Henri Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on 8th May, 1828. His father,
Jean-Jacques Dunant, was the superintendent of an orphanage and supervisor
of prisons. At the age of ten Henri was sent to the College de Geneva. After
completing his studies he joined the banking house of Lullin et Sauter.
As a young man he became interested in the work of three outstanding women,
Florence Nightingale and
He was later to write: "The influence of women is an essential factor in the
welfare of humanity, and it will become more valuable as time proceeds.
Dunant joined the Christian Association of Geneva, a group of young men who
preached religious commitment and tolerance. He became a
and argued for universal fraternity and the rule of law. In 1851 Dunant was
impressed by the statement issued by
Victor Hugo at
the Paris Peace Congress when he predicted that: "A day will come when there
will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening
to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes,
by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme
senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to
Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France."
After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin
Dunant also developed a strong hatred of
and in 1853 met its author,
Stowe, in Geneva. Dunant also wrote, Notes on
the Regency of Tunisia, a book that condemning slavery in the USA
and Moslem countries.
On 24th June, 1859, Dunant found himself in Northern Italy and witnessed the
Battle of Solferino. Dunant immediately began organizing local peasants to
carry the wounded from the battlefield. They were taken to local churches
where local doctors attempted to help relieve their suffering.
Over 300,000 men of the Austrian and French armies took part in the Battle
of Solferino and resulted in the deaths of over 41,000 men. It is estimated
another 40,000 men who took part in the battle later died from wounds, fever
After the battle, Dunant visited Emperor
III in France and persuaded him to issue the following orders to his
soldiers: "Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured
while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released; those who
have been attending to men wounded at the Battle of Solferino and lying in
the hospital at Castiglione shall, at their request, be permitted to return
Dunant decided to write a book about his experiences in Solferino. He
claimed in A Memory of Solferino (1862)
that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized nations of
an international and sacred principle which would be assured and placed on
record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This would serve
as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged in nursing
In the book Dunant warned: "If the new and frightful weapons of destruction,
which are now at the disposal of the nations, seem destined to abridge the
duration of future wars, it appears likely, on the other hand, that future
battles will only become more and more murderous." He added: "Would it not
be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the
purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted
and thoroughly qualified volunteers?
A Memory of Solferino was well received
by Victor Hugo
who wrote to Dunant that he was " arming humanity and serving the cause of
freedom. I pay the highest tribute to your noble efforts." Saint Marc
Girardin added that he hoped the "book will be widely read, especially by
those who are in favour of warfare, who seek to show its advantages and who
speak of it in glowing terms."
Inspired by the work of
Clara Barton (American
Civil War), Dunant wanted to establish an organization concerned with
the alleviation of human suffering. In 1862 Dunant sent
president of Geneva Society for Public Welfare, a copy of
A Memory of Solferino. In the book Dunant
stated that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized
nations of an international and sacred principle which would be assured and
placed on record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This
would serve as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged
in nursing war victims."
went to see Dunant and invited him to a special meeting on 9th February,
1863, of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. Dunant told the fourteen
people who attended that he wanted to form an organization that sent
volunteer nurses to the battlefield. He also wanted to improve the methods
of transporting the wounded and the care they received in military hospitals.
After the meeting it was decided to form an International Committee for
Relief to the Wounded.
was to be president while Dunant,
and Louis Appia
agreed to serve as board members. This eventually became the
Committee of the Red Cross.
In 1864 the five men organized an international conference of 13 nations in
Geneva to discuss the possibility of making warfare more "humane". At the
end of the conference on 22nd August, 1864, the representatives signed the
Convention. The agreement provided for the neutrality of ambulance and
military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the
wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to
their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white
flag with a red cross for use on hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation
centres whose neutrality would be recognized by this symbol.
