While most people know the Red Cross exists worldwide, few realize what a rich history the Red Cross has in Hawaii. Officially chartered as a chapter of the American Red Cross in 1917, the humanitarian work of the Red Cross actually began as early as 1898, when 300 women, including Princess Kaiulani, cared for sick and wounded soldiers en route from the Philippines during the Spanish American War.
In 1917, Queen Liliuokalani sewed a Red Cross flag that soared above Iolani Palace during World War I, while volunteers rolled bandages in the Throne Room. When the flag was presented to the Territorial Governor on September 14, 1917, the Queen said "the flag is an expression of my warm and hearty sympathy for the cause of humanity."
Soon after the Red Cross was founded, the Red Cross held its first membership drive. On September 29, 1917, the Royal Hawaiian Band boarded a special street car that drove around Honolulu while the band played “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” Ambulances paraded through the streets, and the Hawaiian Electric Company sounded a big whistle several times each hour – once for every 500 new members. Over 16,000 people joined the Red Cross that day, or one-sixth of the entire population of Oahu. Among them was Queen Liliuokalani, seated in a wheelchair on the lanai of her Washington Place home, who presented a $100 check to become a patron member.
In the months that followed, daily newspaper reports of mounting casualties stirred more people into action to demonstrate their compassion and patriotism. As future Territorial Governor George Carter put it, in an address to the Civic Convention in Honolulu: “The Red Cross is to humanity what our flag is to liberty. They are symbols of our faith and liberty. The Red Cross organization is the channel along which the generosity of our hearts may be carried into action.”
Volunteers were desperately needed to prepare surgical dressings, sew hospital garments, and knit blankets, sweaters, socks, hats, and gloves. For the duration of the war, the Iolani Palace Throne Room became the production center with long makeshift tables for folding gauze and rolling bandages. The firemen at the Makiki Station became well known for their knitting, and by 1918, over 280,000 items had been produced by the people of Hawaii to be sent to the war front.
After World War I, the Hawaii Red Cross focused on first aid, water safety, and nursing programs. Throughout these years, the Red Cross assisted victims of floods, fires, and flu and measles epidemics. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, the Hawaii Red Cross, the only American Red Cross chapter in a combat zone, sprung into action.
Red Cross Motor Corps volunteers evacuated people from the danger zone, transported supplies to Tripler, and cared for the wounded. Canteen Corps fed 300 evacuees and volunteers at Iolani Palace that day, 1,000 the next day, and continued to feed people until the emergency situation was over.
For 95 years, the Red Cross has played a vital role in helping the people of Hawaii recover from every major disaster, including Hurricanes Iniki and Iwa, Sacred Falls landslide, New Years & Manoa floods, Kaloko Dam burst, Big Island earthquake, Japan tsunami damage in Hawaii, volcanic eruptions, and air crashes. Hawaii Red Cross volunteers are on call 24/7, 365 days/year and respond to disasters every 4 days, providing not only food, clothing, and shelter, but crisis counseling to help people get back on their feet after a tragedy. We also teach 30,000 residents each year how to save lives and provide emergency communication between deployed military service members and their loved ones.
We are not a government agency and must rely on the generosity of Hawaii’s people to provide these critical services to our community. Mahalo to all of our Red Cross donors and volunteers for helping us perpetuate our humanitarian legacy for future generations.
We are celebrating 2017 as the year of the 100th Anniversary of the Red Cross here in Hawaii
To learn about our role in WWI, click here
- To see historical photos, click here (PDF, 607KB)