"Bravely and Loyally They Answered the Call": St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross, and the Patriotic Service of Canadian Women During the Great War

  • Linda J. Quiney Simon Fraser University
Keywords: History, HIC, 2005, Linda J. Quiney

Abstract

During the Great War (1914-1918), thousands of middle-class Canadian women temporarily redirected their activist, feminist energies towards patriotic war relief under the patriarchal constraints of the Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. Authorized under the authority of the National Relief Committee to oversee all military medical relief efforts, these two male-directed service agencies successfully engaged the emotional commitment and physical energies of a significant segment of Canadian women by employing a gendered patriotic rhetoric encompassing both the maternal ideology of the early women's movement and the militarist spirit of the era. This paper considers the largely unheralded role of civilian women's essential unpaid support for Canada's war effort as an active, emotional, and political undertaking, consciously exploiting traditional nurturant and feminine ideologies to validate their role as maternal patriots. In examining both the print and visual representations of Canadian women as voluntary nurses and Red Cross workers, the paper explores the contradictions between patriotism, feminism, and maternalism. Challenging traditional interpretations of war as a solely masculine endeavour, it recognizes the value of women's unpaid labour to the state, and women's inherent satisfaction in their active, if non-combatant involvement.