March is American Red Cross month, a celebration of the humanitarian organization founded in 1881 by Clara Barton. The first Red Cross Month was proclaimed in 1943 by Franklin Roosevelt.
Barton had been a teacher and patent office copyist before the Civil War led her into nursing. After the war, she went to Europe, where she learned about the International Red Cross. She returned home determined to start a branch in this country.
Barton faced some opposition from people in the 19th century who felt that after the Civil War, Americans would not go to war again. That’s why the American Red Cross is renowned for its humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters, starting with the 1881 Thumb Fire in Michigan. Now, it helps victims of 70,000 disasters each year.
Today’s Red Cross does more than just war and disaster relief. It offers educational programs that reach nine million people a year and help keep people safe, community support for the needy, and support for families of military members.
Perhaps the organization’s best known program is its blood collection programs. The volunteer-run not-for-profit is the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. Four million people give blood through the Red Cross, helping it in its life-saving work.