restricted access The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal by Marian Moser Jones (review)
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Marian Moser Jones. The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. xxviii + 375 pp. Ill. $39.95 (9781-4214-0738-8).

From 1881 to 1941, the American Red Cross (ARC) figured prominently in American medicine, nursing, and public health. Beyond serving as the primary U.S. organization for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, the ARC played a leading role in such activities as antituberculosis campaigns, recruiting nurses for the U.S. military, organizing first aid training, and combating malnutrition. Given the ARC’s centrality to American medical history, it is rather surprising how little scholarship on the organization exists. Indeed, until now, scholars seeking a comprehensive history of the ARC’s formative years have had to rely on a monograph published in 1950.1

Fortunately, Marian Moser Jones has produced a much-needed update. In her organizational biography of the ARC during its first six decades, Jones offers a fresh chronicle that is informed by recent historiographical trends. Incorporating insights from the social history of medicine and employing race, class, and gender as categories of analysis, Jones has written a smart yet accessible monograph that should become the standard work on the ARC’s pre–World War II domestic history.

Jones’s narrative is arranged around a rich and carefully structured collection of case studies. Although she covers a good deal of ground, Jones makes clear from the outset that the book is not intended as an exhaustive history but rather as a “thorough analysis of the organization’s origins, principles, and practices in the disaster and humanitarian relief arena” (p. ix). True to this assertion, Jones focuses primarily on the ARC’s place in the history of disasters and disaster relief in the United States. She also devotes substantial attention to the subject of the American humanitarian tradition, exploring such themes as ethical issues related to relief; the privileging of voluntary, localized response; the ARC’s relationship to the federal government; tensions over gender, race, class, and diplomacy; and [End Page 695] how the ideal of neutral relief translated into actual practice. Jones pays less attention to such activities as health education, rural nursing, and international relief (though these subjects do receive some treatment). Instead, she concentrates on the people and events that “significantly influenced the organization’s development and shaped the meaning of its ideals” (p. ix).

The book’s thirteen chapters are divided into three parts, each corresponding to distinct periods of ARC history. Part 1 traces the ARC’s origins and development in the late nineteenth century. It examines how Clara Barton, the organization’s founder and first president, laid lasting foundations for the ARC’s philosophies and practices of relief. Part 2 turns to the first two decades of the twentieth century. In these years, the ARC forged strong connections with the federal government, reorganized according to the principles of scientific charity and corporate management, and grew to become the nation’s official voluntary relief organization. Part 3 considers the ARC’s fates in the interwar United States, exploring how the organization grappled with natural, political, and economic disasters and tracing its evolving relationship with the federal government, particularly in the New Deal era. A substantial epilogue highlights key events in the ARC’s history from World War II to the present day.

While specialists will welcome The American Red Cross as a well-researched and analytical treatment of the principal U.S. humanitarian organization, the book should also appeal to popular audiences. Jones tells a fascinating and approachable story. More than simply an institutional biography, her book demonstrates the ARC’s relevance to U.S. history more broadly. Jones also largely succeeds in providing a balanced narrative; though she often writes admiringly of the ARC and its personnel, she is not afraid to criticize the organization. Although the book’s achievements are many, a couple of critiques are worth noting. First, archival sources consist only of the ARC’s own records and the papers of two key leaders. Jones supplements this material with impressive research in newspapers, magazines, and other publications, but one wonders what perspectives she might have gleaned...