Spokane Women During The War

Click to expand.  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.  Digital ID ppmsca 40823

While relations with Germany crumbled in the weeks leading up to the war, women in Spokane began to prepare for the worst.  Eager to participate in the patriotic fervor taking the city by storm, associations began springing up around the area to mobilize women for the war effort.  Horace Kimball, a member of the National League for Women’s Service, took the initiative in March to asses the number of women in Spokane that might be called upon for the war effort.  Founded in January of the same year, the national League for Women’s Service intended to provide services like motor transportation and supply distribution throughout the city.

The NLWS might not have been an official military service, but it modeled itself after one.  “For the development of discipline self control, teamwork, endurance and esprit de corps, physical drilling is of the greatest value, and while in this emergency program it is not required, it is recommended as a basis for the work of all detachments” said Mrs. Kimbail.1  By April 4th, on the eve of hostilities, sixty women registered in the NLWS in Spokane.2

The replacement of labor for traditionally male dominated industries became all the more important as men left for Europe.  The McClintock-Trunkey Company, a wholesale grocery store on Stevens street, changed their traditional male only hiring policy for wartime.  Mr. McClintock put it plainly: “As we have worked out our plan here, the 10 or 12 men who will leave when the reserve is called out, and those who may enlist later or be called, will be replaced by girls, and get their jobs returned to them when they get back from the war.”3

As the men left for war, women were increasingly called upon to fill the holes in the workforce at home.  Photo from The Spokesman Review, October 25th, 1917.

Some Spokane women found themselves participating in military tradition and customs in town.  A Spokane Daily Chronicle article published in October touted of the formation of a female “Battalion of Death” here in the city. Upwards of 40 women, young and old and of all complexions practiced drill at the Spokane Amatuer Athletic Club.  Organized with a military-style chain of command, and with uniformed outfits, they trained Monday and Thursday mornings at the S.A.A.C gymnasium on Monroe Street.  Cisco Bullivant, the Battalions Chief of Staff, told the newspaper “I am giving the women the regular army squad formation, for not only does this prove a good means of exercise for the class, but all are filled with the war spirit and they would rather do this than anything else.”4

Spokane women became instrumental in organizing fundraising and promoting conservation efforts for wartime.  When a citywide drive to collect funds for the American Red Cross began in June, Spokane women were credited with raising over four thousand dollars from house to house fundraising.5  In the same month the state council of defense, located in Olympia, announced efforts to cooperate with Spokane on the topic of food preservation and conservation.  Seeking to use America’s abundance of food as an asset for the allies, the defense council’s reached out to every region concerning their management of food.  Packing methods for fruits, vegetables, and meat were taught and promoted to local women.6

Local women did more than just lead conservation efforts and fund raise. 700 Spokane women sewed and knitted articles of clothing for the troops throughout the summer of 1917.  Hundreds of uniforms for sailors were produced over several months.  The women requested donations of wool and other materials since they eventually began producing clothing faster than they could purchase materials.  The Spokesman Review even published instructions for new women to  begin knitting and sewing as well.7

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The Manito Red Cross auxiliary, pictured here, met each week to knit articles of clothing and prepare medical supplies for the war effort. Photo from The Spokane Daily Chronicle,  November 24, 1917.

The demands for medical personnel grew throughout the war and eventually depleted Spokane of most of the city’s nurses. By January of 1918, 40 nurses from Spokane had left for Europe, leaving behind about 200 colleagues in the city.8  Through the final year of the war however, almost all of the registered nurses in Spokane were called into service for the war.  A newspaper article in April read ” War to drain city of all registered nurses”.  To cope with the demand, the Spokane Red Cross provided first aid courses in the Old National Bank building with the intention of training women who could assist doctors in local medical cases throughout the city.  “Even now it is difficult to get nurses in this city and after a few more calls have been made and responded to there will be a positive shortage.  This training course is not fundamentally calculated to train women to go to the front, but rather to make them able to care for the needs of their own home or assist doctors in care of local cases.” said Dr. Frederick Eppelen.9

Whether it was the nurses who followed the troops to Europe, the laborers who replaced the men in the fields and shops, or the volunteers who prepared clothing and medical supplies for the war, women played an important part in the war effort throughout Spokane County. Their sacrifices during the conflict occurred several years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment which assured their right to vote.



  1. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 26, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qMZXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NPQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1943%2C5034013. Page 1, Column 1.
  2. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 4, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=sMZXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NPQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2623%2C5928963. Page 1, Column 3.
  3. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 9, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=tMZXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NPQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6574%2C6407322. Page 16, Column 1.
  4. Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 17, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hMVXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NfQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1987%2C3655732. Page 1, Column 1.
  5. Spokesman Review, June 24, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=1tdVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=puADAAAAIBAJ&pg=6394%2C1123102. Page 1, Column 6.
  6. Spokesman Review, June 27, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=2NdVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=puADAAAAIBAJ&pg=4171%2C1711408. Page 1, Column 3.
  7. Spokesman Review, August 6, 1917. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=w94UAAAAIBAJ&sjid=juADAAAAIBAJ&pg=2672%2C783169. Page 1, Column 1.
  8. Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 17, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=pMBXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QfQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6630%2C1431600. Page 18, Column 1.
  9. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 22, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=PsRXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OPQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6759%2C3830001. Page 3, Column 6.