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World War I, American Red Cross: Topics in Chronicling America

Established in 1881, the American Red Cross became a major humanitarian organization during World War I. This guide provides access to material related to the "American Red Cross in WWI" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers


An American Red Cross Nurse looking across the sea towards World War I. May 10, 1918. Cottonwood Chronicle (Cottonwood, ID), Image 6. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

The American Red Cross made a major contribution to aid the wounded during World War I. Within weeks of the outbreak of the war it dispatched The Mercy Ship, which brought surgeons, nurses, and medical supplies to Europe. When the U.S. entered the war in April of 1917, the organization began a period of remarkable growth, and by war’s end it had become a major humanitarian organization with a record of broad and distinguished service. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1869 First International Red Cross Conference in Paris.
1881 The American National Red Cross is founded by Clara Barton who was once a civil war nurse.
1905 The American National Red Cross is incorporated by Congress with headquarters in Washington, DC.
August 31, 1914 The American Red Cross charters the steamer Hamburg and sets sail for Europe as a hospital ship. England and France are the first European countries to recognize the neutrality of the vessel.
December 10, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson, the first honorary president of the American Red Cross, presides over a meeting where it is determined that the American Red Cross shall focus on soldiers from the battlefield instead of aiding suffering and starving noncombatants of Europe.
December 2, 1917 Chairman of the American Red Cross War, Henry P. Davidson makes public the first semi-annual report of the War Council of the American Red Cross with defined goals, accomplishments, monetary appropriations, and staffing.
December 12, 1917 The International Red Cross committee at Geneva are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
December 12, 1918 The American Red Cross reaches 3, 854 chapters and 22,000,000 members.
December 16‑23, 1918 Known as the "Red Cross Christmas Roll Call," Americans are invited in the week preceding Christmas to enroll as members of the American Red Cross.