Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The New York Herald of October 12, 1919 described the World War One adventures of a “young woman, with a smile, a dog and a tan dispatch bag.” The woman was Helen Grannis, a courier for the American Red Cross, who traveled throughout the Balkans by train, cart, or donkey to deliver the official documents in her tan bag to US Army bases and outposts of the American Red Cross. 

Before leaving New York City for “war work” in Europe, Grannis had worked in the Circulation Department of the New York Public Library since 1915.  She earned her certificate from the NYPL Library School in 1917 and started the second year of study.  She resigned instead, and joined the American Red Cross in France. 

In 1920 Grannis left the Red Cross and joined the Rockefeller Foundation in France, where she traveled the country lecturing about tuberculosis until 1923. 

Her wartime experiences were hailed by Ernest Reece, Principle of the NYPL Library School, who recommended Grannis for a position at Ohio State University in 1923.  He noted that her drawback for the job was the lack of a college degree, but went on to say, “Mrs. Grannis has a vision, a knowledge of world affairs, and an experience of life which would dwarf many of us who are college graduates.”

Grannis returned to NYPL for a few months in 1923, left to organize the US Marine Hospital on Ellis Island, and returned to NYPL in 1926.  Grannis was promoted to Branch Librarian in 1929 and headed the Muhlenberg and George Bruce Branches.  She died in 1935 after a long illness.

Today would be the 127th birthday of the Red Cross courier and librarian, Helen W. Grannis.

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