The following is a guest post by Jonathan Eaker, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.
On May 21, 1881, Clara Barton founded the American National Red Cross to provide relief services during times of war and disaster. In honor of its Founder’s Day, I would like to highlight some newly digitized images from our American National Red Cross Collection, which documents Red Cross activities during the late 1910s through the early 1920s in both the U.S. and abroad. The Prints & Photographs Division recently scanned nearly 19,000 American National Red Cross glass negatives, which are now available in our online catalog.
The majority of the collection focuses on the Red Cross’ work during and after the First World War. The American National Red Cross not only cared for injured combatants, but they also helped refugees, took care of orphans, and sent aid to areas hit by famine. There is extensive coverage of their wartime actions in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Balkans, Eastern Russia (including Siberia) and the Middle East. The collection also includes photos of their work at training camps and military hospitals in the U.S.
Some of my favorite of the wartime photos show efforts to document the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. The photo below shows a French soldier who lost his sight and one of his arms. He has been fitted with a custom-made prosthetic which helps him make brushes. The Red Cross not only wanted to care for soldier’s physical wounds, but also provide veterans a way to earn a living after the war.
The collection also covers various activities of the American National Red Cross unrelated to war, including some of the few photos we have found in the holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division related to the flu epidemic of 1918. The image below shows a trolley conductor in Seattle, Washington stopping someone from boarding because they are not wearing a face mask. The Red Cross distributed 260,000 masks in Seattle to try and help contain the spread of the disease.
Photographers also documented dignitaries and groups visiting American Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C., nurses visiting rural families, and Red Cross staff teaching skills like first aid and swimming. There is also coverage of disaster relief, showing the Red Cross’ work in the aftermath of floods, tornadoes, explosions, and the collection even includes a few photos from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
- Explore the nearly 19,000 newly scanned negatives from the American National Red Cross Collection in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Read more about the American National Red Cross Collection in the collection overview.
- The Library of Congress Manuscript Division holds the papers of American National Red Cross founder Clara Barton. Explore the finding aid for the collection and view digitized items.
- The Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room shares tips on searching for newspapers articles related to the Red Cross.
- Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine’s work for the American Red Cross is included in the newly scanned images, and he is credited with two of the photos featured above. View more than 1,000 other photos by Hine in the collection. The Prints and Photographs Division also holds the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) Collection. Hine worked as an investigative photographer for the NCLC, documenting the working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924. Read about the collection and view the thousands of photos Hine took for the NCLC.