Advanced Search 

Home - introductions to the site
Search - a searchable database of letters/essays/etc.
Genealogy - short biographical information of each family member
Photographs - various images pertaining to the McQuesten family
Thesis - essays on the McQuestens and lifewriting by Mary Anderson
Timelines - a chronological list of events in the McQuesten family and corresponding historical events

Search Results

W2155 WHAT IS THE RED CROSS reprint.
Jun 18 1898
To: Calvin Brooks McQuesten, M.D.

From the "Outlook," June 18, 1898 -------------Printed by the First Penn's Red Cross Auxiliary, Pittsburgh.


I have been asked many times in the course of the past fortnight, "What is the American National Red Cross? How did it originate, from whom does it derive its powers, what are its relations to the Government, how is it organized, and what is it supposed to do?" I have even been asked twice within a week, "What Religion does the Red Cross profess?" Inasmuch as such questions indicate unfamiliarity, at least, on the part of the American people with Red Cross history, and inasmuch as the American National Red Cross is about to take the field in Cube for the relief both of the reconcentrades and of our own soldiers and sailors, I purpose in this article to give a brief account of what may be called the International Red Cross movement, which seems to me to be, in some respects, the most noteworthy and beneficent of the many philanthropic undertakings that have characterized the present century.

The Historical event in which the Red Cross had its origin was the battle of Solferino, in the Italian War of 1859, and the suggestion that led to the formation of the first Red Cross societies came from a little volume by M. Henri Dunant entitled "Un Souvenir de Solferino." In reviewing the tremendous fight of June 24, 1859, in which more than three hundred thousand combatants were engaged, M. Dunant described graphically the suffering of the wounded, attributed it largely to the lack of proper care, and asked the question whether such suffering might not be greatly ameliorated by intrusting the work of volunteer relief in time of war to regularly organized and well-constituted societies, instead of leaving it to such private persons as might happen to be near the field of battle and might chose to offer their untrained and unskillful services to the surgeons of the belligerents. The book at once attracted general attention in Europe, and in less than three months after its appearance it was made the subject of discussion at a meeting of a small society in Geneva, Switzerland, which devoted itself chiefly to local interests, and which was known as the "Societe Genevolse d'Utlllite Publique." The discussion did not, at that time, result in any action but on the 9th of February, 1863, it was renewed, and finally resulted in the appointment of a committee to consider the question of ameliorating the sufferings of the sick and wounded in time of war, and of giving a practical form, if possible, to M. Dunant's ideas. The members of the committee were M. Dunant himself; General Dufour, Commander-in-chief of the Swiss army; Dr. Louis Appia, who had acted as assisted surgeon during the campaign in Italy; Dr. T. Moynier, a distinguished Swiss Practitioner; and M. Gustave Moynier, President of the Genovese society. "Unfortunately," M. Moynier says, in describing the work of the committee, "it was not then known in Europe what prodigies had been accomplished in America by the Sanitary Commission of the United States during the war of secession; and therefore much time and labor were required before the committee could frame an exhaustive reply to the questions submitted to it. Simple and easy as it had been to indicate the object to be attained, so much the more difficult was it to settle the details for its accomplishment in such a way as not to offer too much ground for criticism."

All difficulties, however, were ultimately overcome; the committee reported a plan of action which was promptly adopted, and the Societe Genevoise d'Utilite Publique proceeded to issue a call for an international conference. This Conference assembled at Geneva, on October 26, 1863. Of the thirty-six persons who took part in it, eighteen were official delegates, representing fourteen Governments; viz, Austria, Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Prussia, and six other German States, Sweden and Switzerland. The other members of the Conference were six representatives of various associations-notable the Order of St. John of Jerusalem-and seven non-accredited Strangers. Encouraging letters and addresses were sent from Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, and some of the German Principalities.

The problem presented to the conference by the terms of the call was, as stated by M. Moynier, "to establish on the domain of charity a link between the civil and the military element, which, though different, are not incompatible, and which, it was hoped, might be made to work harmoniously together, side by side," In doing this, the Conference had to adapt its work to a great variety of countries and Governments, and carefully to refrain from exacting anything incompatible with the customs and institutions of any civilized people. It therefore confined itself mainly to certain general guiding principles, leaving every country free to settle and arrange details in in [sic] its own particular way. The resolutions which it adopted, and which now form the constitution and the charter of Red Cross Societies throughout the world, are as follows:

The International Conference, being desirous to give aid to wounded soldiers in all cases where the military medical service shall be inadequate, has adopted the following resolutions:

ARTICLE 1. There shall be, in every country, a Committee whose duty it will be to co-operate in time of war by all the means in its power with the sanitary service of the army. This committee shall organize itself in such manner as may appear most useful and expedient.

ART. 2. Sections, unlimited in number, shall be formed to second the Committee, to which the general direction will belong.

ART. 3. Every Committee shall place itself in communication with the Government of its own country, in order that its offers of assistance may be accepted in case of need.

ART. 4. In time of peace the Committees and Sections shall be occupied with the means of making themselves really useful in time of war, especially in preparing material aid of every kind, and endeavoring to train and instruct volunteer nurses.

