Crosses, Crescents, and Diamonds. Oh my!

March is National Red Cross month. This begs the question, how much do you know about the Red Cross? Do you know who started it or where it came from? Today’s history lesson: The Red Cross.Red Cross history

In 1859, the Battle of Solferino took place in present-day Italy. After the battle, a Swiss man named Jean-Henri Dunant surveyed the tragedy of the battle. The fallen soldiers who were abandoned caused Dunant so much grief and distress that he was inspired to create the Red Cross. He initiated the first Geneva convention in 1864, where rules and regulations were set for treatment wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. This later progressed to making the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1876. Since Dunant was from Switzerland, the ICRC decided to use Switzerland’s flag, with the colors inverted, due to the country’s neutrality. This is where the “Cross” comes from in “Red Cross,” not due to religious reasons. And to think I always thought their symbols matched because it was a strange coincidence!

Clara Barton later founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She ran the American Red Cross for a strong 23 years. What a woman! Under her leadership, the American Red Cross provided domestic and overseas disaster relief, aided the United States military in the Spanish-American war, and encouraged the creation of the “American Amendment,” which provided peacetime relief work. And she still had time to write her own autobiography…. and all I do is watch TV…. Since Barton’s leave, the American Red Cross has received numerous congressional charters, which established their relationship with the government as a recognized nonprofit.

Although the American Red Cross had programs prior to World War I, there was a huge spike in volunteers once the war began. It rose from 107 local chapters in 1914 to a whopping 3,864 in 1918! What is even more outstanding is that membership went from 17,000 to …… are you ready for it? 20 million adults and 11 million Junior Red Cross members! Almost one-third of the U.S. population at that time! On top of that, $400 million in funds and material were donated to the Red Cross.

After the war, the Red Cross expanded to servicing veterans, enhancing safety training classes, accident prevention, home care for the sick, and nutrition education. And of course, they still managed to make time to provide relief to natural disasters, such as the Dust Bowl and Depression in the 1930s. (Those overachievers…)

If you know your history, than you know that World War II came next. If you thought they did a lot for World War I, than you should hear what they did for the next war. They enrolled more than 104,000 nurses for military service, made 27 million packages for American and Allied prisoners of war (I’m exhausted just reading that number, I can’t imagine actually making them!), and shipped 300,000 tons of supplies oversea. And did I forget to mention the 13.3 MILLION pints of blood? I’m a little wheezy now thinking about all of that blood…The blood program didn’t end after the war. The Red Cross continued to collect blood, as it became the first civilian-wide blood program. In fact, it is responsible for about 40% of the blood products in the U.S. This sometimes results in The Red Cross having to put garlic wreaths on their doors. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.

The Red Cross has continue to provide aid in wars. Along with providing even more services, such as civil defense, CPR/AED training, HIV/AIDS education, and providing emotional care those that are affected by disasters. There are now almost a million volunteers for the Red Cross worldwide. You’re one of them, right?

The International Red Cross Movement is now in action. It consists of three branches. The International Committee of the Red Cross has authority under International Humanitarian Law to aid victims of armed conflicts, in other words the hall monitor of the world. The second branch is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, where they coordinate activities between all of the National Societies. It also leads and organizes relief operations for large-scale emergencies, basically they’re the General. The last branch is the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which exist within a country to carry out their given missions and to improve their community. That’s us! The soldiers!

ICRCNow, you’re nothing unless you have an identifying symbol. Like Batman! The Red Cross recognizes three emblems. The original Cross, the Crescent that represents the East, and the newly created Crystal that is universal and neutral because it does not contain a religious affiliation. However, other nations may put their emblem inside the diamond. These symbols are worn by aid workers in foreign countries to protect them during their humanitarian missions.

Do you feel like you know so much about the Red Cross now that you could write a book? If so, great! If not, read it again. There will be a quiz over this on Tuesday.

Written by: Ashton Yust, Red Cross Public Affairs Intern

Photos from: Red Cross


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