Born out of a desire to bring aid without discrimination towards wounded soldiers on the battlefield, the Red Cross is a nonprofit humanitarian organization which works to protect life and health in its international and national capacity, to ensure respect for the human being.
The Red Cross is an international humanitarian network and organization, founded in 1863 in Switzerland, with worldwide chapters providing assistance to people around the world suffering from disasters, armed conflicts, and health crises.
Its roots date all the way back to 1859 when businessman Henry Dunant witnessed the horrifying bloody aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in Italy, in which there was little medical support or resources available for wounded and severely injured soldiers.
Dunant went on to not only write a memoir of his experience but also to advocate for the establishment of national relief organizations, made up of specially trained volunteers who could offer their assistance to war-injured soldiers, regardless of which side they were fighting on.
Henry Dunant and the International Committee of the Red Cross
In 1859, Swiss businessman Henry Dunant was traveling in northern Italy when he witnessed the aftermath of a bloody battle between the Austrian and Franco-Sardinian forces near the village of Solferino. The fighting of both sides had left some 400,000 troops dead, wounded, or missing. Both armies, as well as the residents of the surrounding area, were ill-equipped to deal with the situation.
In 1862, Dunant had finished and published a book, A Memoir of Solferino, in which he advocated for the establishment of national relief organizations that would be made up of trained volunteers offering assistance to wounded soldiers, despite whichever side they were fighting for.
By 1863, Dunant had gained a following and joined a Swiss-based committee which put together a plan for national relief associations. The group, eventually became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross, adopted the symbol of a red cross on a white background. This was the inverse of the Swiss flag, which acted as a way for medical workers to be identified on the battlefield. in late 1863, the first national society was started in Germany.
12 countries signed the original Geneva Convention in 1864, which called for the humane treatment of sick and wounded soldiers, regardless of nationality, and the civilians who came to their aid.
Dunant declared bankruptcy in 1867, which forced him to resign from the Red Cross. In 1901, however, he received the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for starting the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century.
Clara Barton and the American Red Cross
When the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, Clara Barton, a former elementary school teacher, then working in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., began to deliver food and supplies to Union soldiers on the front lines.
At the end of the war, Barton, who was nicknamed “Angel of the Battlefield,” received permission from President Abraham Lincoln to operate the Missing Soldiers Office in order to help locate missing troops for their families and friends. Over the course of a few years, Barton and her small staff received over 50,00 letters asking for help. Together, they were able to locate more than 22,000 men.
In the late 1860s, Barton traveled to Europe, where she learned about the Red Cross movement. Upon her return to the United States, he launched a campaign to get the U.S. to ratify the Geneva Convention of 1864. In doing so in 1882, she also founded the American Red Cross the year prior.
Under her leadership, the American Red Cross focused on helping victims of peacetime disasters, including: the Johnston Flood in Pennsylvania in 1889, and the 1893 hurricane in South Carolina’s Sea Islands; both of which left collectively over 30,000 people dead and many more homeless.
The American Red Cross aided the U.S. military for the first time when it provided medical care for soldiers in the 1898 Spanish-American War. Barton resigned as the head of the Red Cross in 1904. She was 83-years old.
The Growth of the American Red Cross
Following World War II, the Red Cross introduced the first nationwide civilian blood program, which continues to supply more than 40 percent of the blood and blood products in the United States. During the 1990s, the organization engineered a massive modernization of its blood service operations to improve the safety of its blood products and continued to provide services to members of the armed forces and their families.
Today, the volunteers, employees, and supporters of the Red Cross provide care in five critical areas: people affected by disasters, support for members of the military and their families, blood collection, processing, and distribution, health, and safety education, and international relief and development.