|Women's Defense Unit Cards (Grand Rapids, Mich.) for Mary Bruce. United States. Council of National Defense. Woman's Committee. Michigan Division. 1918, accessed 14 May 2021 at Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council and Grand Rapids Public Library digitized collection.|
The May delegate meeting of the Michigan Genealogical Council had Jo Ellyn Clary from the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council as our guest speaker. She presented, "A Genealogical Treasure-The WWI Registration Cards of American Women." I am embarrassed to say that I knew little about these cards even though I updated a paragraph on them in the NGS Research in the States: Michigan book.
The United States entered World War I in April of 1917. Soon after women got organized by forming 17,000 local committees, with over 400,000 women, to help the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense. Enrollment cards were created and some of those cards are available for genealogical research.
The cards are, as the title of Jo Ellyn's talk says, a genealogical treasure. The cards are rich in biographical information including education levels, ethnicity, references, skills, and employment status. If your ancestor is included in these cards you will see what early twentieth-century women were like.
The Special Collections at the Grand Rapids Public Library holds 20,000 of them for the Grand Rapids area. You don't have to travel to the Grand Rapids library as you can see them online.
Go to https://bit.ly/2SSA8vb which is the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council (GGRWHC) section of the website where you will find the digitized images of the WWI Women's registration cards.
Scroll down the page to see other known card collections for Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, and South Dakota. In addition to the Grand Rapids cards, Michigan has a collection for Flint, Michigan. Flint's 12,000 cards are at the Michigan State Archives in Lansing. Midland, Michigan has a few housed at the Midland Center for the Arts.
Why are there so few of these cards? Jo Ellyn Clary says they are a buried treasure. Over 900,000 cards were collected in Michigan alone, minus Detroit. Many of the cards have yet to be found. They are hiding in attics, basements, closets, filing cabinets, etc in township or city repositories. Many have been destroyed. The genealogical information these cards provide makes this collection one to seek out.
Jo Ellyn encouraged the MGC delegates to go back to their societies and dig, dig, dig. I challenged our member societies to do the same. I told them they had homework to do. Now, I am challenging my readers to locate cards in their area. This would be an excellent project for a society to take up. When you find them and I believe you will, please let the GGRWHC know by emailing at email@example.com. They are creating a database of known cards.
One place to start is with newspaper research for April 1917 to November 1918, the United States WWI involvement time. Look for articles on Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense, WWI women's registration cards, women's registration cards, or WWI women's enrollment cards, etc. We are genealogists, we know how to search.
If you are wanting to know more on World War I Homefront movements read Ida Clyde Clarke's 1918 book, American Women and the World War, Caroline Bartlett Crane's 1922, History of the Work of Women's Committee (Michigan Division), and Report of the Woman's Section of the Indiana State Council of Defense.
While you are at https://www.ggrwhc.org/ be sure to look at other sections of the website. There is information on Women Who Ran, Suffrage Resources, and more.
Note: The card above is for my maternal Great Aunt Mary H. Fredrick Bruce.