The campaign then began to persuade the different countries to ratify the
Convention. It was approved by Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the
Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Switzerland in 1864. They were
followed by Britain (1865), Prussia (1865), Greece (1865), Turkey (1865),
Austria (1866), Portugal (1866), Russia (1867), Persia (1874), Serbia
(1876), Chile (1879), Argentina (1879), Peru (1880), USA (1882), Bulgaria
(1884), Japan (1886), Luxemburg (1888), Venezuela (1894), South Africa
(1896), Uruguay (1900), Guatemala (1903), Mexico (1905), China (1906),
Germany (1906), Brazil (1906), Cuba (1907), Panama (1907) and Paraguay
Dunant was a director of one of Geneva's main banks, Credit Genevois. In
1867 the directors were accused of bad judgement and a conflict of interest
when it was discovered they had been buying and selling shares in some stone
quarries in Algeria. On 17th October, the city's Commercial Court reached
the verdict that the directors' actions were "grossly beyond the limits that
a vigilant and conscientious board of directors should have permitted." As a
result of this ruling Dunant was forced to resign as secretary of the
Committee of the Red Cross.
Financially ruined by the failure of the Credit Genevois, Dunant spent the
rest of his life in poverty. However he continued to campaign for
international disarmament and the establishment of a
homeland. In 1901 was awarded the first
Nobel Prize for
Peace. Henri Dunant died in Heiden, Switzerland, on 30th October, 1910.
(1) Henri Dunant wrote about how he became aware of
social problems in his autobiography.
gradually came into contact with misfortune and poverty in gloomy and
squalid streets. In hovels, which at times were more like stables, I saw men
entirely destitute of any worldly belongings and bowed down under a burden
of unspeakable suffering, who knew neither love or kindness. I then realized
for the first time that one man alone is powerless to act in the face of
such misfortune and that no relief, however, small, can be brought to him
unless the whole world joins hands in the fight against such dire poverty.
(2) Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino
When the sun came up on the 25th it disclosed the most dreadful sights
imaginable. Bodies of men and horses covered the battlefield; corpses were
strewn over roads, ditches, ravines, thickets and fields; the approaches to
Solferino were literally thick with dead. The fields were devastated, wheat
and corn lying flat on the ground, fences broken, orchards ruined; here and
there were pools of blood.
The poor wounded men were ghostly pale and exhausted. Some, who had been the
most badly hurt, had a stupefied look. Others were anxious and excited by
nervous strain and shaken by spasmodic trembling. Some, who had gaping
wounds already beginning to show infection, were almost crazed with
suffering. They begged to be put out of their misery; and writhed with faces
distorted in the grip of the death struggle.
Though the army, in its retreat, picked up all the wounded men it could
carry in military wagons and requisitioned carts, how many unfortunate men
were left behind, lying helpless on the naked ground in their own blood? How
many silent tears were shed that miserable night when all false pride, all
human decency even, was forgotten? In some quarters there was no water, and
the thirst was so terrible that officers and men alike fell to drinking from
muddy pools whose water was foul and filled with curdled blood.
The men's wounds were covered with flies. The tunic, shirt, flesh and blood
formed an indescribable mass, alive with vermin. A number of the men
shuddered to think they were being devoured by these vermin, which they
thought were emerging from their bodies, but which in reality were the
result of the fly-infested atmosphere.
(3) After the Battle of Solferino, Henri Dunant
visited the Emperor Napoleon III in Italy. As a result of this meeting
Napoleon III issued a proclamation to the Italian forces (1st July, 1859)
Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while
attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released; those who have
been attending to men wounded at the Battle of Solferino and lying in the
hospital at Castiglione shall, at their request, be permitted to return to
Convention, drawn up by
and agreed by conference delegates on 26th October, 1863.
(1) In each country signing the concordat, there shall be a national
Committee charged with remedying, by every means in its power, the
inadequacy of the official sanitary service provided for armies in the field.
This Committee shall organize itself in whatever manner seems to it to be
most useful and expedient.
(2) An unlimited number of sections may be formed to assist the national
Committee. They are necessarily dependent on this Committee, to which
belongs the overall direction.
(3) Each national Committee shall be in communication with the government of
the country, and shall assure itself that it offers of service will be
accepted in case of war.
