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Red Cross History

Since 1881, people have turned to the American Red Cross for emergency services. Today, 1.2 million trained and dedicated American Red Cross volunteers, young and old, are helping their neighbors across the country every day.

Although it is not a government agency, the American Red Cross is chartered by Congress to provide special services to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and to disaster victims. American Red Cross workers assist our men and women in the Armed Forces and their families in emergencies. They are at the scene of more than 40,000 disasters a year, from house fires to devastating floods and tornadoes. They also teach their neighbors lifesaving skills in Red Cross CPR, first aid, water safety, and health courses. They collect about 6 million units of blood yearly in local blood drives. They work with sister Red Cross societies around the world to help victims of natural and man-made calamities.

The Red Cross Movement Is Founded to Protect Victims of War


The American Red Cross impart of an international humanitarian movement that has its roots in 19thcentury war-torn Europe.

In 1862, Henry Dunant (biography of Henry Dunant), a young Swiss businessman, wrote A Memory of Solferino, in which he described what he had seen on the northern Italian battlefield in 1859 where 40,000 troops were killed or wounded and left without help. His concern touched many, leading to the birth in 1863 of the International Committee, which included Dunant, adopted a red cross on a white background as the emblem, the reverse of the Swiss flag.

Dunant's ideas led to the Geneva Conventions, international treaties designed to protect these war victims: the wounded and sick on land (1864) and sea (1906), prisoners of war (1929), and civilians(1949). Since then, 165 governments have signed the Geneva Conventions, including additional revisions to protect the victims of all armed conflict. Today, the all-Swissair continues its protective role around the world. dunant_at_Solferino

The American Red Cross is one of more than 145national societies that make up the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. (Governments recognized the crescent as a protective emblem in 1929.) In addition, the American Red Cross works closely with the nonmember Amgen David Adam society of Israel. The League encourages its member societies to work together to relieve suffering from major natural disasters.

Together, the people who form the ranks of each Red Cross society, the IRC, and the League symbolize compassion and help worldwide. Their programs are founded on the basic principles of Humanity, Impartiality (nondiscrimination toward those in need), Neutrality, Independence freedom of action), Voluntary Service, Unity (only one society in each country), and Universality (societies have equal status and help each other). For more than 125 years, Red Cross workers have eased the pain of millions of people of all races, religions, and beliefs.

Clara Barton Leads Red Cross Relief Efforts in America

While Dunant's vision was spreading in Europe, civil war was raging in the United States. Clara Barton (biography of Clara Barton), a former schoolteacher and government worker who came from small farm in Massachusetts, went to the battlefield to help care for the wounded. Clara_Barton

After the Civil War, Barton went to Europe. She learned of the Red Cross Movement and worked in relief efforts for civilians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Returning home, she worked to persuade the U.S.government to sign the Geneva Conventions. On May 21, 1881, with a group of friends, Barton founded the American Association of the Red Cross. Later, the first chapter was established in Dansville, New York. The following year, the U.S. Senate ratified the Geneva Conventions, allowing America to become the 32nd nation to support the international treaty.

Barton's unique contribution to the worldwide Red Cross Movement was organizing volunteers to help disaster victims. Her idea became reality when Red Cross volunteers in New York shipped food and clothing to victims of the Michigan forest fires in 1881. In 1882 and 1884, Barton organized and personally supervised Red Cross relief efforts along the flooded Ohioan Mississippi rivers. Red Cross volunteers fed, sheltered, and gave medical care to the 25,000 victims of the1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood.

Barton did not limit her services to the United States. Under her leadership, volunteers of the American Red Cross helped victims of the Russian famine of 1892. In 1896,they helped ease, as Barton described it, "the terrible sufferings" of Armenians living in Turkish-controlled Armenia. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, Barton, then 76 years old, went to Cuba with her nurses to provide nursing care, medical supplies, food, and other necessities to civilians and troops.

These American Red Cross efforts to relieve suffering did not go unnoticed. In 1900, the U.S. Congress granted the American Red Crosse charter, making the volunteer organization responsible for providing services to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and relief to disaster victims at home and abroad.

Efforts Ease Pain, Save Lives

Clara Barton resigned as head of the American Red Cross in 1904 and was replaced by Mabel T. Boardman (biography of Mabel Boardman). Boardman, a volunteer, guided the American Red Cross through a series of internal crises and reforms. In1905, Congress approved a revised charter to enhance the Red Cross's effectiveness as a national society responsible for disaster relief and service to members of the military and their families.


