American Red Cross

views updated May 23 2018

American Red Cross

430 17th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Telephone: (202) 737-8300
Fax: (703) 248-4256
Web site:

Nonprofit Company
Employees: 32,000
Sales: $2.4 billion (1999)
NAIC: 621991 Blood and Organ Banks; 62423 Emergency and Other Relief Services

The American Red Cross is a nonprofit agency with a long history of providing relief to individuals affected by war and natural disaster. It was first formed in order to aid men wounded on the battlefield. It evolved into a network of approximately 1,300 local chapters of volunteers who respond to flood, fire, earthquake, and drought. The American Red Cross has played an enormously important historical role in supporting American troops in the two world wars and in ensuing conflicts. It has also been instrumental in organizing relief in countless natural disasters, from the Johnstown Flood to the Great San Francisco Earthquake to many more recent catastrophes. The organizations national presence and prestige allow it to spearhead fundraising drives to benefit stricken communities, and it also often serves as the distribution network for funds or goods raised by other organizations or donated by the government. Though the Red Cross was formed in response to war and disaster, it also developed a coherent peacetime mission, including teaching first aid and life-saving, and running blood banks. The Red Cross controls about 50 percent of the blood services market in the United States. About half the organizations revenue comes from the sale of its blood products. The rest comes from charitable donations from individuals and corporations. It also receives money through the charitable fundraising organization United Way.

Inspiration of Clara Barton

The American Red Cross dates its formal beginning to 1881, but it was active before that. Its roots lie in Europe, where the International Red Cross was founded in Geneva in 1864. The impetus for the founding of the international group was a book published in 1862 by a Swiss businessman, Jean Henri Dunant. Dunant witnessed the horrific aftermath of a battle between Austrian and French forces near the Italian village of Solferino when he was traveling in the vicinity for business. Some 30,000 to 40,000 dead and wounded men lay on the battlefield, with no one to care for them. Dunant was so struck by the carnage that he wrote a book about what he had seen, and pleaded for the formation of volunteer civilian groups to aid wounded soldiers. Dunant spearheaded a group that soon formed the International Committee of the Red Cross. Though the United States sent an observer to the inaugural Red Cross conference, the U.S. did not at that time ratify what became known as the Geneva Convention. The United States was in the midst of its own Civil War, and paid little attention to this event in Switzerland. Yet battlefield relief for the wounded was vitally important. Clara Barton, a former schoolteacher and patent office clerk, became a onewoman force behind the Red Cross in the United States. Though she was not trained as a nurse and was a single woman of modest means, Barton had friends in high places in Washington, through her Patent Office work. She began a crusade to bring supplies and aid to the Civil War wounded, and went herself to the front lines, driving a mule-wagon of supplies, serving hot soup, and nursing, all as needed. After the war, she organized a search for missing prisoners of war. When ill health sent her to Europe for a rest, she became acquainted with the work of the Red Cross there. When she returned to the United States, she lobbied for a Red Cross in her home country, becoming a noted speaker all across the nation. With the war over in the United States, Barton had the idea of instituting the Red Cross as a disaster relief organization. Nothing like this existed at the time. Barton became the American representative of the International Red Cross in 1881, and in 1882, Congress finally ratified the Geneva Convention.

In its earliest years, the American Red Cross existed almost solely through the energy of Clara Barton. She shaped its mission, and it was her political connections that made things work. She was an extraordinarily driven and hands-on person. The Red Cross did little without her direct involvement. One of the organizations first major disaster relief efforts was the Johnstown Flood of 1889, which drowned over 2,000 people and displaced most of Johnstown, Pennsylvanias 30,000 residents. Barton and her small staff went to Johnstown immediately, and stayed for five months. The Red Cross raised cash, disbursed goods, and oversaw the building of temporary housing with donated lumber. The Red Cross became increasingly skilled at handling this kind of disaster, and the organization won great praise for its domestic work. The limits of the organizations duties were not clearly spelled out, however, and the Red Cross extended itself to wherever Clara Barton felt called. The Red Cross sent wheat to Russia to aid starving peasants in 1892, and Barton sailed to Turkey in 1896 to negotiate aid for the violently oppressed Armenians. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the exact duties of the American Red Cross were not clear, leading to conflict with the Army Medical Corps. Though the Red Cross was usually seen as ultimately helpful, it was also criticized for overstepping bounds and sometimes for its accounting practices. Congress officially chartered the American Red Cross in 1900, but the group was nevertheless plagued with factionalism and lack of focus. Clara Barton was elected president-for-life of the Red Cross in 1901, but resigned in 1904 after an aborted investigation into diversion of funds.

