Helping in Britain: The American Women’s War Relief Fund.

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Shortly after hostilities broke out in August 1914, a group of American women married to British men met to discuss how they might assist the war effort in Britain.

The organization they formed, the American Women’s War Relief Fund, sent seven ambulances to the front (priced at about $20,000 each) as well as established two hospitals for wounded (the American Women’s Hospital for Officers in London and a hospital at Oldway House in Paignton, Devon, which converted the residence of Paris Eugene Singer, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune). The hospitals were turned over to the Red Cross in January 1918. By the time the Devon hospital closed in March 1919, it had cared for 7000 servicemen. The American Women’s Hospital for Officers became Red Cross Hospital No. 22 and also closed in 1919.

patients-no22

Patients at Red Cross Hospital No. 22. Nat. Library of Medicine, NIH

In addition, the fund’s Economic Relief Committee helped women and girls facing hardship because of job loss or family members serving in the war. The committee established workrooms that produced clothing and socks for residents and staff of hospitals and other institutions.

The U.S.-Born Organizers
Ava Willing Astor
(first wife of John Jacob Astor; later married Lord Ribbesdale)

Lady Randolph Churchill (aka Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill)

Viscountess Harcourt (aka Mary Ethel Burns, a niece of J. P. Morgan). She also organized and ran two London clubs for American Army and Red Cross nurses. Her brother, Walter S. M. Burns, served as treasurer of the fund.

Lady Henry (aka Julia Lewisohn). Lady Henry lost her only son in the war. Her 1927 will provided a $1M bequest to provide scholarships for Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge University exchange students.

Lou Henry Hoover (future First Lady)

Lady Lowther (aka Alice Blight). Lady Lowther was also involved in an effort to assist women who found themselves stateless as a result of the war.

Duchess of Marlborough (aka Consuelo Vanderbilt; niece by marriage of Lady Randolph Churchill, above)

Ruth Bryan Owen (daughter of William Jennings Bryan, later Florida congresswoman as well as the first female U.S. ambassador, who served in Denmark and Iceland). Nurse and organizer of troop entertainment events in Egypt-Palestine Campaign, 1915–18.

Willa Alice Wilson Page (wife of Walter Hines Page, U.S. ambassador to Britain)

Lady Paget (aka Mary “Minnie” Stevens, daughter of hotelier Paran Stevens). An AP article in 1917 credits Lady Paget with raising £250,000 for British wounded, £35,000 for Russian wounded, £32,000 for French wounded, and £25,000 for U.S. hospitals in Britain. Toting up the amounts and converting to present-day values equates to approximately $21.5M.

Anita Berwind Strawbridge (daughter-in-law of Justus C. Strawbridge, co-founder of the department store Strawbridge & Clothier)

Lady Ward (aka Jean Templeton Reid, daughter of former U.S. ambassador Whitelaw Reid)

Further resources:
The American Women’s War Hospital at Ordway

• (BBC audio) “Paignton, Devon: The Singer Palace Becomes a Hospital

Report of the American Women’s War Relief Fund, 1914–15

• “Work of American Women’s War Relief Fund in London,” The [NY] Sun, 31 Dec. 1916

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