International Red Cross Is Launched

After witnessing the bloody Battle of Solferino during the Crimean War, Jean-Henri Dunant campaigned for voluntary humanitarian and relief organizations to help victims of war and guarantee protection and neutrality for medical personnel and the wounded. His vision led to the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Geneva Conventions, and the worldwide International Red Cross and the Red Crescent movements.

Summary of Event

Jean-Henri Dunant was born into a religious, civic-minded, and wealthy family in Geneva Geneva , Switzerland. He became a successful businessman, but was also a deeply pious humanitarian. In 1859 his financial and industrial company in French-occupied Algeria was floundering, so he traveled to northern Italy to elicit support from French emperor Napoleon III, whose soldiers were helping the Italians fight the Austrians. Red Cross
Switzerland;International Red Cross
Dunant, Jean-Henri
[kw]International Red Cross Is Launched (Aug. 22, 1864)
[kw]Red Cross Is Launched, International (Aug. 22, 1864)
[kw]Launched, International Red Cross Is (Aug. 22, 1864)
Red Cross
Switzerland;International Red Cross
Dunant, Jean-Henri
[g]Switzerland;Aug. 22, 1864: International Red Cross Is Launched[3730]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 22, 1864: International Red Cross Is Launched[3730]
[c]Social issues and reform;Aug. 22, 1864: International Red Cross Is Launched[3730]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 22, 1864: International Red Cross Is Launched[3730]
[c]Health and medicine;Aug. 22, 1864: International Red Cross Is Launched[3730]
Moynier, Gustave
Dufour, Guillaume-Henri
Appia, Louis
Maunoir, Théodore

On June 24, 1859, Dunant witnessed the bloody Battle of Solferino Solferino, Battle of (1859) , which led to the death and wounding of more than forty thousand soldiers. Dunant was shocked by the lack of basic medical care for the thousands of injured soldiers left abandoned on the battlefield. For several days, he organized volunteers from the local population and secured resources to care for the suffering soldiers. This experience had a profound effect on Dunant, who returned to Geneva and wrote Un Souvenir de Solferino (1862; A Memory of Solferino, 1939). This book led to the establishment of the International Red Cross.

In Un Souvenir de Solferino, Dunant described the horrific battle itself and then the efforts to help the wounded in the aftermath. He also made two proposals: First, nations should establish a network of voluntary relief societies to provide care for the wounded on the battlefield and in recovery; second, an international principle should be sanctioned by a convention to serve as the basis and support of these relief agencies.

Dunant sent a copy of Un Souvenir de Solferino to Gustave Moynier Moynier, Gustave , a wealthy lawyer and evangelical Christian, who was a major supporter of more than forty charitable organizations. He was also the president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, a group dedicated to social reform and aid for the working class. Moynier was interested in Dunant’s proposals and invited him to a discussion about the book at a special assembly of the society on February 9, 1863. The society set up a committee to determine the feasibility of implementing Dunant’s ideas. Committee members were Dunant, Moynier (chairman), Guillaume-Henri Dufour Dufour, Guillaume-Henri , Louis Appia Appia, Louis , and Théodore Maunoir Maunoir, Théodore .

Dufour, who had served under Napoleon I in the French army and later as a general in the Swiss army, was an active member of the Geneva Geneva Society for Public Welfare. He was also the president of the Swiss office of topography from 1838 to 1865. Appia was a Heidelberg physician who often volunteered in field hospitals and worked to improve military medicine. Maunoir was a surgeon and member of the board of health of Geneva’s public hygiene and sanitary commission. The committee soon changed its name to the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, with Dufour Dufour, Guillaume-Henri as its president and Moynier Moynier, Gustave as its vice president.

At the invitation of the Swiss government, the committee organized an international diplomatic conference in Geneva for October 26, 1863. On October 29, the conference proposed the following: the establishment of national relief societies for wounded soldiers, neutrality for wounded soldiers, the use of volunteer help on the battlefield, conferences to enact these principles in international treaties, and the use of a protection emblem for medical personnel on the battlefield.