Role in Peace and War

The group reincorporated under a new Congressional charter in 1905, which made it a semi-governmental agency with some of its governors appointed by the President of the United States. The Red Cross developed a peacetime program around this time, defining a role for itself when neither war nor natural disaster threatened. It began training people in first aid and running courses in water safety. By 1917, the Red Cross had spread to 267 chapters across the United States. It had working funds of about $200,000 and a paid staff nationwide of 167 people. The group was exceedingly active in World War I, enrolling millions of volunteers to sew and knit clothing, roll bandages, and package food and supplies. The Red Cross sent thousands of nurses and ambulance drivers into the war, and raised millions of dollars in donations. After the war, the group was criticized for allegedly mismanaging funds and for taking on duties that properly belonged to the government. The Red Cross restated its mission in 1922, dedicating itself first to military welfare and to disaster relief. Promotion of public health was its third area of concern. In addition, the group spelled out its intention not to duplicate the work of other agencies. Membership grew and spread through the 1920s and 1930s, though the size of chapters and their level of funding varied considerably from place to place. By 1941, total American Red Cross membership had grown to over nine million people. During World War II, membership swelled dramatically. Members were counted as anyone who donated a dollar or more to the organization. There were over 36.6 million members by 1945, which was more than 25 percent of the U.S. population. The group had close to 4,000 chapters, and during World War II the Red Cross raised more than $666.5 million.

Rise of Blood Banking

The Red Cross began operating blood banks in 1937. In 1940 it began a Plasma for Britain project to send blood to British soldiers. This was the first mass blood donation campaign, and the first mass production of blood products. The plasma campaign was overseen by a pioneer of blood bank science, Dr. Charles Drew. Drew, an African American, was a noted founder of blood storage technology. The U.S. military asked the Red Cross to provide blood for battlefield transfusion when the United States entered the war. Drew directed the Red Cross program for eight months, but resigned in outrage because the Red Cross continued to comply with the militarys request that the blood of black and white donors be segregated. The Red Cross continued to segregate blood by race until 1950. During World War II, the Red Cross collected blood from over six million donors. Running blood banks became one of the most important missions of the Red Cross over the next 50 years. In 1948, with the war behind it, the Red Cross established a National Blood Donor Program to provide blood to hospitals. Blood was collected by local chapters, and processed through 28 regional blood centers. Over the next decades, Red Cross researchers pioneered key aspects of blood bank technology. A Red Cross researcher discovered how to process blood for an anti-hemorrhaging agent, and Red Cross scientists also crafted a method to process the clotting agent needed by hemophiliacs. The Red Crosss donated blood was at first given without charge to hospitals, but in the 1950s it began charging enough to recoup its costs. By the end of the 1970s, the Red Cross managed about half the nations blood supply. It continued to hold this market share. By the early 2000s, sale of blood products accounted for about half the groups operating revenue, and the Red Cross provided just over half the blood products used in the United States.

Company Perspectives:

The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and guided by its Congressional Charter and the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Movement, will provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.

