helped support the wives and children of the men in service. When disaffection threatened, she fostered patriotism and overcame propaganda. with simple splendid loyalty. She gave up ease and clear skies for the dangers and hardships of death-dealing labor. She shut her eyes to past wrongs and present discomforts and future uncertainties. She stood large-hearted, strong-handed, clear-minded, splendidly capable, and did, not her bit, but her best, and the world is better for her work and her worth.
Chapter XXVIII. Social Welfare Agencies
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