Minnesota’s 100-Year History With The American Red Cross

March 9, 2017

In addition to March being National Red Cross Month, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Minnesota Red Cross Region. In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the American Red Cross emerged as the leading social-services charity, and in Minnesota, 20 percent of all residents had joined the Red Cross. Today, with headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota chapter provides a variety of services and programs to 5.2 million people across Minnesota and part of western Wisconsin. The organization also boasts offices in Minneapolis, Duluth, Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud.

I’ve been a public-affairs volunteer for the Red Cross Minnesota Region for nearly two years and I admire how the Red Cross has evolved and adapted to the needs of Minnesotans over the years. From the great Duluth fire of 1918 to the 35W bridge collapse of 2007, the Minnesota Region has a rich history of serving Minnesotans. To celebrate the centennial, here are a few historical milestones of the Red Cross Minnesota Region throughout their 100-year history.

Comfort kit shop, St. Paul, ca. 1915-18; Minnesota Historical Society (Photo credit: Red Cross MN Region)

WORLD WAR I, 1914-18: The St. Paul chapter’s first pledge drive raised $475,000. While Red Cross hospital aides serve on the front lines overseas, local volunteers produced surgical dressings, socks and other garments while Junior Red Cross kids made comfort kits to send to servicemen.

Minnesota Home Guard hands out relief items to fire survivors, Duluth, 1918; Minnesota Historical Society (Photo credit: Red Cross MN Region)

OCTOBER 1918: What has been called the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history, the Cloquet-Duluth fire was driven by fuel and tornadic winds, with flames shooting four and half miles in the sky. Hundreds of lives were lost and nearly 20,000 people lost their homes. The majority of the displaced residents relocated in Superior, Wis., with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. The Saint Paul Red Cross chapter played a vital role in the response and recovery, sending 16 cars’ worth of furniture, clothes and other relief supplies.

Red Cross swim lessons, Lake Phalen, 1935; Minnesota Historical Society (Photo credit: Red Cross MN Region)

1930s: During the Great Depression, thousands of families in Minnesota sought Red Cross help. In addition to raising money for drought relief, sewing clothing and providing hot meals, the Red Cross also offered swimming instruction to the public. The American Red Cross created the first national water-safety program in the U.S., and today it’s still the gold standard for aquatics training. In the last century, the Red Cross has helped reduce accidental drownings by nearly 90 percent nationwide.

Minneapolis Chapter of the American Red Cross, 1944; (Photo credit: Red Cross and Minnesota Historical Society)

DECEMBER 1941: Frank T. Heffelfinger, manager of the Red Cross Northern Minnesota Division during WWI, donated the Minneapolis chapter house at 325 Groveland, just south of Loring Park. Staff and volunteers took occupancy the weekend before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7. Phone lines were installed on December 8 to handle incoming calls for assistance.

Canteen for dike workers, Stillwater; (Photo credit: Red Cross and Minnesota Historical Societ)

APRIL 1965: Melting snow and spring rains forced the Mississippi River and the St. Croix River to reach record levels. In St. Paul, the Red Cross sheltered evacuees at the West St. Paul Armory, transported people’s furniture to storage and fed dike workers in Stillwater.

AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, 1988 (Photo credit: Red Cross and University of Minnesota)

1980s: The Red Cross continues responding to changing public health needs, including the HIV and AIDS crisis of the ’80s. The crisis required an update of blood services, with an increase in testing and tracking of blood. The Red Cross began offering health and safety education about HIV and AIDS, as well as organizing walks and other efforts that raise awareness about the disease, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Metrodome.

I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapse, Minneapolis, 2007; (Photo credit: American Red Cross)

August 1, 2007: Every Minnesotan remembers where they were when they heard about the I-35W bridge collapse in the summer of 2007. The Minnesota Region’s headquarters are located literally next door to the bridge, and volunteers were able to jump into action immediately. The headquarters’ parking lot was used for emergency vehicles and their offices served as a shelter and information center.

BONUS: Our very own Jen Koch also volunteered with the Red Cross in college. She dressed up as Rory the Red Cross Rabbit and went into classrooms to teach safety and prevention tips.