“They don’t make them like they used to” is a well-worn phrase, but it could be true regarding American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton. As we honor her 201st birthday on December 25, it’s fun to take a quick look at several of her achievements.
Wage negotiations – WIN
She successfully obtained equal pay as an in-demand teacher during her early career. As she said then, “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”
Breaking into a man’s world – WIN
After teaching, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. Patent Office, where she was one of the first women to work for the federal government.
First woman granted permission to travel to the frontlines – WIN
Driven by a desire to be helpful and help those in need, she sprang into action when the Civil War broke out, earning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” for her work in caring for soldiers on the frontlines. In 1862, Clara was granted the privilege by the U.S. Surgeon General to travel to battlefronts under the guidance of Generals John Pope and James S. Wadsworth.
Founded a reunification program for missing Union soldiers in 1865 – WIN
After the war, Clara began to set up a program to find and gather information about missing Union soldiers to give to the soldiers’ families.
Founded the American Red Cross in 1881 – WIN
Inspired by her experiences in Europe with the International Red Cross, when Barton returned to this country, she spent years lobbying to establish a similar organization. In 1881, Clara founded the American Red Cross and, the following year, convinced President Garfield and Congress to adopt the Geneva Treaty.
After all those firsts, how can you help but be inspired? Working for the Red Cross from age 60 until she was 84, it’s impossible to say you’re too old to volunteer – you aren’t. Sign up here.
You also can’t say you can’t help our military members – you can. Learn more here.
May 8th is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, in which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) collectively thanks its 13 million volunteers worldwide—about 2,000 of which are in Northern Ohio—for their dedication, bravery, kindness, and selflessness.
This day also coincides with Sound the Alarm, as American Red Cross volunteers and staff are helping area residents develop fire safety plans through doorstep visits. Please read this article for more information.
May 8th is the birthday of Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1828, founded the IFRC, and received the first Nobel Peace Prize. After witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century, Solferino, and assisting in its aftermath, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, published in 1862. After detailing the horrors of the battle and describing efforts to care for the wounded, Dunant offered a plan that the world’s nations form relief societies and appeal to everyone to volunteer. The following year the Geneva Society for Public Welfare appointed Dunant and four others to examine putting the plan into action. This began the foundation of the Red Cross. More on Henry Dunant is here.
It would take more than a century, two world wars, and the 1918 flu pandemic before a Red Cross day would be created, however. During that time, the need and effectiveness of Red Cross societies became even clearer. Following World War II, the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies requested the study of an International Red Cross Day. It was approved two year later, and May 8, 1948 became the first commemoration of what we now know as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Further details are here.
In 2021, the Red Cross’s mission and services are as needed as ever, and the resilience, dedication, flexibility, and selflessness of its volunteers and staff has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the past year has been especially active. In the US, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Here in Northern Ohio, the Red Cross has continued to respond to disasters—including more than three home fires every 24 hours, on average—collect and distribute much needed blood, teach life-saving skills, assist members of the armed services and their families, and help educate the community on home fire safety, virtually and with doorstep visits during tomorrow’s Day of Action.
We recently profiled a few extraordinary volunteers during Volunteer Week. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have been privileged to see such caring and dedication firsthand and have been honored to work alongside some of the kindest, most effective, and remarkable people I have met. Please see here if you would like to join us.
On this World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we celebrate those who put the Red Cross’s mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering into action, each day.
Women’s History Month profile of Clara Barton’s successor
By: Olivia Wyles, American Red Cross Volunteer
March is recognized not only as Red Cross Month, but also as Women’s History Month, and the Red Cross has a powerhouse of a woman to recognize. One of Northeast Ohio’s very own, Mabel Boardman, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860 and passed away from coronary thrombosis in 1946. During her 86 years of life, Mabel lived an exciting and innovative life, with much of the fruits of her labor being the development of the sturdy framework that the Red Cross has today.
