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The Red Cross Christmas in 1918

History always intrigues

me. Every time I start

reading I discover something

new. In preparation for

our candlelight tours, I was

looking at Christmas in 1918.

The United States entered

World War I in April 1917.

Many American factories were

converted to the production of

weapons and munitions. This

included toy companies and in

1918, the Council of National

Defense suggested a ban on toys

in an effort to encourage people

to spend their money to buy war

bonds instead of Christmas pres-

ents. Before the war, Germany

produced toys and Christmas

ornaments that were shipped to

the United States. (The War also

affected the production of gela-

tin for Jell-O. Holland produced

most of the gelatin for Jell-O

and it was almost impossible to

ship gelatin across the Atlan-

tic during the War. And gelatin

was used in the manufacture of

some explosives. As a result,

Jell-O encouraged the start of

the Atlantic Gelatin Company in

Woburn, Massachusetts, where

the gelatin was manufactured

until recently.) The Committee

on Public Information created

a campaign to encourage peo-

ple to buy bonds, not toys. The

Toy Manufacturers of the U.S.A.

asked a successful toy manu-

facturer, A.C. Gilbert to go to

Washington to speak before the

Council to convince them to

change their decision. The story

is told that he took some of his

toys with him and the Council

members were so enthralled that

they ended the meeting, playing

with the toys and they decid-

ed not to go forward with the

planned ban on toy production.

Gilbert is known for the intro-

duction of the Erector set. The

story of his trip to Washington

and diverting the decision to end

toy production was made into

a movie a few years ago, “The

Man Who Saved Christmas.”

(It is generally agreed that the

premise of the movie took a lot

of liberty with the true story.)

Christmas in 1918 certainly

should have been joyous. The

War had ended on November

11, and only three days be-

fore, women in New York State

turned out to cast their ballots

in the first national election.

But December 1918 had a dark

cloud lurking. Not only was the

country preparing for the return

of many wounded soldiers but

the great influenza epidemic

had taken a toll and tuberculo-

sis was rampant. The Red Cross

was called upon to help support

the wounded men and women

returning from Europe. And

it was the Red Cross that was

called to help with the influenza

and tuberculosis outbreaks. It

was also the women of the local

Red Cross who exercised their

right to vote, walking down-

stairs from their Chapter room

in the Municipal Building to use

the new voting machines on the

first floor. It was the women of

the Red Cross, who marched up

Main Street on November 11, to

assemble in front of the Munici-

pal Building to witness the sign-

ing of the Armistice.

In 1918, each member of the

Red Cross was given ten Christ-

mas Seals. Usually, Christmas

Seals were sold to raise money,

but it was decided to recognize

Red Cross members as “messen-

gers of health.” A little booklet

accompanied the seals: “Sol-

diers in camps are taught how

to resist tuberculosis. Health

habits are taught to hundreds

of thousands of children and

adults. The gospel of fresh air,

cleanliness and right living is

spread everywhere. America

needs your continued support,

personal as well as financial, in

this campaign for health.”

The Christmas message in

the LeRoy Gazette News on

December 18, 1918, mentions

that December 19 was desig-

nated as Red Cross enrollment

day. In LeRoy. there were

1900 adult members and 500

Junior Red Cross members. It

was hoped that the member-

ship would be doubled. The

campaign was called “A Heart

and a Dollar.” “Enrollment is

more than a duty, it is a glo-

rious privilege that should be

sought by all. The Red Cross

service flag, with the addition-

al little crosses for each mem-

ber in the family should be a

Christmas decoration in every

window this holiday season.

Let’s add to our Christmas

happiness and joy by helping

to build renewed happiness and

joy where it is now barren.”