North Carolina’s Women “Do Their Bit” During WWI

In 1914, women on North Carolina’s home front stood poised to offer aid to war-ravaged Europeans because they were already organized to provide resources to the needy and vulnerable in their own communities. Women club members and college students across the state immediately began collecting funds and provisions to send to Belgian mothers and children and committed hours to war relief through the Red Cross.

When the US entered the war in 1917, women encouraged and supported one another to “do their bit,” most often coordinating the efforts and leadership of existing local organizations with newly formed state and national organizations. They added to their duties such undertakings as putting together care packages for soldiers, growing and preserving food in the wake of severe shortages, and raising funds through Liberty Bond drives. Women also converted a Raleigh club building in to a Red Cross center where they collected supplies and rolled bandages and a college cafeteria into a quarantine for locals who had fallen ill with influenza.

As professionals and homemakers, as students and clubwomen, and as reformers both traditional and forward-looking, women assessed the importance of their wartime contributions primarily in terms of what they were able to do for others. Yet in the postwar years, armed with the right to vote and secure in their ability to shape their world through activism, they emerged as new women, and what they had done for others was just as remarkable in terms of what it helped them accomplish for themselves. 

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