2 minute readHistory, Volunteers

Red Cross Volunteers – From the Archives

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American Red Cross service delivery began on a very small scale, with one female volunteer. Clara Barton’s passion inspired others to join her in meeting the needs of fellow Americans and other people throughout the world. And the organization grew. Today, the Red Cross depends on the involvement of its hundreds of thousands of volunteers. Although the work may be difficult, humanitarian aid is offered selflessly. But that does not mean that volunteers do not appreciate – and need – encouragement, thanks, a pat-on-the-back and recognition.

The Red Cross is committed to honoring and recognizing its volunteers, so we dug through our archives to find some ways the Red Cross acknowledges its most valuable asset.

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Posters with striking graphics helped to recruit volunteers to serve as nurses, for disaster relief, with youth projects and in general volunteer activities.

The Red Cross recognizes the value, commitment and dedication of its volunteers, especially those who have helped fulfill our mission for many years. Volunteers who are celebrating milestone year anniversaries receive service pins.

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Shown below is Jane Delano, founder of the Red Cross Nursing Program and the American Red Cross Medal of Merit that was awarded to her posthumously. The inscription on the reverse of the 14 karat gold and enamel medal, created by Tiffany and Co., reads “Awarded by the American National Red Cross to Jane A. Delano in grateful memory of her devoted and distinguished service 1908–1919.”

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Today’s nurses also receive recognition from our national Red Cross organization.

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The Ann Magnussen Award is presented annually to a volunteer or employed registered nurse who has made an outstanding contribution to strengthening or improving Red Cross programs and services. It is the highest honor of individual nursing achievement in the Red Cross.

Ann Magnussen (left) was a nurse who made many valuable contributions to the nursing and health-related professions, both nationally and internationally. This award was established in 1968 in her honor.

The Susan Hassmiller Nursing Award recognizes innovative programs that promote the involvement of local nurses in Disaster Preparedness and Response and combine disaster training, community partnership and the spirit of individual volunteerism.

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Prior to 1948, award recognition was done on the chapter level. For example, here is a Red Cross Certificate of Appreciation awarded by the New York Chapter to Marjorie Bonynge for her volunteer service as a Red Cross Motor Corps driver in 1945. Notice the signature on the right, Gladys F. Harriman, one of the two dedicated volunteers for whom the Harriman Award is named (right).

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The Harriman Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service is the highest recognition for volunteer service in the Red Cross. It was established in 1973 and honors volunteers who have demonstrated extraordinary accomplishments in Red Cross service to people and places beyond the local community.

The Harriman Award is named for E. Roland and Gladys Harriman, two of the most formidable volunteers the organization has ever seen. He served for 23 years as chairman of the Red Cross and helped revitalize and modernize the organization following a post-World War II slump. She served for more than 40 years as Chairman of Volunteers at the Red Cross in Greater New York.

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In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation creating a nationwide Red Cross youth program. Wilson called on young people to help serve the war effort by joining the newly formed Junior Red Cross.

Over the years, various awards named in honor of  Woodrow Wilson and former Red Cross presidents George Elsey and Elizabeth Dole have recognized young volunteers who made significant contributions to their communities and to the Red Cross.

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To learn more about volunteering with the Red Cross today, contact your local chapter or explore opportunities on redcross.org.

Learn more about Red Cross history on redcross.org.

Follow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.

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  1. I just want to say that I enjoyed this story and the Red Cross does a great job honoring its volunteers. I have been the recipient of several honors over the years for which I am truly grateful. I am a recipient of the Harriman Award and proudly wear a 60 year pin. This year I become eligible to wear a 65 year pin. I may not know where all the years have gone, but I do remember the wonderfully trained and dedicated service delivery volunteers I have met and worked with. May the tradition of this organization continue to recruit, train and honor service delivery volunteers continue.

  2. Nick Lemesh does an excellent job reporting on the Red Cross, past and present. The awards provide fine recognition to those dedicated volunteers.