Women’s History Month profile of Clara Barton’s successor
By: Olivia Wyles, American Red Cross Volunteer
March is recognized not only as Red Cross Month, but also as Women’s History Month, and the Red Cross has a powerhouse of a woman to recognize. One of Northeast Ohio’s very own, Mabel Boardman, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860 and passed away from coronary thrombosis in 1946. During her 86 years of life, Mabel lived an exciting and innovative life, with much of the fruits of her labor being the development of the sturdy framework that the Red Cross has today.
Mabel Boardman served with numerous social philanthropies throughout her life, one of which was serving on the executive committee of the Red Cross. After Clara Barton’s resignation in 1904, the Red Cross received a formal federal charter under President Woodrow Wilson, and although Boardman’s name was listed on the list of incorporators, she claims to have never given her consent. She was commonly referred to as the “administrative genius” of the Red Cross and was the acting leader of the organization, but she humbly refused any formal recognitions because of her fear that having a woman as a leader would harm the public’s confidence in the organization and diminish its credibility.
The achievements that Boardman spearheaded for the Red Cross are numerous, but one of the most notable is that she was able to establish a large, permanent endowment fund for the organization that would give it a strong, reliable financial foundation for the future. In addition, she established Red Cross branches across the country, which directly impacted the global presence that the organization would come to have. Boardman established cooperation with other groups, like the American Nursing Association, that resulted in improved services, and she also developed the readiness of the Red Cross to respond quickly to disasters. Boardman organized the Volunteer Special Services division and served as the director in 1923 and retired 17 years later in 1940 after the membership roll in Volunteer Services reached 2.72 million.
Much of the Red Cross’ successes and developments can be traced back to Boardman and her ability to transform a 300-member society into an innovative and flourishing institution with over 29 million junior and senior members. She received the first Distinguished Service Medal ever awarded by the Red Cross. She definitely wins our vote to be recognized as a notable Northeast Ohio woman this Women’s History Month.
Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer