Women in Transportation History: The American Red Cross Motor Corps

The American Red Cross (ARC) Motor Corps was an all-women’s service established during World War I to provide transportation support on the home front for the U.S. military as well as the ARC. The women who served as volunteers for the ARC Motor Corps wore uniforms (initially khaki, then Oxford grey) and were expected to meet standardized requirements for physical fitness; driving expertise; and the ability to independently handle such roadway emergencies as vehicle breakdowns and accidents. The women also had to meet at least some military training requirements.

Many of those participating in the ARC Motor Corps drove their own automobiles and were responsible for all related operating expenses. These automobiles featured white metal pennants bearing the Red Cross and the words “Motor Corps” to help ensure that the women had the right of way while traveling on official business. A number of the women in the ARC Motor Corps also drove ambulances; requirements for this duty involved training in first aid and the use of stretchers.

The diverse responsibilities of those driving for the ARC Motor Corps included removing wounded and sick military personnel from ships and trains and taking them to hospitals or other locations for medical care; transporting nurses and other high-priority workers to places where they were needed; and delivering supplies to and from warehouses. In many cases, the women were also assigned with the sad but vital task of delivering telegrams notifying people of relatives in the military who had been killed or wounded. Along with carrying out duties directly related to the war, the women of the ARC Motor Corps also provided critical assistance during the flu pandemic that swept across the United States in 1918.

By the time the war ended, there were approximately 11,600 ARC Motor Corps volunteers in nearly 300 cities throughout the nation. It was also estimated that these women had collectively covered more than 3,572,000 miles in automobiles while performing their duties.

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