On August 22, 1864, twelve nations signed an international treaty, the Geneva Convention Geneva Conventions for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, commonly known as the first Geneva Convention. Formalizing the principles of the 1863 conference, this international convention officially adopted the heraldic red cross on a field of white (the colors of the Swiss flag reversed) as the identifying international emblem, and provided guarantees of neutrality for wounded soldiers, medical personnel, volunteers, and hospitals.

Soon after this landmark treaty was signed, aid societies were started in several countries, including France, Spain, Prussia, Belgium, and Denmark as well as the smaller states of Oldenburg and Württemberg Württemberg . Neutral Red Cross representatives began to appear on the scene of armed conflicts, inspecting hospitals and reporting on the treatment of injured soldiers. The need for cooperation among these societies was recognized, and the first International Conference of National Aid Societies for the Nursing of the War Wounded was held in 1867.

Red Cross nurses arriving in Athens during the Greco-Turkish War (1897).

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

In the same year, Dunant, whose devotion to the cause had led him to sacrifice his finances, declared bankruptcy. He had to leave Geneva and was no longer involved as a leader in the committee. However, his humanitarian legacy continued to blossom as more national societies were formed. The name of the committee took its present form, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1876. In 1881, Clara Barton helped to found the American Red Cross. The Geneva Convention Geneva Conventions became widely adopted as an international standard, and the volunteers of the ICRC were recognized for their contributions to humanity.


Jean-Henri Dunant lived to see the organization continue its humanitarian mission into the twentieth century. In 1901, he was honored with the first Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Prizes;peace Although ill and living in a hospice, Dunant willed his prize money to charity and died in poverty in 1910.

During World War I World War I[World War 01];and Red Cross[Red Cross] , unprecedented levels of death and destruction were met with increased efforts on the part of Red Cross organizations, with special attention to the plight of war prisoners. The ICRC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917 for its work during this war.

International cooperation among Red Cross organizations continued to grow. The League of Red Cross Societies (France, Italy, Japan, United States, and Great Britain) was formed in 1919, and the scope of the Red Cross’s work was expanded to include disaster relief. Parallel Red Crescent Red Crescent organizations were recognized and adopted by Muslim Islam;and Red Cross[Red Cross] nations in 1929. The league consisted of the ICRC, the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), and the member societies.

World War II World War II[World War 02];and Red Cross[Red Cross] was especially challenging to the Red Cross, which attempted to protect civilians against imprisonment, Nazi genocide, and indiscriminate bombing by all sides. The ICRC was awarded its second Nobel Nobel Prizes;peace Peace Prize in 1944 for its work during this war, and, in 1963, the ICRC and the IFRC won the prize a third time on the one hundredth anniversary of the movement’s founding.

In 1986, the League of Red Cross Societies changed its name to the International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. By 2005, the movement had become the world’s largest nongovernmental humanitarian network, with 181 individual member societies and more than 115 million volunteers. Often simply called the Red Cross and working in almost every nation, it promotes safety and health as well as disaster relief and assistance in times of war.

Further Reading

  • Boissier, Pierre. From Solferino to Tsushima: History of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Geneva, Switzerland: Henri Dunant Institute, 1985. A comprehensive history of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement from 1863 to 1912. Includes an index.
  • Dunant, Henry. A Memory of Solferino. Geneva, Switzerland: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1986. A reprint of the English version printed by the American Red Cross in 1939. Dunant’s poignant book led to the creation of the International Red Cross. Illustrated.
  • Forsyth, David P. The Humanitarians: The International Committee of the Red Cross. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Covers the activities and policy making of the ICRC from its origin to the twenty-first century. Index and bibliography.
  • Hutchinson, John F. Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996. A scholarly and provocative work that asserts that by the late nineteenth century, the Red Cross had become a champion and propagandist of militarism. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • Moorehead, Caroline. Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland, and the History of the Red Cross. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999. A scholarly account of the Red Cross, with a focus on the International Committee of the Red Cross, humanitarian laws, and the moral dilemmas and issues that have shaped the Red Cross. Illustrations, bibliography, chronology, and index.
  • Rothkopf, Carol Zeman. Jean Henri Dunant, Father of the Red Cross. New York: Watts, 1969. A complete biography of Dunant. Illustrations, bibliography.

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