United States Red Cross: World War I (1914-18)

Figure 1.--The American relief effort to save starving Belgiuns developed into aassive food relief effort to save virually all of Europe from a horrendous famine. Millions of people were saved, especially the children who were particularly ar risk. The American Red Cross because of its international connections became the primary organization dispensing Anerican food relief. All of this was new. There was no precent for such a massive effort. No country have ever conducted anything like it in all of history. It is one of many examples as to how America is an exceptional nation. Here a Greek woman and her children in Salonika receiving a food aid package from the American Greek War Relief Association. e believe it was distribued by the American Red Cross.

Germany launched World War I by invading neutral Belgium (1914). The Red Cross dispatched a Mercy Ship to Europe with medical staff and supplies. Home Service for the military begins its work with help to U.S. troops along the southern border of the during a series of Mexican raids on civilian in towns along the border (1916). America after the Kaiser resumed unrestricted submarine warfare declared war on Germany (April 1917). President Woodrow Wilson appoints a War Council to guide operations of the Red Cross during the War (May 1917). There was a massive outpouring of patriotic feeling as America entered World War I. The number of local chapters rapidly increased from 107 (1914) to 3,864 (1918). Membership expanded incrediblybfrom 17,000 to over 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 American 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 volunteered at the end of the War to fight the worldwide influenza epidemic (1918). As part of the effort to support the War, a group of educators and American Red Cross officials developed a plan for a partnership between schools and the Red Cross. President Wilson officially announced the formation of the Junior Red Cross--JRC (September 15, 1917). The President asked American youth, "Is not this perhaps the chance for which you have been looking to give your time and efforts in some measure to meet our national needs ...?" Youth could join the new JRC for only 25-cents a year. The response was overwhelming, 8 million students joined the JRC that first year and membership reached 11 million in 1919.


The most important volunteer group in America during World War I was the American Red Cross. The Red Cross was, however, still a very small organization and not yet a very well known group in the United States when World War I broke out in Europe (1914). It did not have the enormous reputation it has today. It was after America entered the War (1917) that the Red Cross began to grown and become a major humanitarian organization.

Fund Raising

The Red Cross conducted a wide range of fund raising activities to finance its World War I actictivies. We see a society Horse Show on Long Island (July 1918).

Early Efforts

With America as a neutral nation, the Red Cross' first major project was to equip a ship with emergency supplies and medical workers. The ship was the SS Red Cross which became known as 'the Mercy Ship'. It was staffed with 170 surgeons and nurses who were assigned to assist in the medical care of combat casualties. It was to assist the casualties of both sides of the conflict, although I am not sure how this was accomplished as the ship I assume could only get to Allied ports. (I'm not yet sure about the port of calls.) This policy followed the Geneva Conventions and the principles of the Red Cross Movement which required strict neutrality. The American Red Cross shipped further supplies, but eventually had to terminate the project because of inadequate funds.

Coordinating Volunteer Efforts

The American Red Cross played an important role in coordinating volunteer efforts. President Woodrow Wilson was appointed the honorary chairman of the Red Cross. The President urged Americans to support the Red Cross. There were programs such as ambulances, medical supplies as well as a range of other efforts to support the troops. One of these was a nationwide knitting campaign to produce woolen socks and other warm weather clothing. The Red Cross helped to recruit and train ambulance drivers and orderlies at various universities.

Youth Efforts

There was also an American Red Cross youth effort.

Major Institution

The Red Cross because of its Relief Effors and work to aid american soldiers and sailors earned an impottant place un America society. By the time the war ended in November 1918, the Red Cross had become a major national humanitarian organization. It had developed a huge membership base with chapters throughout the country. This enabled the Red Cross to play a major role after the War in fighting the influenza epidemic. Volunteer workers, for example made masks.

Relief Efforts

The American Red Cross did not just conduct programs at home or for American soldiers overseas. It played a major role in American relief efforts overseas that prevented millions of Europeans from starving. This was because of its overseas organization, made it the organizational infrastructure to handle food and other relief programs. This was especially the case after America entered the War. Many charitable and volunteer groups organized drives to collect funds, food, meducl suplies, blankets, clothing. For example the food here was collected and packaged by the Greek War Relief Association. Such groups, hoever, had no way of getting the food and other releft supplies to Europe and destributing it there. It was the Red Cross that proved to have the cability to deliver the relief supplies to desperate Europeans. It essentially acuired this role by default. American Relief started in Belgium with private donations. Eventually the U.S. Food Administration got involved, putting Government resources behind the relief effort. Just about every European country received American war relif and the Red Cross became the major American orgnization distributing food and other relief abroad: Armenians, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Serbia. The food went to all kinds of distribution points, including food kitchens, schools, and orpohanages. It was a major salvation for refugees, but also civilian populations that had not been displaced, but were experiencing severe food shortahes because of the War.


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Created: 4:00 AM 11/10/2013
Spell checked: 10:02 PM 11/10/2013
Last updated: 11:03 PM 1/25/2016