The Americans lead the way?
The United States Sanitary Commission and the development of the Red Cross Movement, 1861–1871
in The Red Cross Movement
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In 1861, President Lincoln authorised the creation of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) – a body comprising humanitarian volunteers whose purpose was to complement the work of the Union’s Medical Bureau by sourcing supplies, inspecting hospitals and providing general succour to wounded soldiers. Two years later, when news of the first Geneva Conference reached the ears of the USSC’s leaders, they naturally assumed that the Committee of Five had been inspired by the American example to pursue its aims. Historians of the USSC have repeated these claims, despite the comprehensive rejection of the idea of an American origin for the Red Cross Movement by several leading Red Cross scholars. This paper will re-examine the issue of American influence on the Red Cross Movement by turning away from the idea that the USSC inspired the Geneva Convention. Instead, the focus here will be on how the performance of the USSC captured the imaginations of the first Red Cross volunteers, and contributed to the fundamental reshaping of the Committee of Five’s conception of the Red Cross by the dawn of the twentieth century.

The Red Cross Movement

Myths, practices, turning points

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