It’s called Remembrance Day in Canada (and in other Commonwealth countries) and Veteran’s Day in the U.S., but it all comes down to the same thing: the fighting that killed an estimated 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians in Europe almost a century ago came to an end on November 11, 1918…and the 11th day of November has ever since been a day to commemorate the event.
But the war also took place at a time of greater civic leadership for women and, while they were not combatants, their roles in support of those who did fight expanded. On September 29, 1914, two months after the first shots were fired, for example, the first group of Canadian nurses embarked for England as part of the Canada Army Medical Corps. But Junior League members also heard the call, and they responded in a variety of ways. According to The Junior League: 100 Years of Volunteer Service.
The Montreal Junior League plunged into patriotic work first as nearly every member had a brother or friend among the 32,000 Canadian troops sent to Europe when war began there.
Though the U.S. remained neutral until 1917, by 1916 nearly all American Leagues were doing something to help – mostly collecting money for war refugees or setting up preparedness projects, often in partnership with the Red Cross.
The Junior League of San Francisco set up a delivery service so successful that it became the model for the Red Cross Motor Corps.
Members of the Junior League of Detroit, ignoring the segregation of the era, helped wounded and recovering African-American soldiers at the ward at Fort Wayne in Detroit by organizing visits and bringing the soldiers “flowers, fruits, cigarettes, magazines and cheer.” They also set up a tent outside the ward to teach toy-making to those patients strong enough for occupational therapy.
Some Junior League members began serving overseas with a number of aid and medical organizations. Volunteers included the president of the Junior League of St. Paul and the founder of the Junior League of Philadelphia. Alison Elder of the Junior League of Montreal served as secretary of a Canadian field hospital and was stationed “somewhere in France.”
Back home, the Junior League of the City of New York’s president, Caroline McCormick Slade, was also the chairman of the YMCA’s Women’s Division of the War Personnel Board. She organized a unit of 126 League members to serve with the YMCA unit in France.
Summing it all up, after the fighting stopped, The Junior League Bulletin magazine put it this way: “As it has been the biggest opportunity in the life of our men, so it has been for our girls, as the stories that come back to us of their achievements are often unbelievable.”