The Surgical Dressing Committee Of The Miami County Indiana Chapter
Of The American Red Cross During WWI.   

   The domestic science room at the High School in the small community of Peru, Indiana was buzzing with activity on June 18, 1917, as the local chapter of the America Red Cross opened their first surgical dressing workshop.  The First World War was raging and local women turned out to do their part in support of the war effort. The local surgical dressing department was soon considered almost perfect in personnel and workmanship.  Under the leadership of Fannie Lemme Gustin, it was considered very efficient. She was chairwoman of the committee with Ruth Burton as her assistant and they began with two instructors: Maude W.  Ager and  Florence Gilbert.   The rooms were open for work on four afternoons a week.  Two instructors were in charge each day indicating various women volunteered in the workroom under their supervision.  As summer wound down to a close and school started in September the workshop was moved.   Peru Mercantile donated space on the second floor for their use.   When in February 1918 the store underwent remodeling, the committee again moved their workroom.  At that time S. S. Brewer donated a suite of rooms at the Dukes Office Building on South Wabash.  The work of the surgical dressing committee grew so steadily that soon they were open five afternoons a week as well as two evenings, and more instructors were trained.  Fannie also organized a branch at Converse.  This branch was open two afternoons a week.   On August 10, 1917, inspectors from Fort Wayne visited the Miami County Red Cross workrooms and were favorable in their report.  They especially commended the surgical dressings as being “beautifully done”.   By December 14, 1917,  the newspaper reported that the local Red Cross work had grown in such degrees that it had become necessary to direct calls to specific women with regards to the nature of the calls.  Fannie Lamme Gustin was to be reached at Main 291.   Then by March of 1918,  the Miami County surgical dressing committee was selected to do work for the Army. Each month they received a quota of Army needs.  The types of items they produced included 9 in X 9 in compresses, 4 in X 4 in compresses, 3-yard roll bandages, sponges, and fracture pillows. By January of 1919, the war had been over since November and the surgical dressing department closed.  37,416 dressings had been completed.  The committee member’s efforts were transferred to the sewing and knitting departments.  Fannie Gustin moved on to take on the work of chairwoman of the Hospital Garments and Supplies Committee.  The American Red Cross reported that on the national level the dollar amount attributed to the surgical dressing committees throughout the country combined  was $1,963,925.00

  Fannie Gustin  
Fannie Lamme Gustin was instrumental in the success of the local Surgical Dressings Committee.  She was born on December 10,   1865, in Indiana to Johnathan T. Lamme and Minerva Butler Lamme.  Fannie’s father was born in Ohio and her mother in Indiana. Fannie began to teach at the Indiana School for the Deaf in 1886 where she remained till 1890, although during this time the school newspapers reported that she made a trip out east on vacation.  Then on October 13, 1890, Fannie married William Horace Gustin in Miami County, Indiana. They are listed on the 1900 census as living in Peru, Indiana with their eight-year-old daughter Elba.  William was a realtor. They took lodgers into their home which they also shared with Fannie’s brother. In 1929 Fannie experienced a monumental heartbreaking event when her daughter Elba passed away and two years later once again tragedy struck when her husband William died.  Fannie worked as a postal clerk in Peru and she was treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church. She was described as a woman of exact discipline and patience.  In September of 1933, she was in an automobile accident while a passenger in her brother in law Elbert R. Gustin’s car.  Fannie was permanently injured.  On November 7, 1938,  Fannie Lemme Gustin passed away.  Her cause of death is listed as chronic nephritis on her death certificate and heart disease in her obituary.  She also had arteriosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  She was buried in Peru at Mount Hope Cemetery. 

Every effort has been made to find the full names of the other women who were members of the local Surgical Dressing Committee were:

