Henry Dunant experienced the ravages of war while traveling to northern Italy to meet with Napoleon III in 1859. Deeply affected by the wounded men he saw, he immediately organized a voluntary aid service that would come to be known as the International Red Cross.
Meanwhile, America’s Civil War brought a former schoolteacher and government worker, Clara Barton, to the front to care for the wounded. Dedication and determination quickly earned Barton the appellation “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, Barton learned of the Red Cross Movement, established in 1863 by Dunant, and founded the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. The American Red Cross then received a Congressional Charter in 1905.
In 1916, 57 years after the International Red Cross founding, local citizens successfully petitioned to establish a chapter in Arizona. In 1917, the Phoenix Chapter of the American Red Cross boasted more than 2,000 volunteers. The chapter was renamed the Central Arizona Chapter in 1918, and for a brief period from 1933 to 1938, it was known as the Maricopa County Chapter. In 1999, the chapter was re-chartered as the Grand Canyon Chapter. In 2003, the American Red Cross National Board of Governors approved the expansion of the chapter’s jurisdiction to 10 of Arizona’s 15 counties – Apache, Coconino, Gila, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma.
President William Howard Taft approved Arizona’s statehood Feb. 14, 1912. Women gained the right to vote in Arizona, which had a population of more than 204,000. Phoenix had 11,000-plus residents, while Maricopa County had more than 34,000. War had broken out in Europe in August 1914. By January 1915, Arizonans were beginning to feel interested in helping – the Red Cross became one channel for people to work through.
Under an organization plan by the American National Red Cross, each state had a board comprised of the governor of the state and three or more prominent citizens who were selected by a committee in Washington. Arizona had such a board with Governor George W.P. Hunt acting as ex-officio of the state board. Phoenix had two members in H.J. McClung, president of Phoenix National Bank and later director of the Valley Bank, and Dwight B. Heard, the state treasurer.
In January 1915, Charles J. O’Connor, director of the Pacific Division of the Red Cross, came to Phoenix for the purpose of organizing a chapter there. It was decided to start a chapter, and within a few days, 29 members were secured. Allan H. Williams was made temporary secretary. Although named the Phoenix Chapter, no important work was immediately undertaken, and the effort was allowed to lapse.
By June 1916, America was talking about the war in Europe in earnest. On June 27, 1916, a meeting of the original 29 members was held and a petition was signed and sent to Washington, asking that a Congressional Charter be granted. On July 8, 1916, John Dennett Jr. was appointed chairman and other officers were elected preparatory to a permanent organization.
On July 25, 1916, the organization was officially chartered as the Phoenix Chapter of the American National Red Cross. Officers were elected, membership was quickly increased to 235 and a first aid class was formed. The first annual meeting of the new chapter was held Oct. 26, 1916, at which time John D. Loper was named the first permanent chairman. The treasurer’s report showed a balance on hand of $464.31.
The “Zimmerman Note” further prompted concern in Arizona, and by February 1917, plans were received for organizing other chapters to meet emergency needs in the event war was declared. In the first war fund drive of June 1917, $35,000 was raised.
When the U.S. officially entered The Great War on April 6, 1917, the chapter had no branches or auxiliaries and only 584 members in Phoenix. But by the time of the first Christmas membership drive in December 1917, the chapter had established 12 branches and secured 5,000 additional members.
In January 1918, the name of the chapter was changed to Central Arizona Chapter. In the second war fund drive of May 1918, the chapter and its branches and auxiliaries raised $129,000 for the war relief effort. By the Christmas membership drive of December 1918, the chapter had 13 branches, nine auxiliaries and a membership of 14,293.
When the chapter first began its war production work, rooms were taken in the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce building. By July 1918, the work had increased to such an extent that the chapter took over an unoccupied school building. This building was renovated and made the center of all war work activity in Phoenix. Accommodating over a half dozen other organizations, the building was given the name “War Work Building.”
A history compiled in June 1919 stated that, “The area covered by the chapter is as large as many states. The western outpost is the Branch at Parker, approximately 165 miles from Phoenix. The territory covered extends to Winkelman on the east, 140 miles from Phoenix. The southern point covered by the chapter is at Gila Bend, 75 miles from Phoenix, while the northern point is at Wickenburg, 50 miles from Phoenix. In all, about 20,000 square miles are included in the chapter’s territory.” In addition to the Central Arizona Chapter, Arizona had chapters in both northern and southern Arizona. The state’s population was nearing 335,000.
