Vashti Bartlett on beach in La Panne, Belgium

Vashti Bartlett on a beach in La Panne, Belgium, 1915

At the start of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. President Wilson wanted to avoid getting pulled into a fight among European nations. At the same time, domestic organizations like the American Red Cross saw in the conflict a great humanitarian crisis that beckoned large-scale medical relief. In 1914, the American Red Cross organized the S.S. Red Cross – the “Mercy Ship” expedition, which would carry medical supplies, trained nurses and doctors to Europe.  At the time of the call, the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School of Nursing was a new model center of education in modern nursing. Several of its graduates boasted experience with the American Red Cross before the war, when the young organization was finding its feet in disaster relief. It is thus no surprise that Hopkins nurses were among some of the American Red Cross’s first responders. The American Red Cross units carried them, and many other nurses, as neutral units throughout Europe: Paignton, England; Pau, France; Kiev, Russia; Kosel and Gleiwitz, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; and Vienna, Austria. Personnel served in hospitals in both Allied and Central Power nations.