Red Cross

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Red Cross,

international organization concerned with the alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of public health; the world-recognized symbols of mercy and absolute neutrality are the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and the Red Crystal flags and emblems.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

The blanket agency for all Red Cross groups, formerly known as the International Red Cross, changed its name in 1986 to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in order to encompass a number of branches in Islamic nations. It sponsors the International Red Cross Conference (instituted 1867), the highest deliberative body of the organization. The conference meets every four years, and its membership consists of representatives from each national society and from several international committees. There are national Red Cross societies in over 180 countries of the world, each a self-governing organization, and two international groups with headquarters in Geneva: the International Committee of the Red Cross (established in 1863), composed of 25 Swiss citizens and serving as a neutral intermediary in time of war, with special interest in the welfare of prisoners of war; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (founded as the League of Red Cross Societies in 1919), a federation of national societies for mutual help, cooperation, and program development, especially in time of peace. All societies are supported by membership fees and popular subscriptions, and a number receive government subsidies in addition.

The work of the Red Cross has been greatly expanded since the end of World War II, and it has moved into many fields. It has taken on extensive refugee relief activities, helping to care for refugees of warfare, drought, and ethnic conflicts all over the world, including Hungary (1956), Somalia (1992), Rwanda (1994), and the former Yugoslavia (throughout the 1990s). During the Korean War, the International Red Cross suggested (1952) the first exchange of prisoners and sick and wounded combatants. The group also coordinated international relief efforts following natural disasters, such as the massive cyclone and storm surge that hit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1970 and left almost a half million dead, the hurricane that hit Honduras in 1974, and the earthquakes in Armenia (1988) and Turkey (1999).

The American Red Cross

The American Red Cross was organized (1881) by Clara BartonBarton, Clara,
1821–1912, American humanitarian, organizer of the American Red Cross, b. North Oxford (now Oxford), Mass. She taught school (1839–54) and clerked in the U.S. Patent Office before the outbreak of the Civil War.
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 and received its first federal charter in 1900. In 1905, it was brought into closer relationship with the government when a new congressional charter was granted. The charter was revised in 1947. The organization, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., is supported entirely by voluntary contributions. The president of the United States is honorary chairman of the society, responsible for the appointment of its president and seven other members of its board of governors. The American Red Cross puts special emphasis on disaster relief, services to the armed forces and veterans, and public health and safety programs. The nationwide Red Cross blood program is a comprehensive system designed to collect, store, treat, and distribute blood and blood products to the ill and injured throughout the United States (see blood bankblood bank,
site or mobile unit for collecting, processing, typing, and storing whole blood, blood plasma and other blood constituents. Most hospitals maintain their own blood reserves, and the American Red Cross provides a nationwide collection and distribution service.
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The creation of the Red Cross was spurred by the publication of Un Souvenir de Solférino (1862), an account by Jean Henri DunantDunant, Jean Henri
, 1828–1910, Swiss philanthropist and founder of the International Red Cross, b. Geneva. In 1862 appeared his Un souvenir de Solférino (tr.
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 of the suffering endured by the wounded at the battle of SolferinoSolferino
, village, Lombardy, N Italy, near Mantua. There, on June 24, 1859, the French and Sardinians fought a bloody battle with the Austrians (see Risorgimento). Although the battle resulted in no clear decision, the Austrians withdrew to their strategic fortresses.
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 in 1859. Dunant, a Swiss citizen, urged the formation of voluntary aid societies for relief of such war victims. He also asked that service to military sick and wounded be neutral.

The Société genovoise d'Utilité publique, a Swiss welfare agency, actively seconded Dunant's suggestion, the result being the formation (1863) of the organization that became known as the Red Cross. The next year, delegates from 16 nations met in Switzerland, and the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field was adopted and signed by 12 of the nations represented. It provided for the neutrality of the medical personnel of armed forces, the humane treatment of the wounded, the neutrality of civilians who voluntarily assisted them, and the use of an international emblem to mark medical personnel and supplies. In honor of Dunant's nationality, a red cross on a white background—the Swiss flag with colors reversed—was chosen as this symbol.