Mabel Boardman served with numerous social philanthropies throughout her life, one of which was serving on the executive committee of the Red Cross. After Clara Barton’s resignation in 1904, the Red Cross received a formal federal charter under President Woodrow Wilson, and although Boardman’s name was listed on the list of incorporators, she claims to have never given her consent. She was commonly referred to as the “administrative genius” of the Red Cross and was the acting leader of the organization, but she humbly refused any formal recognitions because of her fear that having a woman as a leader would harm the public’s confidence in the organization and diminish its credibility.
The achievements that Boardman spearheaded for the Red Cross are numerous, but one of the most notable is that she was able to establish a large, permanent endowment fund for the organization that would give it a strong, reliable financial foundation for the future. In addition, she established Red Cross branches across the country, which directly impacted the global presence that the organization would come to have. Boardman established cooperation with other groups, like the American Nursing Association, that resulted in improved services, and she also developed the readiness of the Red Cross to respond quickly to disasters. Boardman organized the Volunteer Special Services division and served as the director in 1923 and retired 17 years later in 1940 after the membership roll in Volunteer Services reached 2.72 million.
Much of the Red Cross’ successes and developments can be traced back to Boardman and her ability to transform a 300-member society into an innovative and flourishing institution with over 29 million junior and senior members. She received the first Distinguished Service Medal ever awarded by the Red Cross. She definitely wins our vote to be recognized as a notable Northeast Ohio woman this Women’s History Month.
Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer
February 1, 2021- It’s 1860, and there’s an outcry from voters who can’t accept the results of that year’s election. Abraham Lincoln is declared winner, without carrying a single southern state. Before his inauguration, seven southern states secede from the union, followed by others soon thereafter. Civil war ensues.
As the Civil War concludes in 1865, Clara Barton is commissioned by Abraham Lincoln to locate missing soldiers. She sends 63,000 letters and locates 22,000 missing men. The American Red Cross is founded 16 years later in 1865 in Washington, D.C., and is still in charge of contacting armed service members.
With Lincoln gone, Reconstruction effectively fails, and thousands of freed slaves are forced to return to the plantations and their former owners. Many stayed along the eastern coastline. In 1893, the country’s largest recorded hurricane hit the coastal islands with a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet and 20-foot waves on top of that, killing up to 3,500 inhabitants, 92% of which were Black.
Clara Barton answered the call to this huge disaster, the biggest to date for the Red Cross. The U.S. Congress refused to provide any aid short of some seeds, tents and a couple deep-draft boats. All the funds to care for 30,000 displaced persons had to come via requests for donations from Clara, who got newspapers to run the story across the entire eastern half of the U.S.
Frances Reed Elliott Davis
Possibly motivated by Clara’s efforts, 10-year-old Frances Reed Elliott Davis was growing up in North Carolina and had lived through that storm. Despite being orphaned, she taught herself to read and write. Wanting to become a nurse, she entered nursing school in 1910. She was the first African American to pass the final board exams in Washington, D.C. Eight years later, she became the first officially recognized African American nurse to be accepted into the Red Cross Nursing Service.
That same year, Red Cross nurses combated the worldwide H1N1 influenza epidemic. With the returning injured troops from World War I, and the raging pandemic, Red Cross volunteers grew to 20 million adults and 11 million junior members.
Later, in Michigan, Davis helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at the Dunbar Hospital. In the 1940s, Davis established a childcare facility that caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped plan for and fund the center.
Mary McLeod Bethune
About this time, Mary McLeod Bethune was serving as an advisor to President Roosevelt. She became the highest ranking African American woman in government when the president named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.
Bethune was one of five committee members who made recommendations on the blood plasma project, the use of African American staff in overseas service clubs, the enrollment of African American nurses, and the representation of African Americans on local and national Red Cross committees and staff departments.
Dr. Jerome Holland
During his time as president of Hampton University in 1964, Dr. Holland became a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors. He served as a member until he resigned in 1970 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. He was the second African American to lead a delegation in any European nation.
Dr. Holland was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979, and was the first African American to hold this position. Because of his commitment to the Red Cross, he was appointed again in 1982.
While serving on the board, Dr. Holland showed a passion for blood research and took the lead in consolidating growing laboratory operations for the Red Cross Blood Services program. He also encouraged Red Cross regions to integrate their volunteers so important services could be extended to the entire community, regardless of a person’s ethnicity or background.
