Hilda Patton Thompson was a passionate humanitarian who founded the State College chapter of the American Red Cross Motor Corps. She continued her work with the Red Cross, holding national leadership positions during World War I and World War II.
Thompson was born at Centre Furnace on August 28, 1893, to James Irvin Thompson and Mary Jane “Janie” Shaw. Her father was the youngest son of Centre Furnace and ironmaster Moses Thompson.
Thompson’s national service began during World War I when she served as a motor corps ambulance driver. She founded the local State College chapter of the Red Cross motor corps in 1917.
The motor corps was created out of a necessity for ambulance drivers, and was a supplement to the US Army and Navy in transporting troops and supplies during World War I. It was composed mostly of women who had wealth and an abundance of free time that made it possible to serve.
Thompson stepped down from her position as the head of the State College motor corps to join the American Red Cross full time in 1918. After her enlistment and training in Washington D.C., she was assigned to work in France at a Canteen Service from December 1918 until June 1919. The Red Cross Canteen Corps provided twenty-four-hour food service and refreshments to the U.S. military and Allied forces throughout the entire war.
Thompson’s service continued during World War II, where she was stationed in the South Pacific. During this time, she served as Red Cross Club director.
The clubs were open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and provided troops with food and recreation services. The clubs served troops all over Europe and the South Pacific and could be subject to the danger of war.
In her last four months in the South Pacific, she supervised the canteens in New Guinea. She was also responsible for preparing for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to the troops. In 1946, Thompson was appointed Deputy Director of Displaced Persons Camp Operations with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Headquarters in Germany, working primarily with Lithuanian and Latvian refugees.
In 1958, Thompson became a member of the “College Area Hospital Auxiliary” and served as president from 1963-1964. She also served as treasurer of the Central Region Association of the Pennsylvania Association of Hospital Auxiliaries. Thompson died on November 27, 1968, at her home in State College.
“Hilda Patton Thompson,” Centre Daily Times, November 29, 1968.
“Hilda Thompson, Red Cross Ambulance Driver World War II,” The Thompson Family Collection, Centre County Historical Society, State College, PA.
“Hilda Patton Thompson, Red Cross, World War II,” The Thompson Family Collection, Centre County Historical Society, State College, PA.
Eleanor Roosevelt. Letter to Mary I. Stahl, September 25, 1943, The Thompson Family Collection, Centre County Historical Society, State College, PA.
Hilda P. Thompson. “Speech to the Washington D.C. Red Cross Headquarters,” [date unknown], The Thompson Family Collection, Centre County Historical Society, State College, PA.
First Published: July 20, 2021
Last Modified: February 5, 2022