Soon after, the American Red Cross faced one of its biggest challenges when an earthquake and fire destroyed much of the city of San Francisco in 1906. In a matter of minutes more than 500 San Franciscans died and tens of thousands of others of others were left homeless. President Theodore Roosevelt named the American Red Cross the official agency to help the stricken city, describing the Red Cross as" the only organization chartered and authorized by Congress to act attires of great national calamity."

Under Red Cross leadership, various agencies and volunteers carried out the enormous task of tending to the injured, sheltering and feeding the homeless, and distributing public contributions and government funds and supplies. The San Francis co-operation instilled the Red Cross leaders with renewed confidence and ideas for new directions in a number of health and safety areas.

For example, the American Red Cross sold Christmas Seals, the nation's first, from 1907 to 1919 to help finance the country's fight against tuberculosis. In 1909, Jane Delano, then superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, established a Red Cross nursing program. By organizing nurses to travel around the country, she helped spearhead a relentless attack on the communicable diseases in the nation's urban an rural areas. Delano resigned from the army in 1912 to devote full time to the Red Cross nursing corps, which would later officially serve the U.S. Army and Navy in World Wary. swimming_lessons

In 1910, Army Major Charles Lynch and Matthew Shields,M.D., began Red Cross first aid and industrial safety campaigns to reduce accidents that daily crippled and killed America's workers. Red Cross instructors sometimes crisscrossed the nation in Pullman railroad cars to take courses directly to workers in the factories in the early years. The Red Cross even translated its first aid handbook into several languages to reach the many immigrant workers. Today, almost 4 million certificates a year are awarded for taking Red Cross CPR and other first aid courses.

Former newspaperman Wilbert E. Longfellow helped establish Red Cross water safety instruction in 1914 to combat the mounting number of drowning. As a result, drowning began to decline significantly, and now Red Cross instructors award more than 2 million Red Cross water safety certificates a year.

Americans Rally Around the Red Cross During World War I

When war broke out in European 1914, the American Red Cross had only 107 chapters. By the end of the war, the number of chapters had grown to 3,864. One out of every five Americans was a member of the American Red Cross.

By 1916, America itself was on the brink of war with Germany. At the request of the Surgeon General of the Army and Navy, the American Red Cross organized 50 base hospitals in France and elsewhere. When the United States went to war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson quickly mobilized the American people behind the American Red Cross and appointed a War Council to run the Red Cross. More than 30 million adults and young people became active supporters.

As the war went on, Red Cross workers provided medical and recreational services for the military at home and abroad. They also pioneered the development of psychiatric nursing programs at veterans' hospitals, made artificial limbs, and helped rehabilitate amputees and blinded veterans. WWI_cantenn_in_Bordeaux,France

With the strong support of President Wilson, the Junior Red Cross began in 1917. It was an opportunity for young people in America to help their country. They raised money, cultivated gardens, made relief items for war victims. By the end of war, this force of young people numbered 11million.

Eight million American Red Cross production workers in local chapters provided more than 371 million relief articles, such as furniture and knitted sweaters. Overseas, American Red Cross workers served in more than 25 countries, helping millions of civilian refugees as well as U.S.and Allied soldiers. More than 2,000 American Red Cross workers remained abroad after the war to continue their humanitarian work.

The war took its toll on the people of the American Red Cross. For example, of the 24,000 nurses recruited for war duty 296 died in-service.

The American Red Cross Helps People Rebuild Their Lives After the War

After the war, American Red Cross leaders launched a massive effort to help victims in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. American Red Cross staff resettled masses of displaced refugees and reunited families. They cared for children orphaned by the war. They established nursing schools, provided medical treatment for victims of typhus and other epidemics, and distributed food and clothing.

It was during this time that thousands of nurses were recruited into the Red Cross public health nursing program to bring better health and hygiene to needy people living in rural America. There was also a dramatic increase in Red Cross instructors, who trained their neighbors in first aid, nursing skills, and water safety during than 1920s and1930s. Humorist Will Rogers said in 1927, in a serious vein: "We are soused to the things the Red Cross does that we sometimes just forget to praise them."

The Red Cross responded to a series of major disasters, notably the Mississippian Ohio river floods of 1927 and 1937. In cooperation with the federal government, the Red Cross set up camps that fed and housed tens of thousands of flood victims.

Yazoo, Mississippi_flood Carles_Drew

Then came the disastrous drought and depression of the1930s. In addition to providing food and shelter, Red Cross workers distributed millions of bushels of wheat and flour donated by the government. Nearly 6million needy families around the country received Red Cross assistance.

During the same period, Red Cross workers took the first steps in recruiting blood donors for hospitals, laying the groundwork in1937-38 for what later would become the American Red Cross Blood Services program. The first Red Cross blood center was established in New York's Presbyterian Hospital in February 1914. Its director was Charles Drew, M.D., pioneer of modern blood processing techniques.

