American Red Cross Month
Each year the President of the United States proclaims March "Red Cross Month." The American Red Cross uses this opportunity to promote its services to the American public and for fund-raising. How did this tradition come about?
For the first quarter century of its existence, the Red Cross held no regular fund-raising drives. Since Clara Barton created the organization in 1881, it was largely dependent for publicity and funds on the spontaneous support of people who learned of catastrophic events and the Red Cross response to them mainly through the newspapers and by word of mouth.
This rather haphazard manner of operating changed abruptly in 1917, when the United States entered World War I. After declaring war, President Wilson ordered the American Red Cross to raise funds to support its aid to the military as mandated by the Red Cross Congressional charter. In response, the Red Cross held its first national War Fund drive in June 1917 and set a goal of $100 million, an astoundingly large sum at the time. Under the circumstances, however, the public response was immediate and overwhelming. Within a few days more than $115 million was raised. Then in December 1917, the Red Cross held its first "Christmas Roll Call," asking people to give at least $1 to join the organization's membership rolls. This drive also proved highly successful, as did an additional War Fund drive and another Roll Call in 1918, the last year of the war.
After the war, the Red Cross decided to make the Roll Call an annual, late fall membership and fund-raising drive. In addition, it conducted special appeals from time to time in response to major disasters, such as the Dust Bowl drought of the early 1930s and periodic flooding on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
In November 1941, with war in Europe, the Red Cross conducted a highly successful 25th Annual Roll Call. A few days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. As it had done in the previous World War, the Red Cross responded immediately by declaring a War Fund campaign. By June 1942, it had raised more than $66 million.
Rather than go back to the public with a third appeal in one year, the Red Cross decided to cancel its 1942 Roll Call. Instead, after discussions with President Franklin Roosevelt, the honorary chairman of the Red Cross, the whole month of March 1943 was declared "Red Cross Month" and a goal of $125 million was set, the biggest amount ever asked for in one campaign by any American organization. Again, the response was overwhelming. It took less than six weeks to reach the target and by June 1943 donations totaled nearly $146 million. Roosevelt called it the " . . . greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history."
This success caused the Red Cross to repeat the March drive during the remaining years of the war and then to make it the occasion of its annual membership and fund-raising efforts ever since. (As a historical footnote, the last radio speech President Roosevelt gave, a few days before his death, was in support of the 1945 Red Cross campaign.) As part of the tradition, the President customarily issues a proclamation each year declaring March as Red Cross Month.
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