Many school children learned that Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in Washington, DC on May 21, 1881. She heard of the Swiss global Red Cross network while visiting Europe following the Civil War.
With the beginning of World War I, the organization experienced phenomenal growth. There were 107 chapters in 1904; by 1918, 3,864 chapters had been organized.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, head of the American Red Cross proclaimed June 18th as the beginning of Red Cross Week. The citizens of Kissimmee immediately took up the charge and began a campaign for membership, adopting the slogan “Five Hundred Members by July 25th”.
In order to charter a local chapter, fifty members were needed when an application was submitted to Washington, DC. That number was reached within only a few hours. A mass meeting was held on June 25th and the Kissimmee Chapter was formed with 300 members. An auxiliary chapter was formed in St. Cloud and efforts made to form one in Loughman.
Membership fee was $1, which would be spent on supplies, with half going to Washington, DC and the other half kept locally for use in making supplies for war hospitals (sheets, pillow cases, pajamas, socks and other needed items).
E.L. Lesley offered a small building on Broadway for the Chapter to use as their headquarters, but larger facilities were needed. Senator A.E. Donegan donated “the lower room in the Casino Building, which faced the Graystone Hotel”. It was a long room with tables set up the length of the room and had a number of cases where supplies could be stored. Classes were held in surgical dressings and on other subjects aimed at the war effort.
By July 29, 1917, membership had increased to 327, with Junior chapters also being formed for the youth in the community to become involved.
Sources: “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” issues – June 1, 22, 19, 1917; July 6, 13, 1917
Photo: Florida Memory