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Vintage photos of Red Cross nurses doing lifesaving work around the world

Vintage photos of Red Cross nurses doing lifesaving work around the world
LifeThelife1 min read
A Red Cross nurse at work.George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
  • Henry Dunant co-founded the original Red Cross in his home country of Switzerland in 1863 to tend to the wounded from war.
  • The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton in 1881.
  • Red Cross nurses carried out humanitarian aid and treated soldiers on the frontlines.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day is celebrated on May 8 each year to mark the birthday of Henry Dunant, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 for his work.

Dunant co-founded the original Red Cross in his home country of Switzerland in 1863. Various other Red Cross societies began forming (including the American Red Cross in 1881), and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 as a way to consolidate them all.

In honor of Dunant's birthday, here are 20 vintage photos of Red Cross nurses doing what they do best: tending to those affected by war and disasters around the world.

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The Red Cross is still a vital resource for people in need across the world.

The Red Cross is still a vital resource for people in need across the world.
British Red Cross nurses carrying gifts from the US in 1941.      Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Today, the American Red Cross provides about 40% of the blood supply in the US, according to the organization, teaches safety courses, and helps in the aftermath of disasters.

They continue to offer training and support during the coronavirus outbreak, as well as refuge to people in need.

During the Korean War, nurses at the Denver Red Cross ran blood banks.

During the Korean War, nurses at the Denver Red Cross ran blood banks.
Red Cross nurses in 1951.      Ira Gay Sealy/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Denver Red Cross organized blood drives for soldiers fighting during the Korean War in the 1950s.

A rare color photo from around 1943 shows the Red Cross uniform in color.

A rare color photo from around 1943 shows the Red Cross uniform in color.
A Kodachrome color photograph of Claude Elliott dressed in the uniform of a Women's Voluntary Service nurse circa 1943.      SSPL/Getty Images

Kodachrome was one of the first modern color photography processes, introduced in 1935.

Red Cross nurses had different uniforms over the years.

Red Cross nurses had different uniforms over the years.
American Red Cross workers stroll arm-in-arm along a London street.      Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

These American Red Cross workers wore hats, suits, ties, and skirts in 1941.

In their spare time, Red Cross nurses exercised by jumping hurdles.

In their spare time, Red Cross nurses exercised by jumping hurdles.
Athletic nurses in 1940.      Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Red Cross nurses in London practiced jumping over hurdles to stay in shape while wearing their uniform skirts, aprons, and shoes.

And participated in the occasional beauty pageant.

And participated in the occasional beauty pageant.
The winners of a Red Cross beauty contest in New York in 1929.      Sportbild Schirner/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The Red Cross had a beauty pageant in New York City in 1929.

They took care of animals, too.

They took care of animals, too.
Nurses at a military hospital in 1939.      Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They gave Jim the terrier a good wash at a military hospital in England.

They made sure children received medicine and nourishment.

They made sure children received medicine and nourishment.
A Red Cross nurse gives a boy medicine circa 1932.      Fox Photos/Getty Images

Red Cross nurses were concerned with public health as well as soldiers' health.

They sewed dresses for refugee relief.

They sewed dresses for refugee relief.
Red Cross women sewing dresses for war refugees in 1944.      Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images

Sewing clothes for soldiers and those affected by the war also became a children's after-school activity.

They knitted warm clothes for soldiers.

They knitted warm clothes for soldiers.
Red Cross nurses knitting in 1918.      Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images

The Red Cross even had a book of knitting patterns for nurses.

They worked in radio centers.

They worked in radio centers.
Red Cross nurses in Berlin in 1966.      Hilde/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Red Cross nurses worked in a mobile radio center in Berlin in 1966.

They worked to recruit more nurses.

They worked to recruit more nurses.
An English nurse with a recruiting sign in 1939.      Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

A nurse recruiting for England's Civil Nursing Reserve with a sign reading "Women wanted."

Nurses didn't just help on the battlefield.

Nurses didn
A Red Cross nurse in Grand Central Station circa 1918.      Paul Thompson/FPG/Getty Images

American Red Cross nurses provided directions and information for enlisted men at Grand Central Station in New York City during World War I.

In England, Red Cross nurses delivered dried serum and dehydrated blood during World War II.

In England, Red Cross nurses delivered dried serum and dehydrated blood during World War II.
Nurses in London during World War II.      Popperfoto/Getty Images

The supplies went to treat wounded soldiers of the First Army of North Africa during World War II.

Women also began driving ambulances and delivering supplies in the Red Cross Motor Corps in 1917.

Women also began driving ambulances and delivering supplies in the Red Cross Motor Corps in 1917.
Women in war nurse uniforms, standing in front of an ambulance in 1917.      George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

According to the National Women's History Museum, the design of the uniforms was considered progressive and caused quite a stir.

In hospital wards, Red Cross nurses dressed soldiers' wounds.

In hospital wards, Red Cross nurses dressed soldiers
Wounded British soldiers and their nurses in a hospital ward circa 1916.      Popperfoto/Getty Images

Nurses also worked in temporary medical centers such as auxiliary hospitals. There were 3,000 auxiliary hospitals in the UK during World War I.

Nurses from the British Red Cross Society were honored by Queen Alexandra in 1913.

Nurses from the British Red Cross Society were honored by Queen Alexandra in 1913.
Nurses receiving war badges in 1913.      Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The nurses received war badges for their work in the Balkan War.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 in Paris after World War I.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 in Paris after World War I.
A temporary installation of the Red Cross in Paris around 1910.      Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images

The five founding countries of the IFRC were Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the US. Their first order of business was to help people in countries affected by World War I recover.

During World War I, nurses aided soldiers in the trenches.

During World War I, nurses aided soldiers in the trenches.
Red Cross nurses during World War I.      Paul Thompson/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Red Cross nurses tended to wounded Serbian soldiers on the Macedonian front during World War I.

The organization received its first federal charter from Congress in 1900.

The organization received its first federal charter from Congress in 1900.
Junior Red Cross nurses circa 1900.      CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

While it's not a government entity, the American Red Cross is considered a "federal instrumentality" with responsibilities given to them by the government.

In its early years, the Red Cross helped support soldiers in battle and communities in disasters.

In its early years, the Red Cross helped support soldiers in battle and communities in disasters.
A Red Cross nurse at a military parade circa 1900.      George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

They worked to stop yellow fever outbreaks in Florida in 1888, helped flood victims in Pennsylvania in 1889, and aided the US military during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881.

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881.
Clara Barton, under President Abraham Lincoln's charge for sending supplies to civil war soldiers, holds a pair of gloves next to a table and clock.      Bettman/Contributor/Getty Images

During the Civil War, Barton became known as the "Angel of the Battlefield" for her work with the wounded. She founded the American Red Cross after encountering Henry Dunant's International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Switzerland on a trip to Europe.

Barton served as president of the American Red Cross for 23 years.

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