Herbert Hoover photo

Address to the American National Red Cross.

May 21, 1931

THE RED CROSS is one of the most beautiful flowers of the American spirit and the American democracy. It represents our people in their most generous, unselfish, and spontaneously warmhearted character. And it represents them in the most effective exercise of their powers of organization and self-government. Supported wholly by the voluntary gifts of the people, it is managed by the voluntary service of high-minded private citizens. And yet it occupies a unique position in the public mind as a truly national institution, a living organism of the people, vitalized by their affection, fed by their gladly given money, and firmly rooted in their trust. Through the loftiest of all spiritual qualities-charity-it has become the guardian of the people from suffering in times of disaster. It has commanded the recognition of governments, its charters are conferred by special act, its position in international activities is guaranteed by treaty. By its very purpose it compels the respect for its own flag and its own passports.

The 50 years of the life of the Red Cross, which the American people celebrate today, have been years of evolution of an impulse and an idea and a method to produce this greatest institution in alleviation of human suffering that we have ever known. Its beginnings were small, and it grew because it expressed the humanity and the generosity and the practical helpfulness natural to our people. And, like so many of the benign social agencies that bless our democracy, it sprang from the mind and the heart of a woman. Clara Barton was in her own person and her own life all that the Red Cross has since become. She in turn gained much of her inspiration from another great woman--Florence Nightingale. The magnificent structure of today grew up around Miss Barton's passionate pity for the sick and the distressed and her practical genius and energy in their relief. She was the ministering angel of the battlefields and hospitals of the Civil War. When peace returned she still lived like a soldier, with her field tent and equipment always packed and ready to respond instantly to the call of duty. The Johnstown flood found her ready, and within an hour after it was reported she was on her way to the stricken city. She responded to a thousand such calls, but her service on the battlefield and her service at Johnstown especially captured the public imagination, and it is these two things that have largely directed the development of the character of the American Red Cross. It has evolved into an agency for the nursing of the wounded in war and for the relief of the victims of disaster in time of peace.

Clara Barton did not look to government for support for her work. Governments are always too slow, frequently too shortsighted, to meet the sudden, sharp demands of critical emergencies in human suffering. She depended upon the instant response of the individual human heart to finance the instant need. This gave her the flexibility and freedom of private initiative in her work. The Red Cross has grown in this tradition. Hundreds of times it has appealed to the American people for funds to meet an immediate situation, and invariably the American people have immediately responded. It has raised millions in a week when millions were needed. No finer illustration has ever been given of the tremendous practical power of pure and unselfish emotion than these outbursts of American generosity to finance relief of suffering caused by conflagration, flood, earthquake, and drought. No finer illustration has ever been given of the tremendous practical capacity of an organized free citizenry than the skill and efficiency with which the Red Cross has administered this relief. This combination of the warm heart and the cool head in action is a perpetual source of just pride to the American people, for it represents them at their best.

A woman founded the Red Cross and a woman has enlarged its usefulness. Miss Mabel Boardman enjoys a deserved national honor for her tireless and effective work in the enlargement of its powers. The men of America, too, have had their indispensable part in its growth. Judge John Barton Payne has earned equal honor for his long years of devoted leadership across a score of disasters and for his steadfastness in holding the organization to its national ideal as a nongovernmental agency for the free expression of the private generosity and humanity of the people. His wisdom and courage and zeal are beyond praise.

But the greater glory of the Red Cross belongs to the people themselves. It is a living embodiment of their heart and soul. It has lived and grown because it is a natural outgrowth of their spiritual impulse. Its sap is drawn from the soil of their spirit, its leaves are colored with their thought, and its flowers are fragrant of their sweetest emotion. It is as truly theirs as the flag or the public school. They wished it, and they willed it into being. It grows with their growth. They support it as spontaneously as they support the church or the lodge. They control it as simply and as naturally as they control the operations of the district school. They will thus support it and control it so long as it continues what it is: the natural repository of their generosity, the effective practical instrument of their eager wish to relieve human suffering. It will remain, as it has been and is, a chief glory and pride of the American democracy.

Note: The President spoke at a dinner held in the Willard Hotel, in Washington, D.C. The ceremonies were part of a nationwide celebration of the organization's 50th anniversary and were linked by radio with hundreds of local observances.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the American National Red Cross. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/212941

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