Women in Uniform: Red Cross Service of Mona Ryan Inman in World War I

Today’s post is written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.

In highlighting the stories of bold and courageous women for Women’s History Month, the life of Mona Ryan Inman is especially noteworthy, given the incredible coincidences in the dates and locations of major World War I events and her personal experiences while serving in the American Red Cross.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Mona and her mother were traveling in Europe and as the conflict gained in strength and brutality, Mona became an eyewitness to history, documenting the sweeping changes taking place and the events going on around her. Through her photographs, she brought news and images of the war home to Americans and captured a major historical event from a unique perspective. Her experiences abroad must have been so profoundly affecting that Mona was moved to volunteer her time, energy, and life to serving the war effort. She spent two years working for the American Fund for French Wounded before becoming an emergency ambulance driver, first for the National League for Woman’s Service Motor Corps and then for the Red Cross Motor Service.

This scrapbook is from the American National Red Cross Collection, Scrapbooks and Related Materials, 1917-1999 (NAID 77820187).


Adventure and Discovery

Mona Ryan was born in Omaha, Nebraska on June 28, 1887 and in 1911, at 24 years old she married Harry P. Inman of Chicago, Illinois. On July 1, 1914, Mona, along with her mother, Carrie Ryan, departed the United States, arriving in Copenhagen on July 12, 1914 for a leisure vacation in Europe, including stops in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy. At the time, they had little comprehension of the conflict to come and the potential danger they would face as they attempted to make their way home.

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My own War Record dating from 1914 to 1919. Post-war work 1919-20-21. Scrapbook of Mona Inman

Upon my birthday June 28, 1914 the Archduke and his wife were shot. We sailed July 1st for Copenhagen little dreaming what would start. The day I signed to go over, Bulgaria quit. The day my passports came was Armistice Day and when I at last got over in 1919, the Peace Treaty was signed on my birthday June 28, 1919” [Treaty of Versailles].

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In the upper left caption, Mona writes “Innsbruck – War declared July 23, Austria and Serbia 14th Army Corps headquarters. Our hotel fronted railroad station so spent night hanging out window seeing men depart.” The postcard depicts Austrian soldiers and she notes that “all pictures were forbidden even in 1914.”

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On this page, her caption reads “at Brig – we were hauled off train and remained while army of that [Canton] collected from four winds. Swiss guarded all borders for two years or more for fear of Belgium’s fate. August 12, 1914.”

The Western Union telegram sent by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to J. Ryan (Mona’s father) on August 2, 1914 is the first indication of the concern arising in regards to the location and safety of Mona and her mother, perhaps due to difficult or impossible attempts to correspond with their family back in Chicago. The telegram states “Consul Venice instructed to cable whereabouts and condition Mrs. Ryan and Mrs. Inman.

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“Camera Catches from the Front”

Meanwhile, Mona and her mother became stranded along with other refugees near the battle lines in France between Amiens and Paris in their attempt to travel to the coast and make their way to London. On August 27th, Mona captured the vivid scenes of war featured in this article from The Farmers’ Review depicting English and French soldiers, some wounded and being sent to hospitals, with the fresh troops going in to replace them.

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Additional photographs of soldiers at Amiens, France and a newspaper article describing the chaos, confusion, and danger of battle.

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In this newspaper clipping, the anxious search for Mona and her mother is detailed.

Harry P. Inman Finds Wife

“Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Inman of Chicago arrived in London yesterday safe and well. Mr. Inman, after an anxious search in southern Europe finally found his wife through the register at the Paris office of The Daily News. Mrs. Inman and her mother were in Vienna when the war started. They were located by the American State Department and following its advice, Mr. Inman sailed for Genoa, Italy, arriving there August 23… He searched through several towns in Switzerland, but without success. He was then directed by Cook’s agency to go to Paris. Arriving there August 27, he went to the office of The Daily News, found the address of his wife and mother-in-law and brought them to London.”

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New York, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957 (NAID 300346)

On this passenger list, Mona is recorded as departing London on September 15, 1914 on the S.S. Menominee with her mother and husband and arriving in New York on September 17, 1914.