Volunteers Help Soldiers, Sailors, and Civilians in World War II


By this time, nearly every family in America had a member who had either served as a Red Cross volunteer, made contribution of money or blood, or even been a recipient of Red Cross services.

When the United States entered the World War II in 1941,Americans again supported the American Red Cross. By the time the Marines stormed the beaches at Guadalcanal in 1942, more than 3million volunteers were involved in Red Cross activities. At home, young and old collected scrap, served in hospitals, produced war relief materials, taught health and safety courses, and aided military personnel. By 1944, the number of volunteers doubled to 7.5 million.

In addition, over 70,000 registered nurses served through the Red Cross; 13.4 million units of blood were collected for the wounded; 28 million food parcels were shipped to U.S.and Allied war prisoners; and thousands of workers provided welfare and recreational services to service personnel overseas.

With strong endorsement from President Roosevelt, the American public donated $784 million - equivalent to more than $5 billion in today's currency - to support Red Cross efforts between 1941 and 1946.

When peace was restored, the American Red Cross, along with the Red Cross societies in other countries, the IRC, and the League, reunited family members separated from the conflict and carried on extensive relief and rehabilitation programs for the civilian victims of the war. From the beginning of the war through June 30, 1946, the American Red Cross had been instrumental in aiding more than 75 million people, 27 million of whom were children.

The American Red Cross Evolves at Mid-century

As the world changed dramatically after World War II the Red Cross needed to undergo some changes of its own.

At its annual national convention in 1947, thirty chapter delegates were elected to sit on the Red Cross's newly created Board of Governors. For the first time in American Red Cross history, local chapters had clear majority on the governing board, placing the Red Cross's future in the hands of the local volunteers. This major change in the organization ensured that local community needs would be addressed.

Also as a result of the convention, the Red Cross initiated a national blood program in 1948, the largest peacetime project the American Red Cross had ever undertaken in the health field. Today, Red Cross workers meet the critical need for blood and blood products by collecting, processing, and distributing half the nation's blood supply.

During the Korean and Vietnam wars and throughout peacetime, Red Cross workers continued to provide counseling and recreation services to members of the Armed Forces. And thousands of Red Cross volunteers hurried to their neighbors' assistance when devastating tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes hit the country.

The American Red Cross Adapts to Today's Needs


Today, the American Red Cross and its 1.2 million adult and youth volunteers remain a vital part of early every community in America constantly adapting to meet the emergency needs of their neighbors.

As we approach the 21st century, more and more Red Cross volunteers are being trained for technological disasters - such as those that might be caused by toxic chemicals, explosive materials, and radiation -as well as traditional operations to help people prepare for and cope with tornadoes, floods, house fires, plane crashes, earthquakes - any disaster that threatens individuals or communities.

To help people prevent personal health emergencies, Red Cross nurses and volunteers in many chapters administer programs in nutrition, health assessment in the workplace, and more. They also meet the needs of the general public with a variety of programs such as exercise and telephone reassurance activities for the elderly, immunization clinics and health fairs, high blood pressure screening and follow-up, and voluntary working hospitals and clinics. Many chapters have programs for the homeless, and some provide volunteers to assist AIDS victims.

Red Cross instructors teach parenting and lifesaving skills, certifying and recertifying more than 60 million of their friends and neighbors over the past 10 years in Red Cross CPR, first aid, and small craft and water safety.

Each year, Red Cross workers help organize the community blood drives that collect blood from more than 4 million donors all across America. In addition, some Red Cross chapters and Blood Services regions are also meeting the crucial needs of people who need bone and tissue transplants so they can lead more active lives. And in July 1986, the American Red Cross launched the first central bone marrow registry in the United States in collaboration with other medical associations.

To meet one of the most serious public health threats of the century, the American Red Cross, in 1985, began its Public Education Program to slow the spread of AIDS. Through posters, brochures, films and slideshows, and public service announcements over television and radio and in the press, as well as through community-action groups and Red Cross volunteers, tens of millions of Americans have been given a chance to learn the facts about AIDS.

And for those who serve or once served in the nation's Armed Forces, Red Cross workers on U.S.military installations and in the chapters continue to provide emergency, social, and health-related services to them and their families wherever they're located.

Americans continue to help others through the American Red Cross, particularly in times of disaster. They have helped the organization fulfill its mission both at home and abroad over the years through generous contributions of money and donations of blood and time. In turn, Red Cross workers have responded daily to help people avoid emergencies, prepare for those that might occur, and cope with those that do. Governed and directed by volunteers, the American Red Cross stands out as a prime example of what HenryDunant had in mind when he initiated the international humanitarian movement more than 125 years ago.

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