Anniversary: American Red Cross thrives after 130 years

SATURDAY, MAY 21: American Red Cross staff and volunteers are working hard nationwide—part of front-page news in tornado and flood relief, at the moment. So, let’s all help celebrate the group’s 130th birthday today!

On this date in 1881, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. She was inspired by an international movement to establish Red Cross groups around the world and, before long, the American group wound up playing a major role in the International Red Cross. (The Red Cross has a full biography of Barton’s amazing life.)

Why was Barton so driven to take action?
During her time in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., Barton witnessed the first soldiers of the Civil War coming through town in 1861—disheveled, injured and hungry. (Wikipedia has details.) Barton risked her life after convincing government leaders to let her get as close to the fighting as possible, bringing medical supplies and help to soldiers on the battlefield. Barton cooked for the wounded, read to them and prayed with them, even compiling a list of missing soldiers.

During a visit to Europe “to rest” in 1869, Barton discovered her next calling—bringing the Red Cross organization to the United States. It was 130 years ago, today, that the Red Cross flag was flown for the first time in America. (The National Park Service has more on Barton’s home, now a national museum.) Barton led the American Red Cross for the next 23 years; when she resigned, she wrote: “To you—the people of America—this sacred trust is committed. In your hands the charge is laid.”

Interested in helping current efforts? Call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit

Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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