ART. 5. In the event of way, the committees of the belligerent nations shall furnish relief to their respective armies in proportion to their resources; in particular, they shall organize and place nurses on an active footing, and in conjunction with the military authority, they shall arrange places for the reception of the wounded. They may solicit the assistance of the committees belonging to neutral nations.

ART. 6. On the demand, or with the concurrence, of the military authority, the committees shall send volunteer nurses to the field of battle, where they will be under the direction of military chiefs.

ART. 7. The volunteer nurses employed with armies shall be provided, by their respective committees, with everything necessary for their maintenance.

ART. 8. They shall wear around the arm, in all countries, a white band with a red cross upon it, as a distinctive and uniform badge.

ART. 9. The Committees and Sections of the different countries shall meet in International Congresses, in order to communicate to each other the results of their experience, and to decide on the measures to be adopted for the advancement of work.

ART. 10. The exchange of communications between of different nations shall be made provisionally through the medium of the Committee of Geneva.

Independently of the above resolutions, the Conference made the following suggestions, all of which were adopted by the Government that afterward united in the treaty known as the Geneva Convention:

(A) That the Governments should grant protection to the Relief Committees which may be formed, and should, as far as possible, facilitate the accomplishment of their task.

(B) That, in time of war, neutrality should be proclaimed by the belligerent nations for the field and stationary hospitals, and that it may also be accorded, in most complete manner, to all officials employed in sanitary work, to volunteer nurses, to the inhabitants of the country who shall assist the wounded, and to the wounded themselves.

(C) That an identical distinctive sign be adopted for the medical corps of all armies, or, at least, for all persons attached to this service in the same army. That an identical flag be also adopted for the field and stationary hospitals of all armies.

The Red Cross on a white ground, adopted by the Conference as the distinctive insignia of the Aid Societies, was merely the flag of Switzerland with the colors reversed, and it was chosen out of compliments to the country where the first International Conference assembled. Its use by the Aid Societies antedated by nearly a year its adoption by the Governments that united in the Geneva Convention, so that, although it is now used by War and Navy Departments of all civilized countries to designate their hospital service, it also belongs to the Red Cross Societies by right of priority as well as by authority of the International Conference.

The first Red Cross Society formed in Europe was organized by Dr. Hahn in Wurttemberg in December 1863, only a few weeks after the adjournment of the Conference. In 1864 there were ten societies, in 1866 twenty, and there are now more than forty, in countries as widely separated as Russia, Spain, America, Peru, Japan, and the Congo Free States. Every war that has occurred since 1863 has given a new impetus to the movement, and has led either the belligerents or their more of less threatened neighbors to rally to the Red Cross. Thus the Schleswig-Holstein campaign in 1864 led to the formation of societies in Denmark and in Austria; the war in Germany in 1866 gained Baden and Saxony; The Franco-German war in 1870 induced Luxembourg to join; the Turko-Servian war of 1876 added Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro to the list; the war in the East in 1877 brought Greece; while the conflict in South America in 1879 caused the accession of Peru. Some of the national societies have very wide and far-reaching ramifications. Russia, for example, has an almost uninterrupted chain of sections from St. Petersburg through the Caucasus, Turkistan, Siberia, and even to Kamtchatka. The Dutch Red Cross has branches in java, Sumatra, Celebes, Borneo, and Moluccas. The French society has established itself in Algeria and in Tunis, and there are societies in Persia, San Salvador, Chili, Bolivia, and the Argentine Republic.

All of these widely scattered but affiliated societies are controlled, at least so far as their relations with one another are concerned, by an International Committee, which has its headquarters at Berne, Switzerland. This Committee, of which M. Moynier is now President, calls all international conference; determines the conditions upon which new organizations shall receive international recognition, issues appeals for the financial support of societies whose governments are engaged in war, and acts, generally, as a medium of official intercommunication between all of the Red Cross bodies ove which it presides.

The first work in which the Red Cross Societies jointly engaged was the advocacy and promotion of an international treaty, in which all civilized Governments should unite, and by which they should bind themselves to observe certain fixed rules in their treatment of one another's wounded, as well as their attitude toward one another's hospitals, ambulances, surgeons, and nurses. As the result of an active propaganda carried on by the societies and their International Committee, and in view of the interest and sympathy aroused by them throughout Europe, the Swiss Federal council consented to call another international conference, the object of which should be the discussion of the proposed international treaty. In the summer of 1864 the Conference assembled in the city of Geneva, and in less than a fortnight a treaty was drawn up, and on the 22d of August, 1864, was signed by the plenipotentiaries of twelve powers. This international treaty is known in history as the Geneva Convention. It is in substance as follows:

The belligerents must take care of the sick or wounded soldiers, whom they may find, without distinction of nationality. Men who may be cured, but are incapable of serving again, must, if they belong to the enemy, be sent back to their own country instead of being kept as prisoners of war. Hostile acts must not be committed against ambulances and hospitals, nor can they be appropriated if there are sick or wounded in them and they are not guarded by a military force. Ambulances cannot be deprived of their material in any case; and patients discharged from them are to be regarded as neutrals. Hospital personnel, administrative as well as medical and religions, is declared to be neutral, and its members cannot be interrupted in the performance of their duties, nor kept in captivity. Inducements are held out to the inhabitants of those places where battles are fought, in order that they may be encouraged to assist in the sanitary service of armies. Finally, for the personnel and material on which the Convention confers certain immunities, as a sign by which they may be recognized, use should be made of a flag or an armlet bearing a red cross on a white ground, which the military authorizes of the belligerents alone have the right to grant.