Involvement in the War Effort

After her return, she worked for two years for the American Fund for French Wounded before the United States entered the war in 1917. She then drove for six months in the National League for Woman’s Service Motor Corps before the Red Cross organized a Motor Service. After completing training courses at the Greer College of Motoring and passing examinations in First Aid, Motor Mechanics, Sanitary Drill, First Aid and Driving, Mona signed up to serve for three years as an overseas ambulance driver for the American Red Cross and was made a Sergeant in 1918.

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This page has two photographs of Mona in her uniform along with insignia from her time serving with the American Fund for French Wounded, which was an organization founded by American women living overseas to provide medical assistance to wounded French soldiers and civilians.

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Mona returned to the United States from France and these photographs document some of the first aid training she received prior to beginning her work in the National League for Woman’s Service Motor Corps.

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This newspaper clipping depicts Mona (far left) and other women who “passed the examination for ambulance drivers overseas.”

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Mona in her Red Cross Motor Corps uniform and a certificate from the American Red Cross in recognition of her service. For a brief time, Mona was stationed at Camp Cody, an army training camp outside Deming, New Mexico while awaiting her departure overseas.

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US Passport Applications, 1795-1925 (NAID 583830)

In this passport application dated November 7, 1918, Mona indicated her plans to travel to France and Great Britain as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross Motor Service. In a note from her scrapbook, Mona writes “Last inspection of clothes before start for Camp Dix where flu hit outfit and delayed start across. Landed England and at Le Havre when Nov. 11 came” [Armistice of November 11, 1918].

Although the Armistice had been signed, Mona remained overseas and served in the Bureau of Canteens from March 1919 to July 1919 assisting with the embarkation of American troops returning to the United States.


Returning Home

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US Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 (NAID  6234465)

Mona departed from Brest, France on August 3, 1919 on the S.S. Imperator and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on August 10, 1919. Her name is listed on a record of Casual Civilians with her Military Unit listed as ARC (American Red Cross) and her Rank as a Civilian Aide.

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Personal photographs and postcards from her time on the ship.

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A tally of passengers aboard the S.S. Imperator: “100 dogs, 100 war brides, 24 babies, 700 workers, 1500 casual officers, and all the crews full of girls and boys – 10,000 in all – can carry 14,000 if needed.”

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“Up early in the morning looking for this lady love.”
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Photograph of the S.S. Imperator from U.S., WWI Troop Transport Ships, 1918-1919.

After the War and Charity Work

According to the 1920 Census, Mona and Harry lived with her parents James and Carrie Ryan in Chicago. Harry was a traveling salesman of millinery and her father was a real estate agent. Mona is listed as having no profession. By the 1930 Census, Mona is registered as a widow and living with her mother Carrie, who kept a rooming house. Unfortunately, records dating beyond the years documented in her scrapbook proved difficult to locate and information about her later life is unknown. However, her courage, determination, and selflessness are qualities to respect and admire in a life devoted to the service of others.

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Over the years, Mona continued her involvement with the American Red Cross and remained active in her charitable efforts as a member of the Women’s Overseas Service League. She was also a founder of the Howard St. Service Men’s Center. This scrapbook page includes certificates of appreciation from the Chicago Chapter of the American National Red Cross for Mona’s service in the Annual Roll Call.

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In this newspaper article depicting women in uniform from both World Wars, Mona is shown second from the left and listed as “Mrs. M. R. Inman, Red Cross Motor Corporal, from 1914 till 1919 overseas.” The benefit program aimed to raise money for the Illinois Opera Guild’s service men’s recreation fund.

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Ambulance Drivers of Two World Wars

Ambulance drivers, then and now; Mrs. Mona R. Inman (left) in her American Red Cross ambulance driver’s uniform from the First World War, and Mrs. John Walter Miller in today’s streamlined Red Cross Motor Corps uniform. Mrs. Miller also drove an ambulance in the last war, though she did not see service abroad as Mrs. Inman did.


Records used in the post:

  • Scrapbooks and Related Materials, 1917-1999, Records of the American National Red Cross, ANRC NAID 77820187
  • Lists of Incoming Passengers, 1917-1938, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, RG 92 NAID 6234465
  • Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels arriving at New York, 1897-1957, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 NAID 300346
  • Passport Applications, 1906-1925, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59 NAID 583830

2 thoughts on “Women in Uniform: Red Cross Service of Mona Ryan Inman in World War I

  1. Cool post!

    Re: “army of that [?] collected from four [?].” I think it’s “army of that Canton (i.e., state) collected from four winds (i.e., all directions).”

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