The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement started in 1863 and was inspired by Swiss businessman Henry Dunant. The Battle of Solferino in 1859 upset and concerned Dunant because thousands of men (on both sides) were suffering from battle wounds and many were left to die due to lack of care.
He proposed creating national relief societies, made up of volunteers, who would be trained in peacetime to provide neutral and impartial help to relieve suffering in times of war.
A committee (which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross) was established in Geneva and the founding charter of the Red Cross was drawn up in 1863. Dunant also made a proposal for countries to adopt an international agreement, recognizing the status of medical services and the wounded on the battlefield. This agreement – the original Geneva Convention – was adopted in 1864.
Other countries followed in the footsteps of the Red Cross, creating national care societies to provide aid to the sick and wounded. At the age of 59, Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known as Clara (a self-trained nurse during the civil war), and a circle of her acquaintances founded the American Red Cross May 21, 1881 in Washington D.C.
Prior to the First World War, the American Red Cross introduced first aid, water safety, and public health nursing programs. The organization experienced phenomenal growth with the onset of the war, going from 107 local chapters in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918. Membership grew from 17,000 to over 20 million adult and 11 million Junior Red Cross members. Additional Red Cross nurses came forward to combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918.
At the military’s request, the Red Cross initiated a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces during World War II. After World War II, the Red Cross introduced the first nationwide civilian blood program that now supplies more than 40 percent of the blood and blood products in the United States.
Today, the supporters, volunteers and employees of the American Red Cross provide care in
five critical areas:
• People affected by disasters in America
• Support for members of the military and their families
• Blood collection, processing and distribution
• Health and safety education and training
• International relief and development