The Red Cross continued its services to soldiers during the Korean War and after. Besides running blood banks, its peacetime mission largely consisted of disaster relief. Each year the organization set aside a specific sum in its budget to pay for its disaster relief work. Extra money was put in a reserve fund. Then, in case of extreme need on the heels of a particularly devastating disaster, the group mounted fundraising drives. Chains of disasters often spelled financial peril for the organization. For example, hurricanes, floods, and tornados of unprecedented strength in 1955, 1956, and 1957 all but wiped out the Red Crosss reserves. The group relied on extra fundraising campaigns to make up its losses. In 1985, the group budgeted $17 million annually for disaster relief. A succession of hurricanes that year forced the Red Cross to spend about $48 million, putting it severely over budget. In the mid-1980s, the Red Cross ran fundraising campaigns by mailing out so-called disastergrams, which asked for money for victims of the latest catastrophe. Much of the charitys money came from the umbrella fundraising organization United Way. Money brought in by disastergram went to a general disaster fund. After the earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, the Red Cross allowed donors to specify that they wanted their money to go only to victims of a specific incident. This helped fend off allegations, which had been raised since Clara Bartons time, that money raised for a specific cause might end up being spent elsewhere.

Revamping Programs in the 1990s

The Red Cross spent an increasing amount of money on disaster relief through the 1980s. It started the decade spending about $50 million, and by 1989 was spending over $100 million. This spiked to over $224 million in 1990. Although the organization provided relief on a massive scale, it was often criticized for the way it carried out its duties. By the early 1990s, the group considered cutting back its services, since so much of its budget was taken up with extraordinary disaster expenses. In 1991, Elizabeth Dole, who had held cabinet posts as Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Transportation, became president of the American Red Cross. Dole vowed to turn the organization around. The Red Cross was financially troubled because of its recent massive spending on disaster relief. In addition, the Red Cross had been plagued since the mid-1980s with questions about the safety of its blood supply. The Red Cross used a test manufactured by Abbott Laboratories in the mid-1980s to test donated blood for the AIDS virus. Despite known problems with the Abbott test, it continued to use it into 1986. People who contracted AIDS through tainted blood transfusions later sued both Abbott and the Red Cross. The biomedical services division, as the Red Crosss blood bank operations were called, was cited repeatedly in the 1980s and early 1990s for problems with its record-keeping. A report by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator made public in 1990 recorded dozens of incidents of sloppy record-keeping and computer errors. The FDA investigator told a Congressional committee that ensuring the safety of the nations blood supply was made difficult by the Red Crosss problems. The investigator also found Red Cross officials insufficiently concerned about mending its ways. When Dole took over the Red Cross, she announced a $120 million overhaul of the biomedical divisions record-keeping, and scheduled improvements to staff training and blood testing. Eventually the revamping of the Red Crosss blood banks cost around $287 million. But the changes apparently did not go quickly enough. In 1993, the FDA filed suit against the Red Cross to force it to agree to make reforms. The Red Cross and the FDA settled the suit with a court-ordered consent decree outlining what the organization would do to improve. The Red Cross spent some $170 million to $180 million on computer systems, and built eight regional blood testing laboratories in a move to centralize its operations. The cost of these changes put the biomedical services division in the red. By the late 1990s, the division was in debt by about $300 million.

During this period, the Red Cross was nearing completion of its expensive overhaul of its biomedical services division. The division had evolved from a string of mainly autonomous regional blood centers to a much more centralized organization. An article in Modern Healthcare from June 22,1998 averred that the division looks and feels more like a drug company. The Red Cross had remade its blood banks, significantly improving the safety of its products. But the makeover had been very expensive. By 1998 the Red Cross was said to have about 46 percent of the nations blood supply market share, or almost half of the $2 billion industry. The Red Cross vowed to increase its market share, aiming for 65 percent over the next three years. This move was made specifically to enhance the blood divisions finances. In 1995, the division brought in $937 million, but was in the red by $113 million. For 1997, the division brought in $1.1 billion, but still ran a deficit. The Red Cross began a campaign of tough competition, moving into markets that had traditionally been served by other companies. Its main competitor was a loose network of community blood banks that operated under the umbrella of Americas Blood Centers, or ABC. Blood banks had operated as virtual local monopolies since the 1970s, so that either the Red Cross, an ABC clinic, or a hospital blood bank, would serve a particular community. In the mid-1990s the Red Cross began moving into towns where it had been shut out of before, such as Kansas City, Dallas, and Phoenix. It was often only able to secure a tiny market share, for example 5 percent in Kansas City within two years of entering that market. But the Red Cross had changed the way blood products were marketed by introducing such direct competition. Some doctors and hospitals found that the new competitiveness brought prices down, while others worried that organizations vying for donors would ultimately scare the donors away. The new relationship between the Red Cross and its competitors became so acrimonious that the charity, ABC, and two other blood banking societies engaged a professional mediator to allow them to talk about their differences. The industry leaders formed a working group called the Blood Forum, and hoped to come up with rules that would allow them to compete gracefully. But the level of hostility was so high that an ABC official quoted in Modern Healthcare (June 22, 1998) claimed the Blood Forum was as bad as putting the Arabs and Israelis in the same room.

