1919 Presidential Proclamation to Schoolchildren about the Red Cross. (Teaching with Documents)

By Potter, Lee Ann | Social Education, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

1919 Presidential Proclamation to Schoolchildren about the Red Cross. (Teaching with Documents)


Potter, Lee Ann, Social Education


IN SEPTEMBER 1917, five months following the entrance of the United States into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson, who was president not only of the United States, but also of the American National Red Cross, officially announced the formation of the Junior Red Cross. He asked American youth, "Is not this perhaps the chance for which you have been looking to give your time and efforts in some measure to meet our national needs?" They responded most positively. During the war, while nearly five million American men served in the nation's armed forces, more than eleven million schoolchildren across the country enrolled in the Junior Red Cross and did their part for the war effort.

The American National Red Cross was successfully organized by Clara Barton in 1881 as a humanitarian organization modeled after the International Red Cross and led by volunteers. Chartered by Congress in 1905, its mission is to provide relief to victims of disaster and to help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. In the 1890s, discussions about organizing a nationwide "junior society" began, but it was not until 1917 that American Red Cross officials and educators planned for a nationwide partnership between schools and the Red Cross.

Schools were the unit of organization for this new program. Any school, public, private, or parochial, was enrolled as a school auxiliary by pledging to participate in the work of the Red Cross by contributing funds, producing Red Cross supplies, or engaging in other Red Cross activities. During the war, it was understood that each school auxiliary was responsible for raising a sum equal to 25 cents for each pupil in the school.

Members of the Junior Red Cross, working under the supervision of teachers, contributed to the war effort by producing hospital supplies, making bandages and surgical dressings, making and collecting clothing for war victims, building hospital furniture for use in camps and hospitals in the United States and abroad, working in Victory Gardens, and fundraising. Their efforts were calculated by the Red Cross as equal to ten percent of the value of all Red Cross products created during wartime. And Junior Red Cross contributions to Red Cross funds during the war totaled more than $3.6 million.

At the end of the war, the need for the Junior Red Cross became less apparent to some people, and some argued that the entire Red Cross should quit operations until another armed conflict arose. Red Cross leaders, however, were confident in the organization's value and oriented the Red Cross toward disaster relief, public health efforts, and continuing service to veterans. Young people across the country were again encouraged by President Wilson to join the Junior Red Cross. In his proclamation to schoolchildren of the United States (featured here), Wilson explained the benefits of membership as they related to good citizenship: "It is your generation which must carry on the work of our generation at home and abroad and you cannot begin too soon to train your minds and habits for this responsibility."

The program that Wilson alluded to in his proclamation was one whose objectives matched the motto of the Junior Red Cross, "I Serve." It aspired to develop a generation of unselfish, service-rendering individuals. Supporting materials from the historical files of the Red Cross referred specifically to "character education" and emphasized the value of the program's ability to instill a motive behind the work that children do. The program was also intended to teach both educators and students about the interconnectivity and interdependency of the world. One report insisted, "The spirit of service and sacrifice fostered during the war should not be lost."

The Junior Red Cross did continue after the war. Its efforts continued to support orphanages and educational and recreational programs in Europe and a variety of programs in the United States. …

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