In October, 1868, a number of additional articles were adopted, by virtue of which the contracting Powers agree to extend the privileges and exemptions above set forth to the wounded and the hospital service of the navy as well as the army. To the original treaty both Spain and the United States have adhered. The additional articles, relating to the navy, Spain has not yet signed, but the Government at Madrid has agreed to accept them as a modus vivendi for the present war.

It will be seen from the above brief historical sketch that the Geneva Convention, which has already done so much to ameliorate the sufferings of the sick and the wounded in time of war and to humanize war itself, was the result, very largely, of the direct work performed and the feelings created by the Red Cross Societies.

For many years after the adoption of the Geneva Convention in Europe, the Red Cross movement attracted in the United States little or no attention. An American Red Cross Society was formed in 1866, but it was weakly supported and had only an ephemeral existence. Notwithstanding our own recent war, our government showed no disposition to join the other Powers in the international treaty, private initiative was lacking, and for a period of five or six years little or nothing was done. The next step--and the first effective step--was taken by an American woman. At the outbreak of the Franco-German war in 1870, Miss Clara Barton, who had already had wide experience as a nurse in our Civil war, happened to be in Germany and was invited by friends there to go into the field with them and see the work of the German Red Cross. She accepted the invitation, went through the terrible Franco-German Campaign under the Red Cross flag, and became such an enthusiastic adherent to Red Cross principles and such a warm admirer of Red Cross methods, that upon her return to America she made an attempt to organize another Red Cross Society at home. The public, however, took little interest in it, and it was not until 1881 that, after persistent and untiring personal effort, she succeeded in forming and incorporating the American National Red Cross, with headquarters in the city of Washington, D.C.. Of that organization I was one of the original Charter members and am Vice-president.

Of its work in civil fields I need not here say more than that it was probably the most powerful and effective relief agency at Johnstown, Pa.; it succored and relieved a large part of the population overwhelmed by the floods on the lower Mississippi; it helped to feed the famine-stricken peasants of Russia; it sustained for six months nearly thirty thousand negroes who lost everything in the West India cyclone that devastated the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina; and, finally, after the recent massacres in Asia Minor, it sent relief parties through Armenia from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, succoring and relieving thousands of wretched people who had been plundered and driven from their homes by Turks and Kurds.

Now the American Red Cross is about to undertake the work of relief in the military field, and for the first time in its history it has called to its aid the Red Cross Societies of the world. M. Moynier, the President of the International Red Cross Committee, has issued an appeal to the affiliated societies of all neutral States, asking that they come promptly to the support of the American Red Cross and the Spanish Red Cross in the efforts which the latter are making to relieve the suffering caused, and to be caused, by the present war. These societies are already in communication with each other, and will work together in harmony, under the direction and contol of their respective War and Navy Departments. The fact that even before the appeal of the International Committee was made, the American Red Cross had received voluntary contributions from kindred organizations in France, Belgium, and the Congo Free State, shows how promptly the affiliated societies come to one another's support in time of need.

The tender of the services of the American Red Cross to the War and Navy Departments of the United States, which was made on the 25th of May, has been accepted; Red Cross representatives, acting by permission of Secretary Alger, have gone to the various National camps to co-operate, if necessary, with the Chief Surgeons; and as soon as our army has made a landing on the coast of Cuba, the Red Cross steamer State of Texas will go to the seat of war, carrying fourteen hundred tons of food and hospital supplies for the relief of the reconcentrados [sic], and accompanied by another steamer provided and fitted out by the New York Red Cross Relief Society, to co-operate with the hospital service of the Surgeon-General's Department in caring for sick and wounded soldiers.

First Pennsylvania Red Cross Auxiliary of Pittsburg.

President, JOHN B. JACKSON, Pittsburg
1st Active Vice president H.K. PORTER, Pittsburg
2d Active Vice president JOHN G. HOLMES, Pittsburg
3d Active Vice president, REV. DR. W.D. MAXON, Pittsburg
4th Active Vice president, ALBERT J. BARE, Pittsburg
5th Active Vice president REV. DR. RABBI L. MAYER, Allegheny
Secretary, JAMES I. BUCHANAN, Pittsburg
Treasurer, JAMES H. LOCKHART, Pittsburg


MRS. W.A. HERRON, Pittsburg
JAMES S. KUHUN, McKeesport
H.C. FRICK, Pittsburg
C.B. SHEA, Allegheny

Home | Search | Thesis | Family | Timelines
Photographs | Whitehern | Sitemap | Credits

Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
Please direct questions and comments to Mary Anderson, Ph.D.

Hamilton Public Library This site was created in partnership with and is hosted by the Hamilton Public Library. Canada's Digital Collections This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections initiative, Industry Canada.