Key Dates:

International Red Cross is founded in Geneva.
Clara Barton and others organize American Red Cross.
Organization receives official charter from Congress.
Red Cross begins blood bank activities.
Three years of disasters drain organizations finances.
Red Cross begins screening donated blood for AIDS virus.
Organization is under court order to improve blood services division.

Aside from its problems with its biomedical services division, the Red Cross continued to strain to respond to unusual catastrophes in the 1990s. Flooding in the Midwest in 1993 led to the organizations largest relief effort ever, when over 20,000 workers assembled to combat the water damage. The Red Crosss most expensive disaster relief operation came just five years later, when Hurricane George in 1998 cost the charity over $100 million.

Elizabeth Dole left the Red Cross in 1999 to pursue a run for president of the United States. Her successor was the first physician to head the agency in a hundred years, Bernadine Healy. Dr. Healy had been director of the National Institute of Health, had taught at Johns Hopkins University, and had unsuccessfully run for the Senate. On taking over the Red Cross, Healy had to deal with the organizations ongoing fiscal and regulatory problems. She aimed to cut administrative positions to contain costs and streamline management. She also wanted the group to spend more money on research and development. At the end of 2000, the FDA again announced that the Red Cross was not doing enough to ensure the safety of its blood products, and Healy moved to borrow $100 million to fund improvements. But the FDA acted more aggressively than it had in the past, and asked to be allowed to fine the Red Cross, which it said had been out of compliance with FDA regulations since 1985. Healy claimed to be amazed at the seriousness of the FDAs allegations of sloppiness, since the Red Cross was supposed to have made drastic improvements in its blood operations after 1993. Healy was also faced with the ongoing problem of sour relationships with its competitors. In 2001 a California blood bank brought an antitrust suit against the Red Cross, alleging that the group artificially lowered prices in its region in order to drive other blood banks out of business. Into the 2000s the charity seemed to be facing the same difficulties that had beset it since the 1980s.

Principal Divisions

Biomedical Services; Disaster Services; Armed Forces Emergency Services; Health and Safety Services; International Services; Community Services.

Principal Competitors

Americas Blood Centers.

Further Reading

Babcock, Charles R., and Judith Havemann, Managing an Agency and Image, Washington Post, February 16, 1999, p. A01.

Burton, Thomas, Panel Probes Early Abbott AIDS Test; Decision by Red Cross Is Questioned, Wall Street Journal, June 28, 1993, p. A11C.

Hensley, Scott, Out for Blood, Modern Healthcare, June 22, 1998, p. 26.

, Rising to the Challenge, Modern Healthcare, May 1, 2000, p. 80.

Hurd, Charles, The Compact History of the American Red Cross, New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959.

Jones, Laurie, FDA: Red Cross Record-Keeping May Hurt Blood Safety, American Medical News, July 27, 1990, p. 1.

Kaufman, Marc, FDA Finds Problems with Red Cross Blood, Washington Post, December 2, 2000, p. A04.

Mulvihill, Kathleen, Hectic Year Drains Red Crosss Fund for Disaster Relief, Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1985, pp. 3, 4.

Reitman, Judith, Bad Blood: Crisis in the American Red Cross, New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1996.

Sebastian, Pamela, Red Cross Is Strained By Disasters Even As It Revamps Its Programs, Wall Street Journal, September 15, 1992, pp. Al, A10.

