History of Red Cross

Since the Red Cross has figured four times in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize (1917,1944, and 1963), as well as in the award to Henri Dunant (1901), and has therefore been made the subject of various presentation speeches and Nobel lectures which give details of its inception, history, and activities, the following brief summary of its origins and present organization is intended as a frame of reference for all four of these awards rather than as the typical history ordinarily included for each award to an organization.


In February of 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, the Société genevoise d'utilité publique[Geneva Public Welfare Society] set up a committee of five Swiss citizens to look into the ideas offered by Henri Dunant in his book Un Souvenir de Solferino 1 - ideas dealing with protection of the sick and wounded during combat. The committee had as its members: Guillaume Henri Dufour (1787-1875), a general of the Swiss army and a writer of military tracts who became the committee's president for its first year and its honorary president thereafter; Gustave Moynier (1826-1910), a young lawyer and president of the sponsoring Public Welfare Society, who from this time on devoted his life to Red Cross work; Louis Appia (1818-1898) and Théodore Maunoir (1806-1869), both medical doctors; and Henri Dunant himself.

Guided by Moynier's talent for organization, the committee called an international conference for October of 1863 which, with sixteen nations represented, adopted various pertinent resolutions and principles, along with an international emblem, and appealed to all nations to form voluntary units to help wartime sick and wounded. These units eventually became the National Red Cross Societies, and the Committee of Five itself eventually became the International Committee of the Red Cross, with Gustave Moynier as its president (1864-1910) both before and after it took this name.

As a result of the 1863 Conference, which hoped to see its Red Cross principles become a part of international law, an international diplomatic meeting was held at Geneva the following year at the invitation of the Swiss government. The assembly formulated the Geneva Convention of 1864. This international «Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field» included provisions guaranteeing neutrality for medical personnel and equipment and officially adopting the red cross on a field of white as the identifying emblem. It was signed on August 22, 1864, by twelve states and was later accepted by virtually all.

The work of the Red Cross had been inaugurated.

Three other conventions were later added to the first, extending protection to victims of naval warfare, to prisoners of war, and to civilians. Revisions of these conventions have been made from time to time, the most extensive being that of 1949.

Although the Red Cross has always given major service and often accomplished herculean tasks during time of war, it has achieved even greater service in its gradual development and operation of humanitarian programs that serve continuously in both peace and war.

Selected Bibliography

This bibliography, like the preceding «history», is intended for reference in connection with all awards to the Red Cross: to the International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944, and 1963) and to the League of Red Cross Societies (1963).

Boissier, Pierre, Histoire du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge de Solférino à Tsoushima. Paris, Plon, 1963.

Buckingham, Clyde E., For Humanity's Sake: The Story of the Early Development of the League of Red Cross Societies. Washington, D.C., Public Affairs Press, 1964.

Cousier, Henri, The International Red Cross, transl. by M.C.S. Phipps. Geneva, ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], 1961.

Draper, G.I.A.D., The Red Cross Conventions. New York, Praeger, 1958.

Dunant, Jean Henry, A Memory of Solferino, English translation of Un Souvenir de Solférino. Washington, D.C., American National Red Cross, 1939.

Huber, Max, Principles and Foundations of the Work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, 1939-1946. Geneva, ICRC, 1947.

International Review of the Red Cross. English edition (since 1961) of the Revue internationale de la Croix-Rouge, monthly publication of the ICRC, Geneva (since 1919).

Joyce, James Avery, Red Cross International and the Strategy of Peace. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1959. New York, Oceana Publications, 1959.

Junod, Marcel, Warrior without Weapons, with a Preface by Max Huber. Transl. by Edward Fitzgerald of Le Troisième Combattant. New York, Macmillan, 1951.

Liste des publications du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge de 1863 à 1944, compiled by Élie Moray, G. Vuagnat, and Daniel Clouzot. Genève, 1945.

Manuel de la Croix-Rouge internationale. Genève, Comité international de la Croix-Rouge et Ligue des sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, 1951.

Patrnogic, Jovica, «The Red Cross as a Factor of Peace», in International Review of the Red Cross, 87 (June, 1968) 283-294.

Pictet, Jean S., ed., Commentary: The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. 4 vols. Geneva, ICRC, 1952, 1958, 1960.

Pictet, Jean S., Red Cross Principles. Geneva, ICRC, 1956.

Red Cross World. Publication of the League of Red Cross Societies, Geneva (since 1919). [Title varies prior to 1952.]

Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Its Activities during the Second World War, Sept. 1, 1939-June 30, 1947. Geneva, ICRC, 1948.

Siordet, Frédéric, «A Hundred Years in the Service of Humanity», in International Review of the Red Cross, 29 (August, 1963) 393-428.

1. See Dunant's biography.
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1901-1925, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972
This text was first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.