Creation of the American Red Cross

  • Prosperity
  • 1881

Clara Barton became famous as the “angel of the battlefield” during the Civil War. Afterward she raised significant sums from the public for other good works, such as efforts to account for missing soldiers. Exhausted by all this, she went to Switzerland to recuperate. There she met the founders of the new International Red Cross.

After returning to America, Barton organized an American version with a twist—the U.S. group would not only assist in wartime, but also help with peacetime disasters. She incorporated the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. When a terrible fire left thousands of Michiganders homeless that year, Barton quickly raised $2,500 and a large supply of volunteers and donated goods, then raced to relieve the victims. Other early interventions in prominent crises included an 1893 hurricane that left 30,000 Georgians in need, and the group’s first wartime effort during the Spanish-American War of 1898. World War I brought tremendous growth to the Red Cross, with local chapters jumping from 107 to 3,864, and membership growing from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions. The Red Cross remains one of America’s ten largest charities.

  • Martin Morse Wooster, By Their Bootstraps: The Lives of Twelve Gilded Age Social Entrepreneurs (Manhattan Institute, 2002)
  • Clara Barton, The Red Cross in Peace and War (American Historical Press, 1910)