We salute them
History has a way of repeating itself. Whether it is a pandemic flu, a giant, slow-moving hurricane or the need to improve blood research, the same needs are still being met by the Red Cross today. To contribute to the cause, click here. To volunteer and do your part to help others in need, click here.
Other African American contributions
To read more about the contributions of other African Americans to the American Red Cross, you might like these articles:
By Renee Palagyi, senior program manager, Disaster Cycle Services
Note from the Regional CEO:As we begin this day, 9/11—Patriots Day, I can’t help but remember the 3000+ people who perished on that fateful day 19 years ago. My thoughts and prayers go out to the countless first responders and others, including Red Crossers, who sacrificed to render aid to those in need. I’m sure we all remember where we were when we heard the news of the attacks on our nation. As I think back to the people I called immediately, my wife & my mom, I encourage all of us to take a moment today to call those same people, if they’re still with us, and just tell them how much they mean to us. Thanks for all you do!! Please stay safe and well–enjoy your weekends. Best regards…Mike
September 11, 2020- Today marks the 19th anniversary of one of the most infamous tragedies in American history: September 11, 2001.
Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, along with Flight 93, the American Red Cross did what the Red Cross does when individuals are in need: support first responders, provide the world class Red Cross comfort and help individuals get back on their feet.
Immediately, the Red Cross:
Activated 6,000 Red Cross volunteers
Opened 13 Red Cross shelters
Sent disaster mental health workers to shelters, crash sites, airports and hospitals
Set up a mental health hotline
Opened respite centers for firefighters, police officers, port authority workers and others
Received 1 million calls on the blood donation line (the previous record in one day was 3,000 calls)
Every chapter in the nation supported stranded passengers at airports as air space was shut down
May 21, 2020- William Lawrence, former Republican US Representative from Ohio, was asked to attend a meeting held by Clara Barton on May 12, 1881. She had recently returned from working with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, and was determined to start a similar organization in the United States
James Garfield, 20th President – Photo by Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer
Thanks to her persuasiveness, Lawrence went to fellow Ohioan, President James Garfield, to argue for the creation of an American Red Cross. In a mere nine days from the date of the original meeting, the president signed the declaration creating what was then known as the American National Red Cross on May 21st.
The following year, Barton and Lawrence convinced the U.S. to ratify the Geneva Conventions, guaranteeing humanitarian treatment during wartime.
139 Years of “Being There” for us
Since the beginning in 1881, the Red Cross has grown in response to our humanitarian needs and has five lines of service.
International Services is ready when global disasters happen, deploying local members to assist wherever needed.
How you can help
In these strange times, no matter what your situation, you can be a part of the Red Cross mission. Donations are always needed, and even if unable to donate financially, maybe you could donate some time to help in our mission. Volunteers are needed now for both Disaster Services and Blood Services here in Northern Ohio. Virtual positions even exist for those who can’t leave home. Find out more here and complete an online application.
By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of the Northeast Ohio
February 6, 2020- February is Black History Month and the American Red Cross is celebrating by paying tribute to the men and women who played a pivotal role in shaping the organization.
Here are some of the humanitarians who helped shape the Red Cross:
Steve Bullock – Serving Where the Need is Greatest
Steve Bullock began his career with the Red Cross in 1962, working as a caseworker. His work took him and his family to military posts throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later, he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter.
Bullock culminated his career at the American Red Cross in 1999, when he was named acting president of the national agency in Washington, DC. He took on the role leading the organization after the resignation of Elizabeth Dole, who recommended him for the post. While serving as acting president, he headed a team of staff members and news media who brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethnic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo.
Frederick Douglass – An Influential Ally in Founding the American Red Cross
A leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800s and friend of Clara Barton, Mr. Douglass offered encouragement when Clara Barton sought advice and support in her efforts to gain U.S. acceptance as a member nation of the global Red Cross network. Douglass’ name is on an appeal for funds after the 1882 Mississippi flood. He also, in his capacity as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to the municipal authorities. The articles legally documented the creation of the American Red Cross.
