The Red Cross uniform pictured here was worn by Ann Kenyon during World War I, while she worked at the La Crosse Red Cross headquarters. Kenyon was a native of Winona, Minn., but she moved to La Crosse after marrying William Kenyon. She was born Dec. 26, 1874, which would have made her 43 when the United States entered the war in 1917.

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Things that Matter: Ann Kenyon’s Red Cross uniform

La Crosse’s Red Cross chapter started in December 1915 after President William Howard Taft visited the city. Taft attended a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, and there he helped create a strategy to form a local chapter, which officially began in 1916. One of Taft’s friends from college, George Burton, became the chairman of the La Crosse chapter.

After the United States entered the war, the Red Cross became a huge institution, nearly overnight. With the help of the Red Cross, the United States sent a series of commissions to Europe to administer help to the Allied military troops and civilians in need. Through the Red Cross, women knitted winter clothing for soldiers and wrapped a vast number of surgical dressings. The Red Cross also helped civilians on the home front during WWI, including responding to natural disasters and aiding many after the influenza pandemic hit the United States in 1918.

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Things that Matter: Ann Kenyon’s Red Cross uniform

Nearing the end of the war, the La Crosse chapter had more than 12,400 members and 6,757 Junior Red Cross members, and nationally almost one-third of Americans either served as a volunteer or a donor to the Red Cross.

This white cotton uniform, with a red cross patch that reads “La Crosse,” is representative of other uniforms of the period and illustrates La Crosse’s involvement during the war. It would have been worn over either a nurse’s uniform or street clothes while working in the Red Cross office.

Dr. Edward Evans, first chief of staff at St. Francis Hospital, served six months overseas in the Red Cross. He also was the first director of the Young Women’s Christian Association during that same era. The local chapter of the YWCA was founded in 1903 and was housed in the top two floors of the Coren Building, 420 Main St.

Today the building houses a street-level business, The Wedding Tree, and the top floor is a beautifully restored event venue, The Court Above Main. The hardwood floor still shows the markings of the basketball court from the days when it was a YWCA gymnasium. You also can see the door to Evans’ office, which still has his name stenciled on it, incorporated into the front of the small serving bar.

This will be the venue for the La Crosse County Historical Society’s mid-winter fundraising gala, “Remember When,” on Saturday, Feb. 3. Attendees are encouraged to dress in 1910s attire. There will be silent and live auctions, and dinner with a choice of two entrees. For information and to purchase tickets, call 608-782-1980 or visit the La Crosse County Historical Society’s website.

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