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The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal

Marian Moser Jones

Publication Year: 2012

In dark skirts and bloodied boots, Clara Barton fearlessly ventured on to Civil War battlefields to tend to wounded soldiers. She later worked with civilians in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War, lobbied legislators to ratify the Geneva conventions, and founded and ran the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal tells the story of the charitable organization from its start in 1881, through its humanitarian aid during wars, natural disasters, and the Depression, to its relief efforts of the 1930s. Marian Moser Jones illustrates the tension between the organization’s founding principles of humanity and neutrality and the political, economic, and moral pressures that sometimes caused it to favor one group at the expense of another. This expansive book narrates the stories of: • U.S. natural disasters such as the Jacksonville yellow fever epidemic of 1888, the Sea Islands hurricane of 1893, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake • crises abroad, including the 1892 Russian famine and the Armenian massacres of 1895–96 • efforts to help civilians affected by the civil war in Cuba • power struggles within the American Red Cross leadership and subsequent alliances with the American government • the organization's expansion during World War I • race riots in East St. Louis, Chicago, and Tulsa between 1917 and 1921 • help for African American and white Southerners after the Mississippi flood of 1927 • relief projects during the Dust Bowl and after the New Deal An epilogue relates the history of the American Red Cross since the beginning of World War II and illuminates the organization's current practices as well as its international reputation.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-xvi

On the day before Thanksgiving in 1997, federal government carpenter Richard Lyons climbed the narrow staircase in a dilapidated downtown Washington, D.C., building to check for leaks in the roof. As he walked through the unlit, cramped rooms on the building’s third floor, Lyons felt someone tap him on his shoulder. Turning to find ...


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pp. xvi-xxvii


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1. Miss Barton Goes to Washington

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pp. 3-20

The origins of the American Red Cross (ARC ) can be found in the life of its founder, Clara Barton. A single, socially awkward, yet adventurous schoolteacher from North Oxford, Massachusetts, Barton moved to Washington, D.C., and created an independent life for herself as a patent clerk. When the Civil War broke out around her, ...

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2. Transatlantic Transplant

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pp. 21-36

The Red Cross movement began as a wartime expression of humanité—a concern for mitigating the suffering of combatants. In 1862, Genevan entrepreneur Henri Dunant proposed an international conference to create volunteer aid societies for the treatment of the wounded and a universal set of rules under which they would ...

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3. National Calamities

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pp. 37-60

The American Red Cross began as a small band of workers bringing supplies and compassion to the scene of mass suffering, in much the same way Clara Barton had begun her Civil War aid work. She and her tiny ARC staff sought merely to “supplement” the efforts of the federal government, the states, and local charities in aiding ...

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4. The Misfortunes of Other Nations

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pp. 61-79

In the 1890s, the American Red Cross began to address humanitarian crises abroad. Although Clara Barton had mentioned “the misfortunes of other nations” in her pamphlet on the Red Cross, during its first ten years her organization limited its work to assistance in “national calamities” at home. As the century’s end approached, however, colonialism, mass ...

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5. Cuba and Controversy

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pp. 80-94

In Cuba, American humanitarianism danced its first waltz with American expansionism. The dance began when Clara Barton and others decided to aid starving Cuban peasants who had been driven from their land by civil war. Although the American Red Cross strived to remain neutral, it and other humanitarian groups working in ...


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6. Barton versus Boardman

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pp. 97-115

When a hurricane flattened Galveston, Texas, in September 1900, Clara Barton responded in much the same way she always had: she focused on meeting people’s urgent needs with little regard to keeping detailed balance sheets of donations and expenditures or checking with the American Red Cross treasurer before making ...

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7. Shifting Ground

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pp. 116-136

Its years of turmoil behind it, the new American Red Cross finally seemed to be standing on solid ground. President Theodore Roosevelt enthusiastically supported it, upright businessmen and eminent government officials made up its governing Central Committee, and Mabel Boardman eagerly took on the daily tasks of running ...

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8. Establishment

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pp. 137-156

Between 1905 and 1915, Mabel Boardman ran the American Red Cross. Once ruthlessly devoted to bringing down Clara Barton, she became doggedly dedicated to building up the organization. “She is the boss, the manager, the impresario and the ring-master of the American National Red Cross,” wrote syndicated newspaper ...

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9. Fighting on Two Fronts

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pp. 157-175

The World War brought the American Red Cross to the center of American military and civic life and also transformed it into a sprawling, decentralized institution. In 1915 the organization had only twenty-two thousand members; just four years later, it had enlisted more than 20 million adult members and its chapters covered “practically ...


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10. Triage for Terror

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pp. 179-197

When a wave of race riots roiled the United States during the turbulent postwar years, the American Red Cross became involved in assisting the survivors. This so-called disaster relief tested the limits of the ARC mission and ideals. The organization’s leaders wondered out loud whether such a neutral organization, which had thus far confined ...

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11. Baptism in Mud

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pp. 198-224

In the spring of 1927, the Mississippi River began to swell under the weight of rains that had been falling relentlessly since the previous September. Every day it grew wider, forcing its tributaries to back up and sometimes even run upstream. With each burst through a supposedly unbreakable levee, the roaring river seemed to mock the ...

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12. Scorched Earth

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pp. 225-239

During the summer of 1930, corn roasted on the stalk and vegetables burned in their beds, while the lower Mississippi River shriveled into an anemic stream. The drought spread through the still-struggling 1927 flood states and reached across a wide swath of the country, from Montana to Virginia. Farm production in many areas dropped ...

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13. A New Deal for Disasters [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 240-260

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) took office in March 1933, both supporters and opponents of the new president overestimated the changes he planned to make in American government. Many on the left expected him to nationalize banks and intervene with a strong hand to fix the country’s economic ills, while some ...

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Epilogue: Blood and Grit

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pp. 261-287

The American Red Cross remains a powerful quasi-governmental philanthropy in the twenty-first century. Just as Clara Barton filled gaps in the Civil War Washington bureaucracy with her benevolent enterprises, the ARC even now addresses needs not met by formal government or the private sector. It does so, as it has all along, by channeling ...

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pp. 289-291

In writing this history of the American Red Cross, I sought to produce an independent work of scholarship, one that is free from any outside influence or agenda. The task proved more monumental than I could have imagined. I did not take any money or direction from the Red Cross or any other organization with a vested interest in the ...

Images [Image Plates - pages unnumbered]

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pp. 334-341


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pp. 293-365

List of Archival Sources

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p. 366-366


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pp. 367-375

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408231
E-ISBN-10: 1421408236
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421407388
Print-ISBN-10: 1421407388

Page Count: 404
Illustrations: 19 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012