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  • 10/27/2004

Henry Dunant

(May 8, 1828 - October 30, 1910)

Jean Henri Dunant was a Swiss businessman and humanitarian who founded the Red Cross movement. He was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

A man deeply religious in the Calvinist tradition and committed to the principle of "Love thy neighbor", Dunant crisscrossedEurope, lecturing on the evils of slavery. While inItaly in 1859, he visited the site of the Battle of Solferino, where he was stunned by the many thousands of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield to die, without receiving even the most basic medical attention that might have saved them. Upon his return to Geneva he wrote Un Souvenir de Solferino (Fr. A Memory of Solferino, published November 8, 1862), a memoir of his experiences inItaly, in which he advocated the establishment of an international network of volunteer relief agencies. The book won the attention of Switzerland's Federal Council and in 1863 that country sponsored an international conference to discuss ways to implement Dunant's ideas as he expressed them in the Nine Articles. Sixteen countries attended and by 1864 twelve ratified the document, which became the basis for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the first Geneva Convention.

In the following years, Dunant wrote prolifically on disarmament and the establishment of an international court to arbitrate conflicts between countries. He also neglected his personal affairs and fell into debt, poverty, and obscurity.

When the first Nobel Prize was awarded, there was some debate as to whether he should even receive it, since by then the Red Cross had become such a well-established organization that its links to Dunant were all but forgotten. Some suggested that he receive the prize for Medicine, since that was the primary contribution of the Red Cross. In a final compromise, it was decided that Dunant would share the prize with Frédéric Passy, a prominent French pacifist. Despite his dire poverty, Dunant donated all his winnings to charity.

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