Tanner, Lisa, Battling for Blood Business, Dallas Business Journal, March 21, 1997, p. 3.

Taylor, Mark, Red Cross Faces Antitrust Lawsuit, Modern Healthcare, January 1, 2001, p. 20.

A. Woodward

Red Cross, American

views updated May 29 2018


RED CROSS, AMERICAN. Clara Barton and associates founded the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., on 21 May 1881. Barton first learned of the Swiss-inspired International Red Cross Movement while in Europe following the Civil War. Returning home, she campaigned for an American society and for ratification of the Geneva Convention protecting the war injured, which the United States ratified in 1882.

Barton led the Red Cross for twenty-three years, during which time it conducted its first domestic and overseas disaster relief efforts, aided the U.S. military during the Spanish-American War, and campaigned successfully for the inclusion of peacetime relief work as part of the International Red Cross Movement—the so-called American Amendment that some Europeans initially resisted.

The Red Cross received its first congressional charter in 1900 and a second in 1905, the year after Barton resigned from the organization. This charter—which remains in effect today—obligates the Red Cross to provide aid to the sick and wounded in war, give relief to and serve as a medium of communication between members of the American armed forces and their families, and provide national and international disaster relief and mitigation.

Prior to World War I, the Red Cross introduced its first aid, water safety, and public-health nursing programs. With the advent of war, the organization experienced phenomenal growth under the leadership of the banker Henry P. Davison and a War Council appointed by P resident Woodrow Wilson. The number of local chapters grew from 107 in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918, and membership jumped from 17,000 to more than 20 million adult and 11 million Junior Red Cross members. The public contributed $400 million in funds and material to support Red Cross programs, including those for U.S. and Allied forces and civilian refugees. The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses helped combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918.

After the war, the Red Cross focused on service to veterans and enhanced its programs in safety training, home care for the sick, accident prevention, and nutrition education. Major disasters also called for relief efforts, including the Mississippi River floods of 1927 and severe drought and economic depression during the 1930s.

In World War II, the Red Cross again provided services to the U.S. military, Allies, and civilian war victims. It enrolled more than 71,000 nurses for military service, prepared 27 million packages for U.S. and Allied prisoners of war, and shipped more than 300,000 tons of supplies overseas. At the military's request, the Red Cross also introduced a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.

After World War II, the Red Cross initiated the first nationwide civilian blood program, which now supplies nearly 50 percent of the blood and blood products in this country. The Red Cross played an increasing role in biomedical research and expanded into the banking and distribution of human tissue. During the 1990s, it undertook a massive modernization of its blood services operations to increase the safety of its blood products. It continued to provide services to members of the armed forces and their families, including during the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars. The Red Cross also entered new fields, such as civil defense, CPR/AED training, HIV/AIDS education, and the provision of emotional care and support to disaster victims and their survivors. It helped the federal government form the Federal Emergency Management Agency and serves as its principal supplier of mass care in federally declared disasters.

While closely associated with the federal government in the promotion of its objectives, the Red Cross is an independent, volunteer-led organization, financially supported by voluntary public contributions and cost-reimbursement charges. A fifty-member, all-volunteer board of governors leads the organization. The president of the United States, who is honorary chairman of the Red Cross, appoints eight governors, including the chairman of the board. The chairman nominates and the board elects the president of the Red Cross, who is responsible for implementing the policies and programs of the board. The American Red Cross works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross on matters of international conflict and social, political, and military un-rest. As a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which it helped found in 1919, the Red Cross joins more than 170 other national Red Cross organizations in bringing aid to victims of disasters throughout the world.


Dulles, Foster Rhea. The American Red Cross: A History. New York: Harper, 1950. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Gilbo, Patrick F. The American Red Cross: The First Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.

Hurd, Charles. The Compact History of the American Red Cross. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959.

Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Clara Barton: Professional Angel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.

Brien R.Williams

See alsoPhilanthropy .

Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Humanity. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battle-field, endeavors, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation, and lasting peace amongst all peoples.