In August 1919, a bulletin was received from Pacific Division headquarters in San Francisco, setting forth Red Cross activities to be carried out during peacetime, in which the home service section was particularly stressed. First aid classes increased, and lifesaving was also taught.
Post-war years saw the establishment of programs such as home service work for ex-soldiers, a transient service program with volunteer caseworkers and a local Junior Red Cross. The chapter office was located at the Social Service Center in Phoenix. In November 1925, the Pacific Division recommended the chapter have trained leadership who would also be the paid executive secretary to handle routine affairs. Records indicate that the first executive secretary, Ethel Donn, was hired in April 1927. In June 1928, a disaster relief committee was formed, with Earl Drake as its chairman.
However, the chapter was not immune to the Great Depression that began in late 1929. No meetings were held between Jan. 30, 1930, and Oct. 9, 1930. Then another year lapsed until a meeting was held Oct. 19, 1931.
Luna Bowdin became executive secretary in August 1932, and that fall, casework was started again, focusing on clothing and flour distribution to destitute families affected by the Great Depression. The first clothing distribution center was opened at 402 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. The work continued during the winter of 1933. The chapter office and production room then were relocated to the ground floor of a building at 134 S. Central Ave. in Phoenix.
On April 15, 1933, the bylaws of the Central Arizona Chapter were adopted. Activities were listed as home service work for ex-soldiers; distribution of Red Cross flour and clothing; first aid and lifesaving; and Junior Red Cross. Although mentioned in meeting minutes as early as December 1933, the Central Arizona Chapter was renamed the Maricopa County Chapter in December 1933. In 1935, the chapter secured rooms in the then-Chamber of Commerce building on Van Buren Street in Phoenix. Many new branches were established, and others were reorganized.
The chapter’s first water safety campaign was held in the summer of 1936 for a 10-day period under the leadership of Jess Hamer. In December 1937, Hamer reported that blood transfusion services would be started in February 1938. The chapter was the second of 3,700 chapters at the time to give this service to its community. In February 1938, the executive secretary was authorized to select and employ office personnel. In April 1938, the chapter office was moved to 613 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix, then moved again five months later to 1029 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. It’s believed that the chapter’s name was changed back to the Central Arizona Chapter at that time.
First aid courses for truck drivers and a visiting nurses’ service were established in October 1939. Although the U.S. had not yet entered World War II, war relief sewing had begun again. By 1940, local companies began enrolling their employees in first aid classes. A report of activities and services in 1940 included blood transfusion services; disaster preparedness; a finance committee headed by a budget system; 1,053 people trained in first aid; nine highway first aid stations; 259 women taught home hygiene; 18,364 kids enrolled in Junior Red Cross; 2,100 certificates issued in lifesaving; and a volunteer service that shipped 11,489 garments and 34,370 surgical dressings. Plus, Braille work had begun, and a motor corps was organized.
On March 4, 1941, the board of directors signed articles of incorporation and adopted a resolution to purchase a building for the chapter. The property located at 1408 N. 3rd St. in Phoenix was purchased for $4,000, with 10 percent down, through a loan from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. On April 16, 1941, a gala open house was held for the public, and a formal dedication was made for the new chapter house. A.L. Schafter, manager of the San Francisco headquarters, gave the main address and praised the chapter for taking such a step to own its own building.
In 1999, the chapter was re-chartered as the Grand Canyon Chapter. On July 1, 2001, the Central Arizona and Northern Arizona chapters, as well as the Yavapai County Service Center, were merged to become the Grand Canyon Chapter, by approval of the National Board of Governors. At a National Board of Governors meeting May 30, 2003, approval was given for the Grand Canyon Chapter to annex La Paz, Mohave and Yuma counties and all portions of Apache and Navajo counties, excluding the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, effective July 1, 2003.
Today, the Grand Canyon Chapter continues its legacy of providing services to those in need, serving a culturally diverse population of more than 5.1 million people in rural communities and metropolitan areas throughout a 91,000-square-mile territory.