War Souvenir Still Hangs in Courthouse
By Barbara Schock
The Knox County Chapter of the Red Cross received its charter March 6, 1917. The next evening, the officers, directors and committees met to make plans for a membership drive. The public was invited to become members of the Red Cross and to participate in classes on first aid and bandage-making.
The cost of membership was a dollar per person per year (equal to $16 in 2007). The first classes in making surgical bandages were conducted at Knox College. Women were encouraged to learn this skill. The likelihood of the United States entering World War I were becoming more apparent every day. Red Cross officials emphasized that hospital ships, medical facilities and many kinds of supplies would be needed by the army and the navy. It was necessary for the home folks to serve the country as well as the men in the military.
A second membership campaign was organized in April. The membership fees collected would be divided between the national Red Cross and the local chapter. The local money would be used to help the families of servicemen.
In June 1917, the national Red Cross was seeking a hundred million dollars for its work. Knox County’s quota was $35,000. The Knox County Board of Supervisors appropriated $5,000 (equal to $80,200 in 2007) as its contribution. The vote was unanimous as the board members felt it was their patriotic duty to support the work of the Red Cross.
Newspapers reported thirteen branches had been organized in the county by the middle of July. Yates City and Knoxville had enrolled more than 300 members each. A long list of surgical supplies, linens and clothing had been knitted or sewn and sent to Red Cross headquarters.
On January 26, 1918, it was announced that the Red Cross Chapter in Galesburg was preparing a service flag to recognize the contributions of volunteers. The foundation fabric of the flag had been hung in the Armory on North Broad Street. The dimensions were 7 _ by 16 feet. There was a blue border nine inches wide with a 48 inch red cross in the center.
Nine inch square blocks of white muslin would be sewn to the foundation. The blocks would contain the names of the Red Cross volunteers. Twenty names would be embroidered on each block in the shape of a cross. A diagram of the arrangement was published in the newspaper so people would know how the finished flag would appear.
Anyone who had contributed 32 hours of work to the Red Cross Chapter would be eligible to have their name stitched on the flag. Each person was asked to contribute 25 cents for the privilege of having their name on the flag. It was hoped a thousand dollars could be raised for the purchase of gauze. The gauze would be used for making surgical bandages for the military.
By February 8th, two hundred names had been submitted for placement on the flag. Mrs. Helen Backman was chairman of the executive committee. Mrs. J.W. Carney was vice chairman and secretary and Mrs. H.F. Bondi was recording secretary and treasurer. Other committee members were Mrs. George A. Lawrence, Mrs. E.S. Gunnell, Mrs. J.C. Simpson and Mrs. H.W. Pankey. A consulting committee composed of the Mayor of Galesburg, doctors, ministers and businessmen from all corners of Knox County made recommendations for names of individuals to be placed on the service flag.
There was a signature committee which gathered the paper blocks on which volunteers signed their names. J.H. Cox, principal of Brown’s Business College, transcribed the signatures to the cloth blocks. The committee planned to keep a record of each name and its location on the finished flag.
The block committee cut the blocks from the fabric for stitching. The embroidery committee was composed of twelve women who were accomplished needlewomen. All of them had Swedish surnames.
By March 16th, ten blocks had been finished. They included the names of volunteers from Altona, Wataga, Knoxville and East Galesburg as well as Galesburg. Female students from Knox College and Lombard College applied the finished blocks of signatures to the banner. The newspaper published the individual names as they came into the Red Cross workshop in the Armory.
On November 11, 1919, the circuit court room in the Knox County Courthouse was filled to capacity for the dedication of the Red Cross Service Flag. There were 2535 names on the huge flag. The names of Senior (adult) Red Cross members were stitched in red and Junior (child) members in blue.
The program opened with a musical selection and the Honorable J.W. Carney described the work of the Red Cross. The Reverend Charles C. McKinley gave the dedication address. He told the audience that the flag was a witness to the services rendered by Knox County citizens to the nation in helping to win the great war. It honored the devotion of the women, men and children who had contributed so much time and effort. The flag also recognized the loyalty and patriotism of Knox County people. He also said the flag would be an inspiration to future generations.
Mrs. Backman, chairman of the flag committee, said “When we hung the foundation of the flag in the Armory with the large Red Cross on the white field it was a plea for service. The days were dark, our hearts were sad and our brave lads were marching on to the battle fronts to give much for liberty and freedom.”
Supervisor John Johnson of Altona accepted the service flag on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and gave assurance that every effort would be made to preserve for all time, this memorial flag.
The proceedings closed with the singing of “America” by the audience.
The Board of Supervisors kept on their promise. The flag is still on display inside the Cherry Street entrance of the courthouse. It is covered by glass. After 89 years, the red cross has faded to orange, but the colors of the names are still bright.