In honor of the last day of March – which is both Women’s History Month and Red Cross Month – we have an American Red Cross cap, dating from World War I.   It is a dark blue cap with a white voile brim, and  a small badge with a red cross and the date 1919 pinned to one side.

This cap was donated by Katherine Riggs Poole, and most likely belonged to her sister, Martha Sprigg Poole. Martha Poole (1890-1972) was descended from the Pooles of Poolesville, and although she and her sister grew up and lived much of their lives in Washington DC, both were active in Montgomery County’s social circles. During WWI, Miss Poole helped to found the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Red Cross, then based in Rockville (I believe it is now part of the National Capital Area chapter).

According to the “History of the Home Service Section of the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Red Cross,” written around 1920, Miss Martha Sprigg Poole was appointed Rockville chairman of the “Civilian Relief Committee” (which evolved into the Home Service Committee) on September 22nd, 1917.  The Committee was responsible for identifying the needs of, and coordinating aid for, the families of servicemen: “The plan is not only to care for the families in a financial way, but to be of friendly service and use in whatever emergency may arise in a soldier’s [or sailor’s] family. . . . Our strong desire is to foster a spirit of cooperation and good-will among our enlisted men, and to make them feel that there is at home a committee of intelligent and interested friends, under Red Cross organization and management, ready all the time to help their families to tide over the trying period of war conditions.” (From a memo titled “Social and Welfare Committee.”) One major project was a “census of men in military services,” which involved going door to door; these census takers probably wore their uniforms in order to reassure the families of their legitimate association with the Red Cross, a concern which is emphasized throughout the written census-taking instructions.

Both Martha and Kitty Poole were active in the early days of the Montgomery County Historical Society – Martha served as the editor of our journal, the Montgomery County Story, for many years – so it is interesting to note that even while she was working to help the families of servicemen, she was concerned with preserving the records of the County’s war workers. Late in the war, she wrote to the heads of various agencies and departments in the county, asking for a summary of their work for posterity (one gentlemen declined, baldly stating that he saw no possible use for such a document. Well, then!). Martha Poole was also on the Montgomery County Committee of the Maryland War Records Commission, which in 1929 presented the “official roster” of county servicemen to the Montgomery County Commissioners.

I’ve not yet found the perfect website (or book) to assist me in dating our various Red Cross uniform pieces with much accuracy; if anyone reading this is an aficionado, please feel free to send me additional information about the style of the cap, the meaning of the badge, or anything else you’d like to share.  As for Miss Poole’s records of her work with the Home Service Committee, those are in our library, preserved for posterity as their author wished.

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