An historical study of adult education in the American Red Cross from 1940 to 1947

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The purpose of this inquiry is to investigate the depth and breadth of involvement of the American Red Cross as an adult education agent from 1940 to 1947. Adult education was broadly defined as any process to improve adults' skill, knowledge, or sensitivity by formal or informal means in a variety of settings and using various materials to enhance learning. The terms training and education were used synonymously.

Two major research questions focused the study: (1) What is the historical background of the Red Cross and its relationship to adult education? Supporting questions addressed the Red Cross response to government requests and to national crises, and initiation by the Red Cross of adult education programs and activities. (2) How did the American Red Cross act as an adult education agent from 1940 to 1947? Supporting questions focused on the sanction for adult education; administrative structures; the development, delivery, and unique characteristics of Red Cross programs and activities; and volunteer recruitment.

Results indicated that the American Red Cross, early in its history, fostered adult education and promoted programs and activities that filled a gap or addressed a specific need. This effort continued during and after World War II, with services to the Armed Forces and in response to needs of civilians.

Programs and activities were developed or modified to prepare citizens for civilian defense, to help women who were left as heads of households, and to assist millions of volunteers helping in the war effort. Members of the Armed Forces were taught survival skills in combat in and around water, convalescent swimming, and first aid. Staff learned to help members of the Armed Forces maintain morale through recreation and recuperation activities and to provide social services to the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. Over 14 million people received certificates for specific courses taken under the auspices of the Red Cross during the period between fiscal years 1940 and 1947. During fiscal years 1941 to 1945, over 687 million man-hours of service were donated by volunteers.

The professions of medical and psychiatric social work grew from job functions established by the Red Cross in military hospitals, and the Red Cross was responsible for giving the recreation profession a major boost. Other programs such as the nurse's aide, water safety, and the Town and Country Nursing program, the latter the forerunner of public health nursing, were established by the American Red Cross. The Red Cross was reported to be the first organization to teach first aid. Overall, the American Red Cross touched the lives of millions of U.S. citizens and people around the world with its adult education programs, which stemmed from its mission to help others in need.