An illustration of a Red Cross nurse helpng a wounded soldier on the battlefield during World War I.

Honoring the Red Cross

By Ginny A. Roth

An illustration of a Red Cross nurse helpng a wounded soldier on the battlefield during World War I.
Help!, between 1914 and 1918
National Library of Medicine #A032731

This World War I-era poster created by artist John Mills depicts a Red Cross nurse helping a wounded soldier on the battlefield, a familiar scene for a Red Cross volunteer during wartime. Each year, the President of the United States proclaims March “Red Cross Month,”  an opportunity for the American Red Cross to fund-raise, promote its relief services to the American public, and encourage volunteerism.

Clara Barton founded the American chapter of the Red Cross in 1881, a time when volunteers, donations, and funding were dependent on the support of those who learned of disasters and the Red Cross’ response to them in newspapers and by word of mouth. That changed in 1917, when, with America’s entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the American Red Cross to raise funds to aid the military, as mandated by the Red Cross Congressional charter. The Red Cross held its first national War Fund drive in June 1917 and set a goal of $100 million. Within days, over $115 million was raised.

It was during World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt, honorary chairman of the Red Cross, declared all of March “Red Cross Month.”

“I request that during that month (March) our people rededicate themselves to the splendid aims and activities of the Red Cross.” —Franklin Roosevelt’s first Presidential Proclamation of March as Red Cross Month in 1943

By June 1943, donations totaled nearly $146 million. Roosevelt called it the “…greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history.”

The success of this campaign caused the Red Cross to repeat the March drive during the remaining years of the war, and now 71 years later it remains the focus of American Red Cross annual membership and fundraising efforts.

portrait of Ginny outside Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine

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