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Historical Observations: The American Red Cross and ‘Other’ Red Cross Societies

October 31, 2020

The PanHellenic Union and its chapters across the United States were actively engaged in assisting the Greek war effort in the Balkans. However, the American Red Cross (ARC) would play its part too.

A New York Greek Red Cross committee was established consisting of DM Botassi, the Greek Consul-General in New York, Constantine Papamichalopoulos, and A.P Ralli as treasurer and secretary, to handle all monies collected for war relief. During the first week of its appeal, the Greek Red Cross society raised $7,000 from both Greeks and American sympathizers.

The ARC was concerned at the intense competition in raising money from ‘other’ Red Cross committees operating in the United States. It issued a formal statement that the ARC was the sole legitimate organization where funds could be raised for the Balkan war relief. Other so-called Red Cross societies that "were claiming to act in the name of the national committees of foreign countries" violated U.S. federal law.

On August 22, 1911, President Taft, who was also the honorary president of ARC, put it in plain language regarding ARC's official position in fundraising. He said that the American Red Cross is the only volunteer society authorized by this Government to render aid to its land and naval forces in time of war. That any other society desiring to render similar assistance can do so only through the American National Red Cross.

The news articles indicated that the Greek Red Cross of New York probably did not approach the ARC regarding its subscriptions for war relief.

Taft made a direct appeal, on behalf of the American Red Cross, to the American public to give generously to the wounded, sick, and destitute. He stated that the medical resources available were inadequate to cope with the rising number of wounded and sick soldiers. The ARC would act with "impartiality" in its dealings "to all the combatants" irrespective of race, religion, or creed. European nations sent surgeons and nurses to the battlefields but due to great distance the American Red Cross will not send expeditions of trained personnel.” Subscriptions could be sent to the American Red Cross in Washington, Jacob H. Schiff, Red Cross treasurer in New York City, and any local Red Cross chapter.

The New York Times in its two editorials ‘Help needed in the Balkans’ and ‘A Pressing appeal’ of November 11 and 21,1912 respectively, echoed President Taft’s comments about America being too far away to send trained personnel but implored its readers “to lose no time in sending in generous subscriptions” and to “request that any subscription be devoted to the aid of any designated nationality will be needed."

Readers were given the choice to nominate either the Red Crescent or Red Cross or the nationality where they wanted their money allocated.

Queen Olga of Greece made a direct appeal to the Greek-American press in New York seeking its assistance. Breck Trowbridge, an architect, who was well known in Athens, organized a committee in New York that included prominent women: Mrs. Vanderbilt, Mrs. William Douglas Sloane, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Mrs. Breck Trowbridge. A fund was created under the name ‘American fund for the relief of the destitute families of the Greek-Turkish war’ to raise money for relief of destitute Greek women and children whose villages were burned by retreating Turkish forces. The appeal was authorized by Queen Olga and the Union of Greek women of Athens with the Greek Minister in Washington “attaching the official seal to it.” All collected funds would be transmitted via the ARC.

The ARC did not send any of its trained personnel to the Balkans. There were Greek-American and American women wishing to volunteer as nurses and the most prominent of these was Anna Coromilas (nee Crockrell), the American wife of Greek Foreign Minister Lambros Coromilas, Mrs. William H. Draper, Secretary of the New York County Chapter of the American Red Cross, Mrs. Miltiadi Melachrino, the wife of Vice President of Tobacco Products Corporation & owner of M. Melachrino & Co, Mrs. Marie Economidy, the wife of one of the editors of the Greek daily Pan Hellenic, and Johanna Lyberopoulos.

Each of these women could help Greece in their own way. However, the three Greek-American women were keen to create a corps of trained nurses to go to the Balkans. The three were prepared to use their time and money for the Greek cause.  “Women deplore war,” Lyberopoulos stated. She remembered many Greek women had died in the Greek-Turkish war of 1897 when trying to take care of the wounded. Whilst the Turks were the enemy, assistance would be given to the wounded irrespective of their nationality or religion. Marie Economidy was a journalist in her own right and she traveled across the United States to ascertain the condition of the Greek community. She was well known to Greek-American community leaders and she could encourage them to mobilize young Greek men to do their patriotic duty. On the other hand, Mrs. Miltiadi Melachrino shared the same sentiments as Lyberopoulos and Economidy. At the time of the 1897 war, she lived in Egypt where she organized several corps of nurses and provided the necessary funds for them to be attached to the Greek army. I could find no evidence to show that these three Greek-American women put into practice the establishment of a corps of trained nurses to go the Balkans.

Queen Olga, (her husband was King George I) and Princess Sophia (her husband was Crown Prince Constantine) were the chief patrons of the Greek Red Cross with the responsibility for raising funds and the distribution of relief. Another member of the Greek royal family, Princess Alice of Battenberg, worked as a nurse in the Second Balkan War between Greece and Bulgaria in 1913. She set up hospitals, organized supplies, and cared for the wounded. Hetty Goldman, an archaeologist, is the only American woman “who served as a volunteer nurse in a Greek hospital.”

The American Red Cross played an important role in raising funds and relief for soldiers and civilians of the Balkans.

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