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Watauga Red Cross Charity Profile
On November 20, 1917 a group of concerned citizens convened to discuss and conceive the Watauga County chapter of the American Red Cross, in response to a nationwide campaign to elicit 15,000,000 members. That day, a petition for authority to form a chapter was signed by the following citizens: R.C. Rivers, George Hagaman, Tom Miller, M.B. Blackburn, E.F. Lovill, F.A. Linney, W.C. Coffee, Lon Payne, Pearl Hodges, Sallie Rivers, and H.E. Coffee. Upon approval from the Manager of the Southern Division of the Red Cross in Atlanta, W.L. Peel, the Watauga County, N.C. Chapter was born. During these infant years of the chapter, R.C. Rivers served as its Chairman, Miss Pearl Hodges as Treasurer, Mrs. H.E. Coffee as Secretary, and George Hagaman as Chairman of the Finance Committee.
On December 6 of that year, R.C. Rivers, the proprietor of the Watauga Democrat, printed a public announcement of the national Red Cross campaign. The 450-member quota assigned to the Watauga County chapter was announced, and Professor I.G. Greer was identified as the Chairman of the local Campaign Committee. In the next edition of the paper, Rivers issued this plea to the citizens of the community:
Join the Red Cross. The American Red Cross is offering every one, rich and poor alike, a chance to contribute personally to the Christmas spirit of the enlightened world. At such an anomalous season - when there is not peace on earth, when good will toward man is mocked by death-dealing cannon and blood-stained steel - what could be more blessed than to comfort and cheer the suffering thousands of Liberty's defenders in the hospitals behind the battle lines?
To relieve the suffering of the wounded and to salvage battered human wrecks is the primary function of the Red Cross. Let us not forget that very soon our own boys in large numbers will be carried in Red Cross ambulances to Red Cross hospitals, there to receive every care scientific Red Cross methods afford.
Where a few millions will start for "over there," many more millions must remain at home. To these latter the Red Cross, in its drive for 10,000,000 new members between December 16 and December 25, offers the best form of stay-at-home service - membership in and cooperation with the Red Cross. It urges that you join the Red Cross and then influence others to join by displaying from your home, your office, your store, or your factory the Red Cross service flag, which bears one small red cross for each member where the flag is displayed.
Isn't it worth a dollar to you to know that you are privileged to fly the service flag and that you are helping - even in a small way - to lessen the agony of the boys in the trenches?
Also included in this issue of the Democrat, were a statement from Woodrow Wilson, the President of the American Red Cross at that time, and a letter from Professor Greer announcing his campaign plan. Greer requested that each school district in the county challenge itself to obtain at least eight members to reach the goal of 450 for the chapter. Teachers were asked to organize their classes to attain this goal by Christmas, and thereby provide Christmas cheer to the "millions of other boys across the water." Greer also suggested to people who did not have a Red Cross organization in their community that they might send their money and support this Chapter, who would then accept them as a member. The cost of joining the Red Cross was one dollar, fifty cents of which was sent to national headquarters, where the each person would officially be registered as a member, and fifty cents would stay in the community to further war efforts of the chapter.
The results of this campaign were not listed in the Democrat, to the author's knowledge. However, a second war fund campaign was brought to life in May of 1917, headed again by Professor Greer. In the May 2 edition of the Democrat, Greer announced the national Red Cross campaign to raise $100,000,000 and the appointment of the following Committees: N.L. Mast, Employee's Solicitation Committee; T.B. Moore, Publicity Committee; Mrs. W.H. Wagner, Women's Committee; Executive Committee for the County, W.S. Miller, W.L. Councill, Rev. S.L. Owen, John Sherrill, Rev. J.N. Atkins, and Henry Hagaman.
Two weeks after the announcement of this campaign and the organization of the committees to oversee it, Greer wrote the following letter to the community and had it printed in that week's edition of the Democrat:
The Second Red Cross War Fund Drive. The Second Red Cross War Fund Campaign is now on in Watauga County. The date set for the special drive is May 20-27th, but in order to reach all parts of the County the campaign was started early. $100,000,000 is needed for this fund. Watauga County has been assigned $42,000 for its quota. This means about one dollar for each voter in the County. If each school district in the county would raise $29.00 we would go over the top; but since many citizens will not give their $29.00, other citizens and schools must do all they can.
Many communities have given suppers and entertainments already. In each case, the result has been gratifying. Many good men and women have contributed liberally. In behalf of the boys we thank these communities and individuals, but the $2,000 is not yet in sight. Every cent that is contributed will go to the aid of our soldiers and sailors, and the soldiers and their dependent families. Will not every community and citizen in Watauga County contribute something to help care for our sick, wounded, and dying boys? They have given all. Surely we can afford to give something for their relief. Your contribution, however small, may save some wounded soldier's life, or make his last hours more comfortable.
We must depend to a large degree upon private donations for the remainder of the $2,000 to be raised. Let every man, woman, and child in the county send in a contribution, and let our boys know that we are standing behind them with our influence and money while they are standing between us and the treacherous German enemy.
In response to this plea for monetary support of the troops in battle, the Watauga County citizens rallied to provide for the need. "Local Talent of Boone" performed a patriotic play, Claim Allowed, in the auditorium of the Appalachian Training School, which is now Appalachian State University, raising $129.30 for the Red Cross War Fund. The Democrat reported that the performance was "a decided hit, and invitations [were] received from various sections of the county, promising full houses, free entertainment for the troupe, with a guarantee for good returns, if they would take it to other localities." The play was held at four different locations, with at least 4 performances, donating the proceeds to the war fund.
A variety of other fund raising events were also held to encourage community involvement in the war efforts. The Lentz Valley School held a box supper and cake cutting with a total of $89.75 received. A pie supper was held in Mabel, contributing to the community's total donation $187.92. An ice cream supper along with "other dainties on sale, amusements, etc., etc." was served by the ladies of Shull's Mills, contributing to the community's total donation of $835 (WOW!). A play given at Mast raised $160, and the Meat Camp Township formed a Red Cross Auxiliary to hold box suppers and other fund raising events. The Co-operative Cheese Factory on Beaver Dams donated the "price of the cheese from their entire purchase of milk" one day to the Red Cross War Fund, totaling $35. Mr. W.W. Mast of Valle Crucis gave 10% of his mercantile sales to the war fund one Saturday, "and suggested other merchants in the county do likewise." Mr. Mast was also credited by the paper to have "more money in the Red Cross work in Watauga than any other man in the county,"
The county showed extraordinary patriotism and support for their "boys" by collectively raising nearly $5,000 for the war fund. That is almost $3,000 above and beyond the quota that was designated by the A.R.C. national campaign leaders! In his June 6 issue of the Democrat, R.C. Rivers told the story of one young woman who gave all she had to support her military, along with some chastising remarks to the less generous upper echelon of the county:
In a section of the county a function was given, and at its close, contributions were solicited for the War Fund. One of the first to come forward was a young girl, rather poorly dressed, but with a heart burning with patriotism and love for the boys who have gone and are going "over there" put in $4.00, her all, with this remark: "Our best young men are being called to the front, and it is my intention to do all I can for them while they are gone."
An interested spectator, a stranger to the girl, began to make inquiry and found that she was very poor, and that she had planted corn for six days on a steep mountain farm, for the sum so freely given for this great cause of humanity. Talk of patriotism, talk about self-denial until it hurts, this is certainly it, and should be a lesson to some of our wealthiest men, who have held their purse strings through the entire campaign, seeming perfectly disinterested in the great cause for which we have been struggling so hard.