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  • Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross by Sarah Glassford
  • Lyndsay Rosenthal (bio)
Sarah Glassford. Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross. McGill-Queen's University Press. xi, 388. $39.95

Drawing on an impressive array of archival sources, Sarah Glassford traces the history of the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) from its role in the 1885 Northwest Uprising through to the 1970s. While the CRC was created to provide medical aid on the battlefield, the organization evolved to meet the needs of the public, ranging from providing swimming and water safety programs to blood collection. Today, the CRC plays a leading role in providing humanitarian relief both domestically and internationally. Key to this survival, Glassford argues, is its "ability to adapt to a society that keeps changing around it, while maintaining a core identity (helping the vulnerable) as it drifts ever further from its original mission." Mobilizing Mercy is a well-written, comprehensive analysis of the multiple roles the CRC has had that led to its prominence within Canadian society, an important part of Canadian history that had been previously overlooked by scholars.

Both world wars were significant and transformative moments for the development of the organization, which are expertly dealt with in two of the book's chapters. Even more impressive is that Glassford gives the same high level of analysis and attention to events that occurred outside these conflicts. Mobilizing Mercy starts in 1885 with Dr. George Sterling Ryerson. This early period, Glassford shows, was a significant part of the CRC's development that, in many ways, laid the foundation for its future as a humanitarian organization. Initially envisioned as a way to reform military medicine, Glassford argues that the CRC was created too late, as changes within the Canadian militia would effectively force the CRC to shift its mandate. As Glassford shows, this was a situation that also characterized its development in both the interwar and post-war years.

The value of this book goes beyond the history of the organization itself. Glassford's work makes a vital contribution to the growing literature on women's wartime activities. During World War I, women raised funds and knitted socks, but they also provided a vital conduit between the home front and the battlefield through their work in the Information Bureau. Although men continued to dominate the CRC at the executive level, a few women like Adelaide Plumptre held key leadership roles. As Glassford points out, the combination of extensive engagement among Canadian women and Plumptre's influence led to an increase in female representation on the CRC council which was "a small but significant change." This change was important, as women would play a critical role in the CRC's survival.

Originally developed in response to conflict, an essential feature of the organization's longevity was its ability to adapt during times of peace. After World War I, women's volunteerism was mobilized to address deficiencies within the public health system. The CRC provided a bridge between the needs of the state and the capabilities of a private organization. In the interwar period, anti-tuberculosis campaigns, the Junior Red Cross, and the [End Page 186] Crippled Children's Hospital became key features of the CRC's peacetime activities. More importantly, rural engagement was a main feature of the CRC's mandate, which filled a significant gap in public health services. A similar pattern characterized the development of the organization after World War II. Trained to provide emergency services during the war, the Canadian Red Cross Corps was responsible for looking after regular local programs after 1945. When Canada needed blood donations to support overseas medical services, the CRC opened the Blood Donor Service in 1940. This wartime program became the Blood Transfusion Services, a critical component of post-war civilian medicine nationwide.

The mark of a good book is one that provides a direction for future studies. Glassford's work demonstrates the benefits of longitudinal studies as this comprehensive survey allows the author to make meaningful connections between wartime and civilian medicine that otherwise gets lost as both military and social historians tend to use conflicts as the start or endpoint for...


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pp. 186-187
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