Edah Kagy Surgical Dressing Dept
Caroline Lois Nelles Stowe Bouslog
Florence Reasoner
Caroline Emma Zern Hiner
Anna O’Brien
Mrs. C. B. Hunt
Nora Betzner
Georgia H. West
Clara Smith
Susan V. Robinson
Eleanor Karthell                                                             Click on photo for larger image --->
     In Miami County,  Indiana the same women served on committees for the local American Red Cross and the local Women’s Council of Defense and the report at the end of WWI muddles and confuses which was which.   In fact, during WWI the work of the Red Cross and the Women’s Council of Defense was so intertwined that some references interchange them as though they were one and the same. It also varies from report to report which group was in charge of the other.  But clearly both groups cooperated to achieve the same goals, and at the local level rolled up their sleeves and worked together.  The final local report also mixes the work of the Hospital Garments and Supplies Committee with work of the Surgical Dressings Committee.  Both were part of “The Work Room” as near as can be figured out from the report, although the workrooms for each were not at the same location.  The same women moved between the two committees and the work itself overlapped.  The purpose of this article is to explain the work of the Surgical Dressings Committee.  Writing about an organization such as this poses the risk of not acknowledging someone who contributed significantly during WWI to the Miami County Red Cross work.  For example,  besides the workrooms in Peru, there were women gathering in homes throughout the county sewing, knitting and conducting fundraisers for the Miami County Red Cross.  Not every person’s tasks and accomplishments fit neatly under the category of a particular committee.  Nor is there time (at least not during this centennial year) to write an article on every committee that was Red Cross and/or Women’s Council of Defense during the WWI time frame.  Hopefully the smattering of articles that do get written will go far in giving credit to and acknowledging many of the women who joined in the committee work  to support our troops and the needs of foreign entities overseas at that crucial time.  The women who served as Red Cross Nurses had been through a formal nurses training, but many other women served in valuable ways as members of the Red Cross Corps.  Uniforms were worn by both groups of women, but they were specific uniforms depending on whether they were classified as a Red Cross Nurse or a Red Cross Corps Member.   Local Miami County women wore Red Cross Corps uniforms as they went about accomplishing the very important work of the Red Cross.  These are women whose quiet daily efforts joined together to provide a great service to their community,  their country, and the world.

Written, researched and submitted by Mary Rohrer Dexter

Works Cited

“Aged Peru Lady Dies After Long Illness.” Pharos Tribune, 7 Nov. 1938.

“Attention.” Peru Republican, 14 Dec. 1917.

“Brother In Law Sued For $10,000.” Pharos Tribune, 25 Jan. 1934.

Death Certificate. Indiana State Board Of Health.

“Fannie B Gustine Lemme Memorial.” Billion Graves.

“Fannie B Lame Gustine Memorial.” Find A Grave.

“Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 1817-1893 (Vol. 1) : Fay, Edward Allen,1843-1923 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, The Library Shelf, 1 Jan. 1893, page 44

“Indiana Deaf-Mute Journal: Indiana School for the Deaf.” 26 Sept. 1888.

“ ‘Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007," Database with Images, FamilySearch (Https:// : 10 December 2017), William H Gustin and Fannie B Laurence, 14 Oct 1890; Citing Miami, Indiana, United States, Various County Clerk Offices, Indiana; FHL Microfilm 2,431,964.”

MIami County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Self, MIami County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

“Mrs. Fannie Gustin Dies.” Kokomo Tribune, 8 Nov. 1938.

“Notice of Sale of Real Estate.” Hammond Lake Times, 25 May 1917.

“Red Cross Inspectors.” Peru Republican, 10 Aug. 1917.

“Red Cross Ship First Material.” Peru Journal, 18 Aug. 1917.

“The Silent Hoosier: Indiana School For the Deaf.” 2 Mar. 1916.

“The Silent Hoosier: Indiana School For the Deaf.” 23 Oct. 1931.

“The Silent Hoosier: Indiana School for the Deaf.” 27 May 1915.

Surgical Dressings Committee. Peru, Indiana. Photograph of the Surgical Dressing Committee of the Miami County Red Cross during WWI.  Donated by the Miami County Museum in Peru, Indiana

“‘United States Census, 1900," Database with Images, FamilySearch (Https:// : Accessed 6 July 2018), Fannie B Gustin in Household of William Gustin, Peru Township Peru City Ward 2, Miami, Indiana, United States; Citing Enumeration District (ED) 104, Sheet 15B, Family 341, NARA Microfilm Publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL Microfilm 1,240,393.”

“‘United States Census, 1910," Database with Images, FamilySearch (Https:// : Accessed 6 July 2018), Fannie B Gustin in Household of William H Gustin, Peru Ward 2, Miami, Indiana, United States; Citing Enumeration District (ED) ED 127, Sheet 11B, Family 293, NARA Microfilm Publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), Roll 371; FHL Microfilm 1,374,384.”

“‘United States Census, 1920," Database with Images, FamilySearch (Https:// : Accessed 6 July 2018), B Fannie B Gustin in Household of H William H Gustin, Peru Ward 2, Miami, Indiana, United States; Citing  ED 156, Sheet 1A, Line 7, Family 3, NARA Microfilm Publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), Roll 441; FHL Microfilm 1,820,441.”