In 1859, Henry Dunant saw the ravages of the war while traveling to northern Italy to meet with Emperor Napoleon III. 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.
At the same time, America’s Civil War brought a former school teacher and government worker, Clarissa Harlowe Barton, to the front to care for the wounded. Her dedication and determination quickly earned Clara Barton the appellation “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, Barton learned the Red Cross movement established by Dunant in 1863 and founded the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. The American Red Cross then received a Congressional charter in 1905.
While closely associated with the federal government in the promotion of its objectives, the Red Cross is an independent, volunteer-led organization, financially supported by voluntary public contributions and cost-reimbursement charges.
A 25-member, all Volunteer Board of Governors leads the organization. The president of the United States, who is an honorary chairman of the Red Cross, appoints eight governors, including the chairman of the board. The chairman nominates and the board elects the president of the Red Cross who is responsible for carrying into effect the policies and programs of the board.
The American Red Cross works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross on matters of international conflict and social, political and military unrest. As a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which it helped found in 1919, the American Red Cross joins more than 175 other national societies in bringing aid to those affected by disasters throughout the world.