What is the American Red Cross?

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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton and a group of acquaintances in Washington, D.C. Barton was inspired to start the organization when she heard about the work the International Red Cross was doing in Europe after the Civil War. When Barton returned to the United States, she launched a campaign to launch a Red Cross Society in her home country. She also pushed for the United States to ratify the Geneva Convention's standards that non-combatants and injured or sick fighters during war time are to be treated humanely.

Barton was the leader for the American Red Cross until 1904. During the time she was the organization's head, the American Red Cross was involved in disaster relief efforts, both at home and overseas. The organization also provided aid to the U.S. military effort during the Spanish-American war.

In the years leading up to the start of World War I in 1914, the American Red Cross became involved in public health, first aid, and water safety programs. During the War, the number of chapters and members increased dramatically. In 1914, there were 107 local chapters (with 17,000 members). By the time the First World War ended in 1918, the American Red Cross had grown to 3,864 local chapters with 20 million adult members, as well as 11 million junior members. Not only did the Red Cross provide staff for hospitals and ambulance services, but the organization recruited 20,000 registered nurses.


The American Red Cross also contributed to the war effort during World War II. It recruited more than 104,000 nurses for service in the military, shipped over 300,000 tons of supplies overseas, and provided more than 27 million packages to prisoners of war (American and Allied). A national blood program was launched, and it collected 13.3 million pints that were provided to the Armed Forces.

In the years after World War II ended in 1945, the American Red Cross was responsible for introducing a nationwide civilian drug program. This program has continued to the present day, and provides approximately 50 percent of the blood and blood products used by hospitals in the United States.

Currently, the American Red Cross provides the following types of services to people in need, at home and around the world:

  • Domestic disaster relief
  • International relief and development programs
  • Education in public health and safety
  • Community services for the needy
  • Support for military personnel and their family members
  • Collection and distribution of blood and blood products

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Discuss this Article

Post 3

@KoiwiGal - Money and time is usually what organizations like the Red Cross want. But there's no reason you can't get something out of it as well. Which is why American Red Cross classes are quite cool, because you can learn something that might save a life one day and the money you spend on the class is also going to the organization.

Post 2

@Iluviaporos - I've worked with aid agencies and they would much rather people just give them a small donation of cash than almost anything else. Asking for something specific means they have to spend extra manpower sorting it out and gathering it. The American Red Cross works with a lot of volunteers, so it's not like I'm saying don't give them whatever they ask for.

If they want to have a book sale or something like that, then I'm sure they've worked out the logistics. But a straight donation is the best thing you can give them.

Post 1

Apparently the same thing happens every time there is a disaster. People hear about it and immediately want to do something to help. So they go to the Red Cross and donate blood. There is often a lot of coverage about lines of people waiting to donate and how wonderful everyone is, and I'm not saying that they aren't.

The problem is that there is rarely that much need for massive amounts of blood during a disaster. It's far more common for people to need it during routine surgery or palliative care.

And blood products don't last very long. I think it's about a month, depending on what kind of product it happens to be.

So, when everyone has done

their good deed for the year, they don't bother to donate again, and the American Red Cross then has a slump in donations when they actually need them.

So, if you are tempted to give blood during an emergency and no one is actually calling for donations, then hold off for a few weeks and give after that. It's more likely that you'll be doing some good for people in the world.

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