For the first several decades of our history, our work focused on helping people affected by war, mostly wounded and sick military personnel. After the First World War, though, we extended our activities to include peacetime activities. The Red Cross now had a role to play in improving health and preventing disease, and assisting suffering people throughout the world.
In 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies (now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) formed to help co-ordinate programmes that involved more than one Red Cross National Society.
The end of the First World War left chaos throughout Europe. The war had proved the value of co-ordinated voluntary aid. At the time, there wasn’t an international body capable of co-ordinating large-scale relief in peacetime.
Henry Davison, president of the American Red Cross’ war committee, proposed “to federate the Red Cross Societies of the different countries into an organization comparable to the League of Nations, in view of a worldwide crusade to improve health, prevent sickness and alleviate suffering”. Other National Societies were keen to offer their support and Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States prepared a programme for worldwide preservation and the improvement of public health.
This idea was not new and had been raised by Henry Dunant in the third edition of A Memory of Solferino. The subject was also discussed at many international Red Cross conferences from 1884 onwards.
By May 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies was established. The General Council of the League of Red Cross Societies met in March 1920 for the first time. Thirty National Societies attended. Among the resolutions passed was the formation of a youth for Red Cross service.
In 1991, the league changed its name to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Today the Federation co-ordinates international relief to victims of natural disasters, carries out development work and strengthens the capacity of National Societies.
Read more about our history
Visit the Federation’s website