An early Red Cross auto. Taken in 1910.
Clara Barton, a compassionate humanitarian, established the American Red Cross in Dansville, New York on May 21, 1881, serving as its first president. Inspired by her experiences with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, Barton was determined to bring this organization to America. She founded the American chapter after learning about the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland during a visit to Europe in 1869. The initial meeting to organize the American Red Cross took place on May 12, 1881, with fifteen attendees, including Barton, Senator Omar D. Conger, and Representative William Lawrence. The first local chapter was established that same year at the English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dansville.
Under Barton's leadership, the American National Red Cross began its vital work. Supported by generous donations, including contributions from John D. Rockefeller and others, a national headquarters near the White House was established. Barton received guidance and support from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who signed the American Red Cross's original Articles of Incorporation. In the early years, the organization focused on disaster relief efforts, such as aiding the victims of the Thumb Fire in Michigan's Thumb region in 1881 and responding to the devastating Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1889, where thousands lost their lives.
Clara Barton's dedication and commitment paved the way for the American Red Cross to become a leading humanitarian organization, providing vital assistance during times of crisis and serving those in need across the nation.