Gwen T. Jackson – A Dedicated Volunteer Leader Across Decades
Gwen T. Jackson began volunteering with her local Red Cross chapter in 1961, and by 1989 she was the first African American to be appointed as the National Chairman of Volunteers for the American Red Cross. During her tenure, she implemented the results of the Volunteer 2000 Study, completed in 1988 to study the downturn in volunteerism and provide a blueprint for future growth.
While serving with the Red Cross, Jackson provided assistance during major disasters such as Hurricane Hugo and support during the Persian Gulf War. She later became a member of the American National Red Cross Board of Governors in 1992 and was re-elected for a second term in 1995. Jackson was presented with the Cynthia Wedel Award, an award given to outstanding Red Cross volunteers, for her 50 years of dedication and volunteer leadership in 2003. She currently holds an appointment as Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross Milwaukee Chapter.
These leaders represent the Red Cross’ commitment to diversity and inclusion, to help deliver the mission of the Red Cross and to represent the communities we serve. We look forward to seeing the future leaders who will continue the legacy of these great humanitarians and lead the Red Cross to great achievements.
October 28, 2019- Betty Lou Sobotincic started working for the American Red Cross right out of high school. Her friend’s mother catered luncheon meetings at the headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania, and she told director Harry Ringer about Betty Lou. Ringer was known for overseeing all of the Red Cross during World War II and having worked with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The Erie branch was short-staffed, and Ringer hired Betty Lou as secretary to the First Aid, Water Safety and Disaster Response departments. She soon discovered that she and a college student from Gannon University had two weeks to prepare for the “Teach Johnny to Swim” program that summer – for 2,000 students! They managed to pull it off.
During Betty Lou’s time in Erie, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. One of her jobs was to raise the flag. When Ringer told her to put the flag at half-mast that day, she asked him what that meant. “He gave me a look. When Harry told you to do something, you just did it. So I went outside and figured out how to hang a flag at half-mast.”
After a couple of years, Betty was getting restless and she had reached the cap of the pay range. Ringer called the Red Cross office in Washington, D.C., and opened the door for them to hire her for overseas duty. She traveled to D.C. and stayed at the famous Willard Hotel. Both the hotel and the Red Cross headquarters were quite impressive to a 19-year-old from Ashtabula, Ohio.
Betty Lou’s first assignment was at the Far Eastern Area Headquarters of the Red Cross in Tokyo, Japan, during the build up to the Vietnam War. When she arrived, there were between eight and 15 personnel in Vietnam. By the time she left two years later, there were 250, and a substation had been created in Saigon. As secretary, and the youngest staff member by far, Betty Lou was in charge of payroll, processing transfers and keeping track of everyone’s location. She was tasked with going to embassies for the Southeast Asian countries and procuring visas for transferring workers. Finding her way around Tokyo was no easy task. Eventually she bought a car and drove herself wherever she needed to go.
At 21, Betty Lou was transferred to Heidelberg Hospital in Germany, again serving as secretary with a high-level security clearance, which was necessary due to her knowledge of troop movement. Her duties included sending messages to families of soldiers who had been killed and assisting families who came to visit those who had been severely wounded. While this job wasn’t as challenging as the one in Japan, it was emotionally draining.
Sometimes Red Cross personnel from Washington and other locations came to the hospital and were hosted by the director. One of those guests was Al Cherry , who Betty Lou met at a Red Cross gathering. Six weeks later the two were married in Switzerland! Eventually they moved to Ashtabula, Ohio, to raise a family.
Betty Lou served the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio during a number of local disasters, such as the tornadoes in Xenia, Ohio, and the surrounding area. In more recent years, Betty Lou and Al have been consistent contributors to the Red Cross, with a special focus on family needs following house fires. Betty Lou still stays in touch with people she met through her work, both here and abroad. The Red Cross holds a special place in her heart.
Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Rosanna Sprague is fearless. She was a Donut Dollie.
“After generals and congressmen, no one scares me,” the Cleveland Heights woman said, recalling the year she spent in Vietnam, from 1970 to 1971. She served her country with the American Red Cross in a program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO).
The American Red Cross SRAO team in 1970. Rosanna Sprague is second from the left.
