Failure to launch
The American Red Cross in an era of contested neutrality, 1914–1917
in The Red Cross Movement
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From 1914 to the early 1920s – the era of the First World War – the American Red Cross (ARC) was best known for its dynamic growth into an organisation boasting tens of millions of members who energetically participated in a wide array of relief and reconstruction initiatives across war-torn Europe. Less is known about the ARC’s profound struggles during the period of American neutrality, from 1914 to 1917. Every major undertaking that the Red Cross leadership initiated when the United States was neutral failed. It failed to orchestrate a national relief movement, to undertake substantive foreign relief operations and to adapt institutionally to America’s military entry in the war. Given its abject ‘failure to launch’ in these ways, it is all the more remarkable that the ARC became the nation’s leading relief society during the period of American belligerency, 1917–18. In order to appreciate that unlikely transformation, this chapter considers the hurdles over which the ARC initially stumbled.

The Red Cross Movement

Myths, practices, turning points

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