In May 1881 Clara Barton — the legendary Civil War nurse known as "the Angel of the Battlefield" — and a philanthropist and humanitarian named Adolphus Solomons founded the American Red Cross. The International Committee of the Red Cross had been formed 18 years earlier, in Switzerland, and both Barton and Solomons had been so impressed by what they'd witnessed of its work in various theaters of war and other crises that they were determined that the United States would and should have its own, viable chapter.
In a July 1940 installment of its regular "LIFE Goes to a . . ." feature ("LIFE Goes to a Mardi Gras Ball," "LIFE Goes to a Hitler Hex Party," and so on), LIFE magazine paid homage to the venerable charity with an article titled "LIFE Goes to a Red Cross Meeting."
LIFE calls this week on a chapter of the American Red Cross at Mineola, Long Island, NY. Of all the beneficent societies created by men [sic] of good will, none has a nobler record than the 76-year-old Red Cross, shield of the sick and wounded in war and peace. During World war I the American society, under Henry P. Davison, raised $400,000. No sooner had World War II begun than it swung into action again. Now that France has been crushed, its load has increased tenfold.
In some ways the good works of the Red Cross shine back on its own supporters and staff. Human morale is always lifted by service to a high cause. Today the American Red Cross has 7,500,000 paying members and 3,714 chapters — in every U.S. county but two. Of these the New York chapter is the biggest, the most active. A model suburban chapter is the Nassau County unit, headed by Mrs. Henry P. Davison, widow of the former national chairman. Since September its 6,0000 volunteer workers have sent 18,000 garments to refugees overseas. Since My they have raised $90,000 — more than double their county quota. Here you see them on duty, giving their time freely, unstintingly, to the loftiest of all causes — the cause of charity.