Red Cross Left Impressive Record In Deed, Postcards

The American Red Cross has an enduring as well as an endearing record in American history. Just less than 110 years ago, in 1905, Congress authorized the charter for that remarkable organization which remains in effect today.

In addition to setting forth the organization’s purpose during wartime, the charter also provided for international or national disaster relief.

Not long after that the romantic image of the Red Cross nurse giving aid to the afflicted began appearing on American postcards. No less than by the legendary artist Harrison Fisher.

In 1906 a Harrison illustration of a lovely Red Cross nurse administering to a patient was published as a postcard by the Frank V. Draper Company of Des Moines, Iowa. The image was designed to promote a timely novel, Jane Cable, written by George Barr McCutcheon.

Fisher would go on to illustrate other Red Cross figures including a nurse compassionately reading to a bed-ridden soldier. Titled simply Compensation, it was captured on a postcard published during the World War I era by Reinthal and Newman.

Possibly the most remarkable depiction of a Red Cross nurse by the greatly talented Fisher was a World War I poster of a nurse. In the background is an American flag carried by marching soldiers. The beautifully costumed woman in the center poster was shown clutching her cape in one hand while extending her other hand outward. It dramatically asked the question:

“Have you answered the Red Cross Roll Call?”

The powerful and symbolic image appeared nationwide in newspapers, on window cards, and on bus/trolley cards as well as on posters. Eventually it became a French postcard.

“Many consider this (postcard) to be the rarest and most valuable postcard Fisher ever illustrated,” according to Naomi Welch author of American and European Postcards of Harrison Fisher Illustrator.

Fisher had originally drawn that particular poster for a 1918 Red Cross fundraising campaign. He had been a member of what was then called the Division of Pictorial Publicity which provided designs to the federal government. Fisher had a clear affection for the Red Cross, and in some cases directed that his rather ample royalties from artwork on books be sent to the Red Cross.

Of course other early 20th century artists also contributed efforts and works to the Red Cross, sometimes in the form of postcards. Additionally other countries also paid tribute to the  International Red Cross and their campaigns during that same era.

The French, for example, published a series of postcards based on earlier World War I posters. Among the titles, the Red Cross Counts on You. Similar poster-to-postcard efforts were made in Poland and other European countries.

Such campaigns were highly successful. From 1914 to 1918 membership in the American Red Cross soared from 11 million to over 20 million. Moreover and eager and willing public contributed more than 400 million dollars in funds and materials to support Red Cross programs.

Historically the genesis of Red Cross organizations came with the Geneva Convention of the 1860s in Geneva, Switzerland. Initially the delegates adopted a program allowing for neutral groups to care for wounded during wartime. Eventually various groups, then known as societies, organized. They selected as their emblem the flag of Switzerland with its colors reversed. The result was a red cross on a white background.

The United States, under the unwavering leadership of Clara Barton, launched the National Society of the Red Cross early in the 1880s. Just a few years later Barton introduced the so-called American Amendment at the Geneva International Conference. It specified that Red Cross organizations, during extreme emergencies, would carry out humanitarian work similar that which it assumed during wartime.

Barton, born Clarissa Harlow Barton, organized supply and nursing services for the. sick and wounded during the Civil War. Later she became active in the International Red Cross and ultimately as first president of the American Red Cross.

Immediately upon America’s entry into the world war in April of 1917, the American Red Cross greatly extended its organization and activities. A major method of attracting both attention and financing was the fund drive. Often the various fund raising efforts, or ‘subscriptions’ extended to include both posters and postcards.

By the 1930s the headquarters of the American Red Cross was the pride of Washington. The imposing structure located between the Corcoran Art Gallery and continental Hall was the subject of numerous postcards.

Often the printed information on the reverse of the card noted the building was “dedicated to the memory of the heroic women of the Civil War. The beautiful assembly room is entirely in white with crimson hangings, the colors of the Red Cross.” Postcards also sometimes mentioned that the entire cost of the white marble complex was $800,000.

During World War II in the 1940s the American Red Cross proved to be seasoned enough to be supportive. Recreational centers served soldiers with stationary, books, and literally millions of doughnuts and cups of coffee. During this war the Red Cross was also able to provide blood-donation services. Using 35 blood donor stations in principal American cities and 60 mobile units the Red Cross was able to make more than 13 million blood donations by VJ Day in 1945.

From time to time, as had been the case earlier in that century, postcards were used to promote and acknowledge Red Cross efforts. In the midst of it, there were thousands of volunteers and 36 million Americans had paid one dollar or more a year to the Red Cross.

Military conflicts aside, the American Red Cross overall probably gained more recognition in times of natural disaster.

As early as 1949, The Lincoln Library of Essential Information glanced at the first half of the century and concluded:

“The peacetime relief work of the Red Cross in floods, fires, hurricanes, and every other kind of disaster has proven that the organization was ready to meet human need in whatever emergency should arise.”

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