“The Red Crosser”: Mary Gladwin in World War I

This photograph from Mary E. Gladwin’s album shows a nurse, injured men, and others at a Red Cross hospital in Belgrade, Serbia, during World War I. Courtesy of the University of Akron Archives via Ohio Memory.

We have new and exciting items in the World War I in Ohio Collection on Ohio Memory! Through Little Stories of the Great War: Ohioans in World War I, a two-year digitization project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), additional World War I materials from the Ohio History Connection and other cultural heritage organizations across the state will be made available on Ohio Memory. Recent additions include photographs of 94th Aero Squadron Ace of Aces Eddie Rickenbacker, as well as other fighter pilots, training camp life, and their squadron mascot, a dog named Spad.

Photograph from Gladwin’s album showing a Red Cross nurse tending to a man with a head injury. Courtesy of the University of Akron Archives via Ohio Memory.

Many of our soldiers’ letters and diaries give us painfully vivid accounts of the horrors of the Western Front, often diverting our attention from the conflict between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires on the Eastern Front. The Mary E. Gladwin Papers from the University of Akron Archives shed light on the American Red Cross’ role in Serbia and Greece during World War I.

Mary E. Gladwin was born in Stoke-upon-Trent, England, on December 24, 1861, and later settled in Akron, Ohio, with her family at age seven. Gladwin earned her Bachelor of Philosophy degree at Buchtel College and completed her nursing training at Boston City Hospital in 1895. Her long history of service with the Red Cross began in 1888 when she went to Cuba as a Red Cross volunteer nurse during the Spanish-American War (April-August 1898), and soon after served during the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902), Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and later with Red Cross disaster relief units in Dayton, Ohio, following the 1913 flood.

In this Thanksgiving Day entry from her diary, Gladwin discusses the holiday meal she helped to prepare, but also mourns the loss of a colleague who was killed outside the hospital gate, and mentions rumors of Belgrade’s imminent evacuation. Courtesy of the University of Akron Archives via Ohio Memory.

By the time the call rang for Red Cross nurses across Europe in 1914, Gladwin had been working as the superintendent of nurses at City Hospital in Cleveland, president of the Ohio State Nurses Association, and director of the American Nurses Association. She shipped off to Belgrade, Serbia, from 1914-1915, and returned to Europe in 1916 to serve in Belgrade and Salonica, Greece, where she was in charge of Serbian relief and hospital work. For her World War I service, she was awarded the Serbian Order of St. Sava, Serbian Royal Red Cross, Cross of Charity, Russian Imperial Medal, Ribbon of St. Anne, and the Florence Nightingale Medal.

Her diary and memoir titled The Red Crosser shed light on her experience as a woman in the war, the friendships she made and people she met, and the social and cultural issues she encountered. Her photograph album shows Red Cross nurses treating injured soldiers, group portraits, and interesting scenes of the people, landscapes, and architecture of Serbia and Greece, as well as images from her previous service in Japan.

After World War I, Gladwin was appointed director of nursing education at St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis (1923-1928) and director of the School of Nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota (1929). Mary Gladwin died in 1939 in Akron, Ohio. Gladwin’s impressive and inspiring career of service is one of many stories which highlight Ohio’s important contributions to World War I. Check back with us soon for more insights into our state’s role during the Great War!


Thanks to Kristen Newby, project coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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