Melanie Oppenheimer
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Gender, personalities and the politics of humanitarianism
Nursing leaders of the League of Red Cross Societies between the wars
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The League of Red Cross Societies was formed in May 1919 by the national Red Cross societies of the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan. One of its early initiatives was the establishment of an international post-graduate public health nursing programme in association with Bedford College, London. This paper focuses on this innovative public health programme and the early Nursing Directors of the League of Red Cross Societies, Alice Fitzgerald, Katherine Olmsted and Maynard Carter, who fought to establish and consolidate the highly successful programme within the highly precarious environment of the League’s early years. It provides us with an insight into the impact of the League of Red Cross Societies on the Red Cross movement and its role as a nascent supranational organisation facilitating the exchange of knowledge and information that led to the development of nursing and public health programmes extending across Europe, the Americas and Asia. In doing so, the paper reveals the geopolitical tensions, the competing and contested agendas of other organisations including from within the Red Cross movement, and the philosophies and inherent conflicts surrounding nursing training more broadly during the interwar period. Finally, it suggests that without the League of Red Cross Societies, there would have been no international public health nursing courses in the 1920s and 1930s, and that the development of public health more broadly would have looked very different.

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Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995

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