Our First Employee Volunteers in the Military
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
Here’s the reply from Company founder and president Robert Wood Johnson, dated April 25, 1898:
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,
JOHNSON & JOHNSON
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: