The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Christmas 1918

Christmas of 1918 should have been jubilant--the war was over, soldiers were starting to come home and women were on the verge of gaining suffrage. But sadly, dark shadows loomed over festivities and revelry that year, as the aftermath of the war and the widespread Influenza and tuberculosis left hundreds of thousands dead, sick or wounded. The Nation’s central relief organization was the American Red Cross, which desperately needed funding, so they launched a membership drive called the ‘Christmas Roll Call’ from 16 through 23 December, 1918.

“When the United States entered the World War the people appointed the Red Cross as its steward to minister to the wants of human beings in distress whenever aid and succor were needed.

… This is in brief the service work of the Red Cross expressed in unemotional statistics. The real work of aiding suffering humanity, of nursing the ill, and ministering to those in want – the service of relieving the worries of our men overseas- the thousand and one things done in a day’s work- all that can not be told in numerals.

But to continue this work for humanity, to serve as steward for the American people, will require the united support of all Americans. With this end in view, the Red Cross will hold it’s second annual Christmas Roll call during the week of December 16 to 23rd, when it is hoped that every one will renew the nation-wide pledge of last year to uphold the flag – a vow taken by 22,000,000 million adults and 8,000,000 children.

Some day, and that day seems near at hand, the world will wish to spend as much effort and gold for the prevention of war as it does now for the amelioration of its infinite ills. At this hour, however, the American Red Cross is the sacrament oT the nations, the visible expression of the mother-heart of the race, the beacon and the hope of the world's wounded and storm-tossed everywhere. Membership in the American Red Cross defines and honors the members and scatters healing where healing is sorely needed.” said the Advocate of Peace in December of 1918.

The Broadsides created to promote the 'Christmas Roll Call' or Membership drive of 1918 are some of the most beautiful pieces of 20th century ephemera. The MHS houses some of the famous broadsides (or posters) created for the Roll Call. The posters’ popularity eclipsed the roll call itself--they are perhaps the most beautiful images ever associated with the Holiday Season. The artists that created these images were some of the best of the time, working pro-bono for the Red Cross effort, such as Harrison Fisher, who created a new stereotype for American woman as bold and beautiful, known as the “Fisher girls.

Christmas a century ago reminds us to be thankful for our blessings, and to continue to support those who work tirelessly to end suffering and alleviate pain, towards the betterment of all humans and life on this shared earth.

The MHS will be closed from 24 December through 1 January, but we welcome you to visit the Library during regular hour through Saturday, December 22nd to enjoy exploring our collections including our wonderful Ephemera collection of broadsides, posters and greeting cards.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 10:00 AM