The American Red Cross A Century of Service

THE IDEA was born in the horror of war. For centuries soldiers had died unattended on battlefields, their cries unanswered, their ag­ony adding to the tally of conquest.

 

It was this chaos of warfare’s after­math that appalled—and inspired—Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, who witnessed the 1859 Battle of Sol­ferino in Italy. Shocked by the 23,000 wounded men, many of whom would die from lack of simple medications, he returned to Geneva and in 1863 orga­nized the Permanent International Committee for Relief to Wounded Combatants, predecessor to the Inter­national Committee of the Red Cross.

 

At about the same time, Clara Bar­ton (left) responded to the needs of sol­diers in the American Civil War. The diminutive Patent Office clerk earned the sobriquet Angel of the Battlefield, delivering supplies to the front and identifying the graves of 13,000 men who died in the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia (right). In founding the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881, she hoped not only to improve the lot of soldiers but also to aid the victims of natural disasters.

 

Today the American Red Cross is the largest grass-roots volunteer or­ganization in the United States, with a 455-million-dollar budget, 3,053 chapters, a staff of 18,353, and 1.4 mil­lion volunteers. It does everything from teaching skateboard safety to counseling teenage drug addicts. This year as the Red Cross celebrates its centennial with fairs and fanfare, it is still listening to voices in need and ap­pealing to man’s humanity to man.

 

THE TIRELESS volunteer nurse. From the beginning shThe Red Cross Nursee was there: tending yellow-fever patients dur­ing a tragic 1888 Florida epidemic, venturing into rural America to teach and provide basic health care, and staffing makeshift hospitals during World War I.

 

In the 1920s and ’30s Red Cross pub­lic health nurses braved poor roads and primitive living conditions to carry medical services to the needy. “She might occupy a room without heat, take her bath in a wash bowl, eat biscuits with raw centers and fat salt pork with her mountain families .” (from The Red Cross Nurse in Action 1882-1948).

 

With the soaring cost of hospital care today, health planners are turning to preventive medicine as the best hope for increasing life expectancy in the coming decades. One mission of the American Red Cross in its second cen­tury is to help Americans improve their health habits, and rural nurses, such as Hazel Kreimeyer of Baker County, Georgia, again have important roles.

“I was amazed-45 people showed up at my home-nursing night courses just to hear that health care is their responsibility first,” said Mrs. Krei­meyer, visiting with one of her students, Mrs. Bizzie Williams, and her grandson, Kyle.