(4) In peacetime, the Committees and the Sections shall concern themselves
with improvements to be introduced into the military sanitary service, with
the installation of ambulances and hospitals, with means of transport for
the wounded, etc., and will work towards their realization.
(5) The Committees and Sections of the various countries shall meet in
international Congresses to communicate with one another about their
experience, and to agree on measures to be taken to further the enterprise.
(6) In January of each year, the national Committees shall present a report
of their work during the previous year, and may append to it whatever
information they wish to bring to the attention of the Committees in other
countries. These communications and reports should be addressed to the
Geneva Committee, which will undertake to operate this exchange.
(7) In the event of war, the Committees of the belligerent nations shall
furnish necessary assistance to their respective armies, and in particular
shall undertake to form and organize corps of volunteer nurses. They may
solicit the support of Committees belonging to neutral nations.
(8) Volunteer nurses will undertake to serve for a limited time, and not to
interfere in any way in the conduct of the war. They will be employed
according to their wishes in field service or in hospitals. Of necessity,
women will be assigned to the latter.
(9) In all countries, volunteer nurses shall wear an identical and
distinctive uniform or badge. Their persons shall be sacred, and military
leaders shall owe them protection. When a campaign begins, the soldiers of
both armies shall be informed of the existence of this corps, and of its
exclusively charitable character.
(10) The corps of volunteer nurses or helpers will march behind the armies,
to which they will cause neither difficulty nor expense. They shall have
their own means of transport, their own provisions and supplies, of
medications and first aid of all kinds. They shall be at the disposal of the
chiefs of the army, who will use them only when they feel the need. For the
duration of their active service, they shall be placed under the orders of
the military authority, and subjected to the same discipline as ordinary
(5) Henri Dunant, speech on
Nightingale at the
Convention (August, 1864)
the many who pay their homage to Miss Nightingale, though a very humble
person of a small country, Switzerland, I yet want to add my tribute of
praise and admiration. As the founder of the Red Cross and the originator of
the diplomatic Convention of Geneva, I feel emboldened to pay my homage. To
Miss Nightingale I give all the honour of this humane Convention. It was her
work in the Crimea that inspired me to go to Italy during the war of 1859,
to share the horrors of war, to relieve the helplessness of the unfortunate
victims of the great struggle on June 24, to soothe the physical and moral
distress, and the anguish of so many poor men, who had come from all parts
of France and Austria to fall victims to their duty, far from their native
country, and to water the poetic land of Italy with their blood.
(6) Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino
the new and frightful weapons of destruction, which are now at the disposal
of the nations, seem destined to abridge the duration of future wars, it
appears likely, on the other hand, that future battles will only become more
and more murderous.
Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief
societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by
zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?
Societies of this kind, once formed and their permanent existence assured,
would naturally remain inactive in peacetime. But they would always be
organized and ready for the possibility of war. They would have not only to
secure the goodwill of the authorities of the countries in which they had
been formed, but also, in the case of war, to solicit from the rulers of the
belligerent states authorization and facilities enabling them to do
letter to Henri Dunant after reading a Memory of Solferino (1862)
You are arming humanity and serving the cause of freedom. I pay the highest
tribute to your noble efforts.
(8) Saint Marc Girardin, Journal des Debats
hope that this book will be widely read, especially by those who are in
favour of warfare, who seek to show its advantages and who speak of it in
Dunant after reading his book, A Memory of Solferino (19th
is most important that people read accounts like yours so that they can see
what the glory of the battlefield costs in terms in pain and tears. We are
all too ready to see only the brilliant side of the war, and to shut our
eyes to its sad consequences.
(10) Max Huber, Executive President of the
International Red Cross Committee (1928)
Henri Dunant himself saw clearly that the task of the Red Cross would always
be a dual one: succor for the victims of war, and the repudiation of war
(11) In his memoirs Henri Dunant explained what he
had spent his life trying to do during his various campaigns.
inspire in all a horror of the spirit of vengeance, of hatred and
destruction, is to force backwards the terrible scourge of war, and perhaps
even make it impossible.