The Nebraska State Historical Society recently received a wonderful donation from the American Red Cross. In addition to a scrapbook, photographs, and other documents, the Society received a skirt and field jacket covered in World War II badges and insignia, known as “G.I. Josephine”. The collection belonged to Red Cross worker Ruth Diamond Levinson, and it has quite an interesting story.
In 1942, at the age of 31, Ruth Diamond was asked to volunteer for the Red Cross’ overseas program. Ruth had previously taught swimming as a Red Cross volunteer, and was an Assistant Professor of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance at the University of Omaha.
Ruth applied to the program and was sent to Bournemouth, England. Four hotels there had been turned into Red Cross clubs which provided recreation and a “home away from home” for soldiers on leave. She served as the Assistant Program Director. There, soldiers found a place to write home, shop for gifts, sleep, eat in a dining room (rather than a mess hall), and visit with young women from back home. Ruth organized things like fishing trips, shows, and bicycle trips for the soldiers on leave.
Ruth’s Red Cross uniform jacket was quite uncomfortable for biking, so a G.I. brought her a small sized Army jacket with his unit’s patch on the shoulder. Soon, other G.I.s began bringing her their insignia, thus “G.I. Josephine” was started. As the jacket filled with insignia, the British police asked Ruth not to wear it outdoors because a spy could potentially ascertain what units were in the area. Thus, the jacket was placed on a manikin and put in the lobby of one of the hotels, Marsham Court. Soon, she acquired a skirt and hat, and G.I. Josephine welcomed G.I.s as they came into the hotel.
Ruth was transferred to Mardon Hall, an American Red Cross Club in Exeter, England. One of her activities was sponsoring weekend dances for the soldiers stationed in surrounding camps. A few days after D-Day, June 6, 1944, Ruth was called to London. There, Red Cross workers were issued fatigues and four-buckled overshoes. Seven or eight workers, including Ruth, were assigned jeeps and they drove them onto a Liberty ship, which crossed the English Channel to Utah Beach in France. They then drove to Cherbourg, France to assist backup troops.
The troops were moving quickly and Ruth’s next assignment was in Nancy, France where her duties included serving coffee and doughnuts, and spending time talking with soldiers. Next, she was assigned to Luxembourg.
In late 1944, Ruth was ordered home and she returned through London on the ship Queen Elizabeth. Upon returning to the United States, she was ordered to the Training Personnel Department at American University in Washington, D.C. There, she trained the last group of Red Cross girls and delivered them to their embarkation point in California as they were headed for the Pacific Theater.
After returning home, Ruth married Harry Levinson and took a position in the Physical Education department at the University of Nebraska, eventually becoming Vice Chair.
Thanks to Ruth Levinson and her family, and the American Red Cross for preserving these wonderful pieces of World War II history.
-Laura Mooney, Museum Registrar