This past semester I have been working with students on a history of the Great War told through the eyes of one woman, Alma Adelaide Clarke, who moved to Ardmore, Pennsylvania in the late 1930s after over two decades abroad in service related to the Great War. Her papers are held in Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, which has digitized her two souvenir albums as part of the centennial commemorations of the Great War.
You are cordially invited to march in this parade which for all indications is going to be one of the snappiest ever seen in New York City … Only those wearing uniforms will be permitted to march.
In November of 1920 Alma Adelaide Clarke had been home from the Great War for over year, but her tireless work on behalf of the Red Cross had yet to end. In recognition of her contribution, she, along with hundreds of other New York Red Cross workers received an invitation to participate in a parade on the second Armistice Day. While it may seem strange that female Red Cross volunteers should have been included along with veterans, the wartime work of these women was widely understood as akin to military service, hence the insistence that the women march in uniform.
While 1919 is often cited as the first year of the long-running Veterans Day parade in New York City, the only parade held on that Armistice Day was a small one in Brooklyn where “2,000 Negro troops … of the 15th infantry of the New York State Guard and men who served overseas with the 367th, 368th, and 369th Infantry Regiments” marched on their own having been excluded from participation in the Victory Parade New York City hosted on September 10, 1919 to welcome home General Pershing and his troops.
In 1919 Alma Clarke had doubtlessly marked the Armistice, as she had almost every day since January of 1918 when she sailed to Europe to aid child war refugees, by continuing her volunteer work. After her nursing duties were completed, Clarke continued with the Red Cross Children’s Bureau. As she wrote to her brother Jack in January of 1919
“I do hate to go home till I have done all that I can in France. “
In November of 1919, Clarke received a total of three official letters all lauding her “splendid work” on behalf of the Red Cross. Alice Lavinia Day invoked a military analogy as she extolled the “splendid service” of Red Cross Volunteers like Clarke.
“We soon realized that those who would serve their Red Cross best … would be those who would throw themselves into the breach.”
Clarke’s enthusiastic support also garnered the gratitude of Isabelle Lowden, Chairmen of the New York Red Cross Speakers Bureau. Lowden attributed “much of [the Bureau’s] success” to “Clarke’s “spirit of service.”
From notes written in her own hand, perhaps for remarks made to the Red Cross Educational Committee the day before the first Armistice celebrations, it is clear that Clarke understood her “service” as similar to that of members of the military. Although requested to speak in general about the American Red Cross and “patriotism”, Clarke also stressed that while the fighting men may have returned to civilian life, the Red Cross was “not demobilized” and continued as the “only org[anization] always mobilized.” Ever ready to serve, Clarke had on her return to the US joined the Women’s Overseas Service League, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, while continuing to devoted herself to her to the Red Cross.
In 1920, the sole parade held on November 11th in New York City was the Red Cross event to which Clarke received an invitation. While it included servicemen, a far larger parade of veterans occurred on what was known as Memorial Sunday. However, I have no doubt Clarke proudly donned her uniform and reported as requested on to take her place among the ranks of “5,000 soldiers and workers” in what the New York Times characterized as “essentially a women’s parade” and I am sure she thrilled to the “cheers [that] greeted the lines.” She continued to dedicate herself to causes she took up during the war, eventually returning to France as the head of Paris Post no. 1 American Legion Auxiliary where she was instrumental in the “Poppy Day” campaigns, but that is a story best saved for another holiday.
Credits: All images courtesy Alma A. Clarke papers, 1914-1946, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Rosemont College Student Participants: Jenna Kaiser, Mary Manfredi, Anna Nuzzolese, Kyle Robinson, Eve Romanowski, Marygrace Urmson. Villanova University graduate student Christina Virok.