Anniversary of the Formation of the Red Cross

On February 17, 1863 the International Committee for the Red Cross was formed in Geneva, Switzerland.

Until the middle of the 19th century, there were no organized army nursing system for those wounded on the battlefield. In June 1859, the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant was traveling to Italy When he arrived in the small Italian town of Solferino. On the evening of 24 June, he witnessed the Battle of Solferino, an engagement in the Second Italian War of Independence. In a single day, 40,000 soldiers, on both sides, died or were left wounded on the field. Henry Dunant was shocked by he near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care.

He completely abandoned his business trip and for several days devoted himself to the care and treatment of the wounded. He succeeded in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance by motivating the local population to aid without discrimination.

Back in his home in Geneva, Dunant wrote a book entitled A Memory of Solferino, which he published with his own money in 1862. He sent copies of the book to leading political and military figures throughout Europe. In addition to penning a vivid description of his experiences in Solferino, in 1859 he explicitly advocated the formation of national voluntary relief organizations to help nurse wounded soldiers in the case of war. He also called for the development of international treaties to guarantee the neutrality and protection of those wounded on the battlefield as well as medics and field hospitals.

International Red Cross Day is also celebrated on May 8, Dunant’s birthday.

This image is a 1915 French post card illustrating the Red Cross in action. It is in the public domain in its country of origin where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years and in the U.S. because it was published before 1923. {{PD-1923}}

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