Founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, the Red Cross remained a relatively small and quiet organization until World War I. At the onset of the war, the Red Cross sent doctors and nurses to Europe to set up hospitals and medical tents. This practice proved unsustainable given their funding, prompting the organization to recall those doctors and nurses from the conflict.
The Red Cross’ initial model focused on raising funds to purchase supplies as part of the relief efforts in Europe. A far more successful campaign was launched in 1917, the same year that the United States military joined combatants overseas. At the beginning of that year, it claimed 267 chapters nationwide; by the summer, the Red Cross counted over 2,300 branches full of volunteers making clothing and packaging goods for those on the front lines. By the end of the war, 20 million volunteers brought in through Patriot campaigns—most of them women—had raised over 400 million dollars for the Red Cross’ efforts.