*** charity institutions -- the United States Red Cross World War I

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

Amican Red CrossWorld War I
Figure 1.--The American relief effort to save starving Belgians developed into a massive 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 initiallyb to assist the casualties of both sides of the conflict, although this was not possible given that the Allies controlled the sea and there was no way to get to a German port. A German conduct including ghe invasion of Belgium sung American public oopinion to the Allies side from an early point. Th SS Red Cross could only get to Allied ports. (We do not yet have details about the port of calls.) The Red Cross 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 National Institution

The International Red Cross was created in Europe, primarily to address issues associated with warfare such as captured soldiers, records assoiaed with deaths, and the care of wounded soldiers. Except for the Civil War, the United States did not engage in any wars requirong a major national effiort. Wars were seen as primarily a European phnomenon in the 19th century. When Congress chartered the Red Cross, however, it was bound ton assistvthe U.S. military (1881). And Americans had no real interest in getting involved in European wars. The American Red Cross enreed the war almost from the start, nearly 3 years berfore the American military. President Woodrow Wilson chmpioned the Red Cross. He actuvely promoted the Red Cross boyh to support the Red Cross, tv first for humanitarian efforts and then after merica entered the war to support American troops. Hec asked the American people to support the Red Cross. The Red Cross because of its notable humamitarian relief efforts in Europe and tireless work to aid American soldiers and sailors earned an important place in 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.


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Created: 4:00 AM 11/10/2013
Spell checked: 10:02 PM 11/10/2013
Last updated: 9:49 PM 11/9/2022