Whenever an unexpected crisis arises, be it a severe winter storm, a fire, or a national emergency like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, there's one constant—one symbol that people associate with beginning the struggle back to normalcy. That symbol is the Red Cross, and for more than a century, volunteers from Red Cross chapters across the country and around the world have made it their business to ease the pain and fear of disaster victims both natural and man-made. The people of New Jersey have their own guardians in the form of the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey.
The roots of the Red Cross movement began in late 19th century Europe when a Swiss businessman named Henry Dunant witnessed the bloody Battle of Solferino, Italy. Dunant saw wounded soldiers simply left on the field to die, and was appalled by the lack of assistance available to them. In 1863, Dunant formed what he called the International Committee of the Red Cross. The group's main focus was to provide protection and care for the wounded in times of war.
Around the same time back here in the States, Clara Barton was earning her nickname "Angel of the Battlefield" for her heroic efforts in helping wounded Civil War soldiers. After Barton took a trip to Europe and learned of Dunant's group, she came back home and worked tirelessly to persuade the U.S. Senate to support an international Red Cross Treaty. In 1881 Barton got her wish, and the American Association of the Red Cross was formed in Washington, D.C.
In the 10 years following its inception, the Red Cross expanded to aid not just soldiers in trouble, but ordinary citizens, too. Hurricanes of Katrina or Andrew's magnitude were just as devastating to the Southeast and Eastern seaboard in the 1900s as they are today, and the need for relief was just as important. Even in the group's infancy, the Red Cross assisted families and individuals left homeless and suffering from fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and outbreaks of yellow fever and other diseases.
In 1898, the American Red Cross Relief Committee was created in order to raise money and support during the Spanish-American War. By 1905, a new congressional charter was put into effect and state branches and local Red Cross subdivisions, or "chapters," were created.