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Our First Employee Volunteers in the Military

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Apr 16, 2010

Johnson & Johnson Plaster Mill Employee (left) and fellow soldier, Spanish American War, 1898

My last post talked about the origins of our tradition of employees volunteering in the community. Another way our employees volunteered was through military service to their countries, a tradition that began in 1898 with the Spanish American War when two Johnson & Johnson employees in the U.S. volunteered to serve in the military.

One of Our First Two Employees to Volunteer to Serve in the Military in 1898: He Wrote the Company a Letter

One of those two employees, Richard G., had just accepted a position in sales, and was understandably nervous about how the management of Johnson & Johnson would take the news that he had just gotten here and would be leaving to serve in the U.S. military.  So he wrote a letter, and here are his recollections about what happened:

“I had been in the employ of Johnson & Johnson but a few months when our country became involved in war with Spain…Here I was with a new job – and I needed it – and my heart was set on going to the defense of our country.  I decided to take it up with the company.  I wrote them a frank letter, telling of my desire to enlist and asking if they would hold my position for me.  Very promptly I received a reply from the late Robert W. Johnson, then the president of Johnson & Johnson.  I have always kept that letter…” [THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. XIII, No. 5, 1921, p. 346]

Robert Wood Johnson

Robert Wood Johnson

Here’s the reply from Company founder and president Robert Wood Johnson, dated April 25, 1898:

 “Dear Sir:

We have your letter of the 24th and congratulate you upon your patriotic proposition contained therein. 

While we shall greatly regret to lose your services, and would be loath to consent to having you go for any other cause, yet under the circumstances, we not only most heartily applaud your action, but will be glad to tender you every assistance in our power.  Not only will we be glad to keep your place open for you when you return, but will also continue your pay the same as heretofore during your entire absence….Wishing you good health and good luck, we are,

 Sincerely yours,


 R. W. Johnson, President”

Actually, according to Richard G’s recollections, the Company didn’t live exactly up to Robert Wood Johnson’s pledge to keep his pay the same during his service: they gave him a raise.  [THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, Vol. XIII, No. 5, 1921, p. 346]  Twenty-three years later, when he gave that interview to THE RED CROSS MESSENGER, he was one of the Company's top salesmen.

Incidentally, the Spanish American War also started the first seeds of what would become our disaster relief program, which is one of the cornerstones of our support for the community today.

World War I – Our First Female Employee to Volunteer

Our first female employee to volunteer for military service was Katherine H., who lived in New Brunswick and worked in the advertising department.  She was a trained nurse, and when the call went out from the American Red Cross in 1917 for nurses, Katherine volunteered her services as a field nurse to the U.S. Army.

The Army rapidly promoted Katherine, and she was named head nurse and superintendent of the General Hospital #6 at Fort MacPherson in Georgia.  Here’s what the Atlanta Constitution said about her:

“..her very presence gives one confidence…with the ideal of executive strength in her composed but expressive manner, her voice one that carries its message unmistakably, but is never sharp or loud.”  [Atlanta Constitution article, quoted in New Brunswick Home News, May 21, 1918]

A New Brunswick Home News article mentioned that the hospital’s sterilization and operating rooms were “models of up-to-dateness,” which makes you wonder if our employee volunteer, because she worked at Johnson & Johnson with its rigorous clean rooms and aseptic manufacturing standards, gave the military hospital any advice regarding surgical cleanliness.  [New Brunswick Home News, May 21, 1918]  Katherine H. was so well-liked by the nurses she supervised at Fort MacPherson that they presented her with a decorative loving cup as a token of their appreciation.  [New Brunswick Home News clipping in our archives, August 16, 1918]

From Fort MacPherson, Katherine was promoted to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia 1918, and ended up as Chief Nurse of the Evacuation Hospital in Vladivostok, Siberia. When the war ended, she personally brought the last contingent of nurses from the hospital in Siberia back to the U.S.   Not only did they treat the wounded there, but they did their best to treat soldiers suffering from the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic as well. Here’s a postcard she sent back to her colleagues at Johnson & Johnson from Siberia, from our archives:

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Karyn Hill
APRIL 19, 2010 02:35 PM

Simply beautiful that their letters have been preserved and are still appreciated~ For we are all dust in the wind, but as a company ethics can be held tight to be a lasting memory and standard of operation.
This can be lost in the push for the "pot of gold" but really is the most meaningful when it's all said and done.

Mary Radwanski
APRIL 20, 2010 09:18 AM

I think that remembering the first military volunteers from Johnson and Johnson and providing their letters is wonderful. As part of this celebration it would also be nice to pay tribute all the volunteers since that time that have sacrificed and voluteered to serve in our military. If we could continue this tribute up to present time it would be wonderful to see how many employees continue to voluteer for our military and give them the same support as we did back then.

Tom Hannan
NOVEMBER 28, 2013 11:46 AM

The first nurse volunteer was my great aunt "Kitty". She is buried in the Nurses Section at Arlington National Cemetery. Her father, my great grandfather, John is pictured in the blog as a plant engineer at J&J in 1894.

DECEMBER 02, 2013 10:54 AM

In reply to by Tom Hannan


Johnson & Johnson is honored to have had both your great aunt Kitty and your great grandfather as employees. Your great aunt's story is especially inspirational to our employee veterans at Johnson & Johnson.


Celia Blakemore
APRIL 22, 2017 09:18 AM

In reply to by Tom Hannan

I found your great Aunt's engraved award cup from the nurses at Fort McPherson among my deceased mother in law's possessions. My mother in law was the daughter of Kitty's friend Mary Adams Davis of Manassas, Va. Kitty spent a great deal of time at their home. My husband has a treasure of memories of your aunt. If you are interested in the cup and sharing his recollectionsyou may contact me at my email address [email protected]