American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is an organization founded in 1881 by Clara Barton in Washington DC. The worldwide Red Cross movement began earlier in order to provide neutral aid to the victims of war.

Barton drew her inspiration from the Europeans but during her 23 years as leader of the Red Cross, she pressed for an expansion of its goals to include relief from natural disasters as well.

The American Red Cross operates under a unique charter, established by Congress in 1900 and revised in 1905. It mandates that the organization fulfill certain functions, which included communications between members of the armed forces and their families as well as international disaster relief. Despite this government charter, the Red Cross relies on private donations and volunteer work to achieve its mandate. The president of the United States serves as honorary chairman of the American Red Cross.

World War I provided the impetus for the greatest period of growth in the history of the American Red Cross. Beginning with only 107 local chapters in 1914, it grew to 3,864 in 1918 while membership rose from 17,000 to more than 20 million adult and 11 million Junior Red Cross members. In addition to vast wartime efforts, the Red Cross provided thousands of nurses during the global influenza epidemic of 1918.

In the inter-war period, the Red Cross was active in providing assistance after the Mississippi floods of 1927 and during the Great Depression. The advent of World War II brought the American Red Cross back into work with the military.

During World War II, at the request of the U.S. government, the Red Cross initiated a program of blood donations. This became the first civilian blood donation program after the end of the war. As a result of the AIDS epidemic, the Red Cross developed much higher levels of security during the 1990s.

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