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The First Gray Ladies


The Tucson chapter of the Red Cross was founded in 1916, just four years after Arizona became a state. At the time, a civil war was raging in Mexico and Pancho Villa was conducting raids along the U.S. border. The Arizona National Guard was called out and troops were dispatched to towns along the border.

A group of women joined together to provide sandwiches, coffee and cookies for the soldiers. They also sent hundreds of magazines to Fort Huachuca, Camp Steven Little in Nogales and Camp Harry K. Jones in Douglas. Their “war work” was funded through rummage sales, cake sales and barbecues.

The women called themselves the Red Cross and set their annual dues at $5 per member. Apparently, they knew nothing of the National Red Cross and, according to the Tucson Daily Citizen, were the only Red Cross group formed without the sanction of the national organization.

However, when the Tucson women became aware of the national Red Cross, they applied as a chapter. They were accepted immediately when the headquarters group in San Francisco learned that Tucson was well financed and had two railroad cars full of bandages, dressings, socks and scarves, and $28,000 in the bank.

During World War I the Tucson chapter of the Red Cross set up a canteen called the Hunger Hut at the Tucson railroad station to serve soldiers travelling east to embarkation to Europe.

Following the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the Red Cross provided aid to returning veterans poisoned by mustard gas and to individuals suffering from tuberculosis who sought better health in Tucson’s dry climate.

The local Tucson chapter also helped raise the $4,000 necessary to begin construction of a Tucson Veteran’s Hospital.

A little more than a decade after the war, the Red Cross organized the Gray Lady program. In Tucson, volunteers already were working at the Veteran’s Hospital, visiting patients, writing letters and planning parties. The Gray Lady program gave them formal training.

The graduation ceremony for the first class of Gray Ladies commemorated in this photograph almost was jinxed by being held on the 13th of the month.

Regional Red Cross manager A.L. Schafer, en route by train from the West Coast to participate in the ceremony was delayed by a snowstorm in Yuma.

The ceremony had to be rescheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dr. S.H. James, the medical officer in charge of the hospital and master of ceremonies for the event, radioed all the wards announcing the change and sent back the musicians to the University of Arizona until the afternoon hour.

As it happened, Sir Harry Lauder, the famous Scottish tenor, arrived on the same train as Schafer and graciously agreed to perform at the ceremony. News of Lauder’s performance spread quickly and drew many to the event.

At graduation, Lauder sang and speeches were given by Dr. James and A.L. Schafer. Then Dr. Meade presented each lady with a service pin for having completed 50 hours of volunteer service and having attended 12 hours of lectures by the hospital staff.

The women considered the event a huge success, and many more graduations followed.

— Photo courtesy Red Cross, Tucson Chapter; research by Jane Eppinga. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

One comment

  1. Interestimg, as Yuma’s only recorded snowfall (going back to at least when official weather records started in 1919) totaled a massive inch and a half in the early hours of December 12, 1932.

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