The original Geneva Convention, its subsequent revisions, and allied treaties such as the Hague Convention for naval forces and the Prisoner of War Convention have been signed (although not always ratified) by almost all countries and their dependencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917, 1944, and, with the League of Red Cross Societies, in 1963.

The Red Crescent, which was first used by the Ottoman Empire in 1876, was formally recognized by the League of Red Cross Societies in 1929. Iran used the Red Lion and Sun, formally recognized in 1949, until 1980. The adoption of the Red Crystal symbol in 2005 (effective in 2007), although occurring primarily as a means to provide an emblem under which Israel's Magen David Adom could become a full member (2006) of the international movement, also established a neutral emblem that could be used by any national society that preferred to avoid using the Christian cross or Islamic crescent.


See F. R. Dulles, The American Red Cross: A History (1950, repr. 1971); R. J. Berens, The Image of Mercy (1967); M. M. Jones, The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Red Cross


(Krasnyi Krest), the generalized name of a number of revolutionary organizations in Russia that were created to help political prisoners and exiles.

Such an organization—the Red Cross Society—was first formed under the People’s Will in 1881 by Iu. N. Bogdanovich and I. V. Kaliuzhnyi. A foreign department, headed by P. L. Lavrov and V. I. Zasulich, existed between 1882 and 1884. The Red Cross of the People’s Will was a semilegal organization that was partly funded by the bourgeois intelligentsia, which was sympathetic to it. In the 1880’s, after the extermination of the People’s Will, the Red Cross was called the Society for Assistance to Political Exiles and Prisoners, although the former name continued to be used. With the beginning of the mass workers’ movement, the leading role in the Red Cross passed to the Social Democrats. Collections for arrested and exiled persons were taken among workers. After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07, émigré revolutionaries created a number of societies and organizations that performed the functions of the Red Cross, including “assistance groups,” foreign divisions of the political Red Cross, the Kraków Union for Assistance to Prisoners, and the Committee for Assistance to Political Prisoners at Hard Labor in Russia.

Red Cross


(in the Azerbaijan, Tadzhik, Turkmen, and Uzbek Union republics of the USSR and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and all Arab countries, the Red Crescent; in Iran, the Society of the Red Lion and Sun), societies existing in many countries to assist prisoners of war and sick and wounded soldiers; in peacetime they provide help to victims of natural disasters and in a number of countries carry out measures to prevent disease. The national Red Cross societies, the first of which were formed in 1864 and which are independent of one another, form the International Red Cross and are unified by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies (LRCS). The organization that became the International Committee of the Red Cross (which consists of 25 Swiss citizens) was created in 1863 at the initiative of the Swiss humanitarian H. Dunant.

The LRCS, which is a federation of national Red Cross societies of most of the countries of the world, was created in 1919 for better coordination of the activities of the national Red Cross societies in peacetime (the International Committee, under the charter, was set up to operate in wartime); in 1974 it united the societies of 121 countries (more than 230 million people). The supreme body of the league, the board of governors, consists of representatives of every Red Cross member society of the league; it meets once every two years. Between sessions the functions of the council are performed by its executive committee.

The basic principles of the Red Cross were first formulated at a conference of representatives of 14 European countries in Geneva in October 1863 and set down in the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field. The convention, which was revised and supplemented in 1906 and 1929, was one of a number of international agreements to serve as the basis of the 1949 Geneva conventions on protection of war victims. Under the existing charter (adopted in 1965), the supreme body of the International Red Cross is the conference, which is convened once every four years. In the period between conferences, the standing commission consisting of nine persons (a Soviet representative has been taking part in its work since 1952) acts as the supreme coordinating body. Geneva is the headquarters of the leading bodies of the Red Cross. In the USSR the Union of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the USSR emerged in 1923 as a result of the unification of societies of the individual Union republics; it joined the LRCS in 1934.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Red Cross

international philanthropic organization devoted to the alleviation of human suffering. [World Hist.: NCE, 2288]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Red Cross

1. an international humanitarian organization (Red Cross Society) formally established by the Geneva Convention of 1864. It was originally limited to providing medical care for war casualties, but its services now include liaison between prisoners of war and their families, relief to victims of natural disasters, etc.
2. any national branch of this organization
3. the emblem of this organization, consisting of a red cross on a white background
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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