Impartiality. It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class, or political opinions. It endeavors to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

Neutrality. In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature.

Independence. The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.

Voluntary Service. It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.

Unity. There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.

Universality. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

Red Cross, American

views updated May 23 2018

Red Cross, American. The American Red Cross has served the U.S. military since 1898. Founded on 21 May 1881 by Clara Barton, who had done humanitarian work in the Civil War, the society is part of the more than 175‐member International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.

The movement was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in October 1863. Despite centuries of war in Europe and the Civil War raging in America, the humanitarian aspects of war had been largely ignored by most governments. Swiss entrepreneur Jean Henri Dunant brought about a change in that attitude when he volunteered to help the wounded, after a battle between French‐Italian and Austrian armies in northern Italy in June 1859. His Memory of Solferino (1862) graphically portrayed the agonies of the 40,000 neglected wounded, influencing governments to consider establishing voluntary relief societies to supplement the work of army medical units.

In February 1863, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, precursor to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was established. In October 1863, the first Red Cross societies were formed and a red cross was adopted as a neutral symbol; and in 1864, twelve governments signed the first Geneva Convention. The United States acceded to the treaty in 1882 after years of lobbying by Clara Barton.

The four Geneva Conventions protect the wounded and sick on the battlefield (1863), shipwrecked military personnel (1906), prisoners of war (1929), and civilians (1949). Protocols added in 1977 protect civilians caught in internal conflicts. ICRC primarily monitors the conventions.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement follows seven fundamental principles: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality. In addition to the societies, it consists of the Geneva‐based ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which was founded in 1919 by American Henry P. Davison to address peacetime needs.

During the Spanish‐American War, American Red Cross nurses and volunteers served in Cuba, the Philippines, and at U.S. camps. In 1911, President William H. Taft authorized the organization as “the only volunteer society” to render aid to the military in wartime. The U.S. Army began providing transportation and subsistence for attached Red Cross personnel in 1912. The Red Cross sent 8,000 workers to Europe during World War I, providing medical, recreational, and welfare services. It operated fifty‐eight domestic and overseas base hospitals for the military, twenty‐four of them in France. Eight million volunteers at home provided welfare services and produced supplies.

During World War II, the American Red Cross collected 14 million units of blood and produced blood plasma, but provided no other medical services. Aided by 7.5 million volunteers at home, some 40,000 staff worldwide supplied emergency communications, welfare and recreational services, and produced 28 million food packages for U.S. and Allied prisoners of war.

Similar services were provided during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, with the military meeting its own blood needs in Vietnam. The Red Cross continues to staff U.S. bases in Europe and elsewhere; it accompanied military units on missions to Somalia, Haiti, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia.

In 1998 the American Red Cross had over 1,300 volunteer‐led chapters, providing disaster relief, meeting half of the nation's blood needs, and conducting community programs designed to help Americans prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Over 30,000 staff and 1.4 million volunteers supplied support. The nongovernmental, nonprofit organization has had a congressional mandate since 1900 to provide disaster relief, and emergency communication between the military and their families. A fifty‐member board of governors, eight appointed by the U.S. president, governs the American Red Cross. Past presidents include Clara Barton, William Howard Taft, and George Marshall.
[See also Bosnian Crisis; Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Involvement in the; Persian Gulf War.]


Foster Rhea Dulles , The American Red Cross—a History, 1950.
Hans Haug , Humanity for All, 1993.

Patrick F. Gilbo

American Red Cross

views updated Jun 08 2018

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross was established on May 21, 1881, in Washington, D.C. , by a nurse named Clara Barton (1821–1912) and some of her acquaintances. Barton had visited Europe just after the American Civil War (1861–65), where she learned of the International Red Cross Movement. Once she returned to America, she campaigned for an American Red Cross society, which would provide care to the wounded in time of war and disaster. Sixty-year-old Barton was the organization's first leader, and she remained so for twenty-three years.