“Armed with nothing but cookies and homemade entertainment programs, the Donut Dollies risked their lives every day as they tried to fulfill their mission and cheer up the U.S. troops,” according to the website promoting a documentary called The Donut Dollies.
On average, more than 280,000 servicemen participated in recreation activities in Vietnam and neighboring countries every month during the eight years of American combat activity (1965-1972). Many took place at Red Cross recreation centers, where there would typically be a piano, books, pool and ping pong tables, and a kitchen, “to make snacks for the guys. Kool-Aid was very popular,” Sprague said. That was confirmed by Allen Lynch, a Medal of Honor winner who recently visited Red Cross headquarters in Cleveland while promoting his memoir.
“Those girls played a crucial role in Vietnam,” Lynch said. “It was just a comfort to see someone from home.
That’s what many of the men called the Donut Dollies, according to Sprague. “99% of the time, the CO of the firebase wanted us there, so he did everything necessary to make us feel welcome and comfortable.”
The Donut Dollies split their time between forward firebases and Red Cross Recreation Centers, like the ones at Cam Ranh Bay and Danang, where they brainstormed ideas for games and fashioned whatever pieces and parts were needed to make the games work. They also worked up song and dance routines.
“During Christmas of 1970, my unit at Long Bing created a parody of the Bob Hope Show, with a story line, singing and dancing, some jokes . . . just a special way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the guys on the firebases who didn’t or couldn’t get into the main city for the real show,” Sprague said. They performed about seven shows a day for the week leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Day, they performed in three hospitals.
Rosanna Sprague, left, played the role of Bob Hope during a Christmastime parody of the comedian’s USO shows.
“I do believe we made a lot of military a little less homesick that Christmas,” she said.
The Red Cross provided other services to members of the military in Vietnam, including more than 2 million emergency communications between servicemen and their families. Red Cross field directors and chapter staff at home assisted an average of 27,800 servicemen each month with personal and family problems. Vital service to the Armed Forces continues today, with volunteers providing humanitarian support to service members, veterans and their families around the clock and around the globe.
Back home, Rosanna Sprague now serves as an Ambassador at the Destination Cleveland Visitor’s Center, where people from around the world come to learn about the city. “I have so much fun welcoming them and relating easily to all kinds of people on so many levels. I learned that in Vietnam, too!”
The third Saturday in May is recognized each year as Armed Forces Day. For information about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org or call 216-431-3328.
This article was edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Juel Ward Collins was one of those volunteers. According to her son, Tom, Juel started volunteering for the Red Cross during WWII. She was proud of her assistance to the Red Cross mission and how she helped those who served our country in times of war. This volunteer work during the war began her lifetime of service on behalf of the Red Cross.
After the war, Juel continued to volunteer and went on to become part of the Red Cross staff in its Greater Cleveland chapter in the 1960s. She managed the West Shore office, where she oversaw services offered in the community. She coordinated the volunteers helping with both local and national disaster relief efforts, provided relief services in the field, and assisted at blood drives.
When members of the military were deployed during the Vietnam War, Juel once again provided service to those in the armed forces. Tom recalls his mother helping with paperwork during that time—assisting servicemen and women, with the help of their families, to obtain documents such as proof of citizenship. She also helped families by contacting a solider if there was a death or illness in the family. During the Vietnam War, the Red Cross handled more than 2,168,000 emergency communications between servicemen and their families.
Additionally, Juel worked to keep families connected by sending recorded letters to their loved ones overseas. Known as “Voices from Home,” the program engaged Red Cross volunteers like Juel to use a record recorder to record messages to send to servicemen. Tom graciously donated his mother’s record recorder to the Red Cross, which is now displayed in the Northeast Ohio Regional Office in Cleveland.
Juel’s contributions are a piece of Red Cross history. Her story represents the lifetime dedication of one inspirational woman as well as a testament to the support the Red Cross has provided to those who have served in the military.
Juel is just one of the many individuals who volunteer their time with the Red Cross. Learn how you can volunteer and make an impact like she did by visiting redcross.org/volunteer.
The Northeast Ohio Region of the Red Cross is grateful to Tom Collins for sharing the story of his mother’s dedicated service with the Red Cross throughout her lifetime.