Spotlight on Anne Weightman Walker Penfield

Anne Weightman Walker Penfield was one of the richest women in America. The heir to an industrial and real estate fortune, she was worth $20 million in 1914, which is about a half-billion dollars in today’s money. When war broke out she spearheaded efforts to start a Red Cross Hospital in Vienna. Only two weeks into the war there were already 20,000 wounded Austrian soldiers in Vienna alone. By that time Mrs. Penfield had expended a portion of her personal fortune to support the production of over 100,000 bandages to be sent to the hospital. By 1917 the figure ran to several million bandages.

Anne Weightman Walker Penfield
(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

At Thanksgiving 1914, the Penfields had 2,000 meals prepared and delivered to wounded Austrian soldiers and wounded captured Russian prisoners. They also provided meals for all U.S. doctors and nurses at the Red Cross Hospital. The next month Ambassador Penfield oversaw the distribution of 500,000 Christmas gifts from Americans to the children of deceased Austrian soldiers. Both the Ambassador and his wife were awarded special decorations from Emperor Francis Joseph for their services to the Austrian Empire via the Red Cross. In receiving his award, Penfield supported the U.S. policy of neutrality toward all belligerents by noting that “The [Red Cross] Society was proud to be able to contribute toward mitigating the sufferings of the Austrian soldiers, as it had done for other countries involved in the war.”

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