by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
Although Harvey County was formed after the Civil War ended, the impact was still felt. After the war, people returned to their lives and for many that meant going west to start over. At the same time, the Homestead Act helped to make land available. In the decades following the war, Harvey County became home to many Civil War veterans and their families. At first establishing farms, businesses and communities was top priority. By the mid-1880s, much had been accomplished and community leaders began looking for ways to memorialize the war. Nationally, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a fraternal organization, was established in 1866 for Union soldiers and sailors. By 1880, the GAR had over 360,000 members nationwide. In Kansas, there were 478 posts with about 19,000 members. Soon, an associated group, the Women’s Relief Corp was organized.
Women’s Relief Corp (WRC)
A national, charitable and patriotic organization, the Women’s Relief Corp (WRC) was an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The first WRC Kansas organization was established in Leavenworth in 1883. The WRC was open to all interested women. The GAR and a later sub-group, the Ladies of the GAR, only admitted veterans of the Union army or relatives of honorably discharged Union soldiers.
The formation of the WRC was in response to the needs of the community following the Civil War. Projects of the WRC included assisting disabled veterans, war widows and orphans. The group also focused on cemetery maintenance and erecting war memorials. In Harvey County, the WRC was most active from 1883-1920.
Fund Raising for the Monument to the Unknown Dead
“Supper was served to one hundred ninety-four guests and the receipts were $37.00 which will be deposited in the monument fund. Many of the guests lingered for the quilt drawing.”(Evening Kansan Republican, 13 December 1910, p. 4.)
One of the early projects of Newton’s WRC was to erect a monument in remembrance of those Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Funds were raised in several ways.
Throughout 1910, the women served Saturday evening suppers in the WRC room in the courthouse. The suppers were quite popular and for their last one on December 10, “the reception room and the corridor were crowded and the committee serving had their hands more than full.”
One of the driving forces behind these suppers was Luverna (Mrs. Bert) Williamson, president of the WRC at the time. The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican noted:
She deserved “much of the credit for the success of these suppers as she has been an untiring worked for the object for which the suppers are given, viz. the erection of a monument to the memory of the ‘Unknown Dead’.”
A second, successful fund raiser was selling quilts completed by the WRC. In most cases, people could pay a small amount to have their name included on the quilt. The ladies then met to quilt and embroider the names. The finished quilts was either sold through an auction or a raffle.
Ulysses G. Shepherd, local mail carrier, purchased the 1911 WRC quilt. His wife, Florence, was active in the WRC in Newton for many years.
Monument to Unknown Dead
The new monument was “unveiled” on December 7, 1911 “with appropriate ceremony” in Military Park, at the corner of Broadway and Oak in Newton. The local ladies of the WRC invited relief corps from Peabody, Whitewater,McPherson, Sedgwick and Wichita and the general public.
The reporter for the Evening Kansan Republican noted that the placing the monument was “another step toward the time when Kansas . . . shall have time to stop and take note of that which has gone before.” The effort to erect a monument in Newton was part of a national trend “placing busts and statues and monuments commemorating heroic deeds, prominent statesmen and brave men” roughly 50 years after the end of the Civil War.
Officers Judson Kilpatrick W.R.C., No. 71 in 1922
Monument to the Unknown Dead Today
The WRC Quilt is one of several quilts that will be included in our upcoming exhibit, “Purposeful Stitches: Community Quilts” opening February 20, 2016.
- Evening Kansan Republican: 3 October 1899, 23 Nov. 1905, 18 Dec. 1909, 13 Dec. 1910, 6 December 1911, 7 May 1917, 25 Feb. 1918.
- Newton Kansan, 1 June 1922
- Newton Kansan 50th Anniversary Ed., 22 August 1922.
- Gallagher, Karin Shriver. “Luverna Sapp “Verna” Crawley Williamson” Biographical info on www.findagrave.com.
- National Woman’s Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic at http://suvcw.org/WRC/wrcbadge.htm