Under Barton's leadership, the Red Cross conducted its first domestic and overseas disaster-relief efforts, assisted the U.S. military throughout the Spanish-American War (1898), and successfully campaigned for the inclusion of peacetime relief work as part of the International Red Cross Movement.

The Red Cross received its first congressional charter in 1900 and a second one in 1905. This charter outlined the purposes of the organization and remained in place into the twenty-first century.

With the onset of World War I (1914–18), the Red Cross grew from 107 local chapters in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918. Membership grew from seventeen thousand to more than twenty million adult and eleven million Junior Red Cross members. By the end of the war, the American public had donated $400 million in funds and materials. Twenty thousand registered nurses were recruited to serve in the military, and additional Red Cross nurses volunteered to fight the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918.

Once the war was over and attention could be turned to peacetime activities, the Red Cross focused on service to veterans. It enhanced its programs in accident prevention, safety training, and nutrition education. Volunteers were on hand to help victims of the Mississippi River floods in 1927, those of the severe drought throughout the Great Plains states known as the Dust Bowl , and those of the Great Depression throughout the 1930s.

War, again

Once again the Red Cross was called upon in time of war, this time for World War II (1939–45). More than 104,000 nurses signed up for military service as the Red Cross prepared twenty-seven million packages for American and Allied (forces fighting alongside the Americans) prisoners of war. (See Allies .) The organization shipped more than three hundred thousand tons of supplies overseas and initiated a national blood drive that collected 13.3 million pints of much-needed blood to be used by the military.

With the end of the war came another refocus of priorities, and the Red Cross established the first nationwide civilian blood program, which eventually supplied almost 50 percent of the blood and blood products in America. In the 1990s, the organization expanded its role in biomedical research and began “banking” human tissue for distribution. As America entered other wars, the Red Cross provided services to members of the military. It has since expanded its services to include civil defense, HIV/AIDS education, training in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, an emergency medical procedure), and the provision of emotional care and support to disaster victims and survivors. The Red Cross played a key role in helping the federal government form the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979.


After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., the Red Cross came under scrutiny and was criticized for its handling and management of donations. The organization established the Liberty Fund, to which Americans donated $547 million, all of which they assumed would go directly to victims of the tragedy. The fund was closed in October 2001 after meeting its donation goal. When it was revealed that only 30 percent of donations directly assisted victims and that the rest would go toward improved telecommunications, building a blood supply, and planning for future terrorist attacks, there was public outcry. The Red Cross then hired someone from outside the organization to handle the management of the fund, and it was promised that all monies would go to the victims, survivors, and their families.

Criticism and controversy followed the Red Cross into 2005, the busiest hurricane season on record. Hurricane Katrina, which hit Florida , Louisiana , and Mississippi in August, was the most devastating natural disaster the organization had ever dealt with. The Red Cross was criticized for its management of nearly $1 billion in donations and received allegations that it responded more efficiently and quickly to white victims and neighborhoods than it did to African Americans.

American Red Cross

views updated May 29 2018

American Red Cross

2025 E St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Ph: (703)206-6000
Free: 800-733-2767
E-mail: [email protected]

Jane Delano Society Scholarships (Undergraduate/Scholarship)

Purpose: To advance nursing as a career option and to promote the involvement of young nurses in the Red Cross. Focus: Nursing. Qualif.: Applicants must have contributed volunteer service to a Red Cross unit during the past five years; must have current enrollment in an associate degree, diploma, or baccalaureate program preparing students for Registered Nurse licensure, or an RN to BSN completion program; and must have at least one semester, or quarter, left before graduation. Criteria: Selection will be based on Scholarship Selection Committee's criteria.

Funds Avail.: $1,000. Number Awarded: 2. To Apply: Candidates must submit the required documentation including: application which includes a one-page personal statement from student; letter of endorsement from Red Cross Unit (chapter, Blood Services region, or SAF station) leadership; and letter of endorsement from College/School of Nursing saying that the applicant is in good academic standing and verifying that student is enrolled (attach form to application). Deadline: April 7.

Remarks: Established in 2001. Contact: Carolyn Williams at the above address (see entry 885).

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American Red Cross