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Henry Dunant

Henry DunantAKA Jean Henri Dunant

Born: 8-May-1828
Birthplace: Geneva, Switzerland
Died: 30-Oct-1910
Location of death: Heiden, Switzerland
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Sihlfeld Cemetery, Zürich, Switzerland

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Activist

Nationality: Switzerland
Executive summary: Red Cross founder

Swiss businessman and humanitarian Henry (or Henri) Dunant was forced to drop out of high school when his family could not afford tuition, and he later apprenticed as a bank executive. He first came to some public attention by writing a world travelogue in 1858, which included a chapter excoriating the practice of slavery in America. The next year he traveled to the Italian town of Solferino, where he had hoped to obtain business permits from Napoleon III, who was commanding Franco-Sardinian troops there. Arriving on 24 June 1859, Dunant instead came upon the aftermath of Napoleon's huge military confrontation against the Austrians, the Battle of Solferino, which left some 20,000 corpses strewn across a battlefield that stretched 15 kilometers.

The view and the stench shocked his conscience, and inspired Dunant to write his best-known book, A Memory of Solferino. More than merely describing the horrors of war, he used the last third of the book to propose a solution — that relief societies should be formed in every nation of the world, to provide care and comfort to the wounded in war and catastrophe. With funding from his own personal fortune, he founded the Geneva Society for Public Welfare in 1863, which became the International Committee of the Red Cross. This group hosted its first Geneva Convention in 1864, laying the foundation for the concept of international law, as twelve nations agreed to allow wartime movement of medical and sanitary personnel, and to expedite their access to needed supplies. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Dunant personally led Red Cross delegations that treated soldiers. Building on this success, Dunant called a second Geneva Convention in 1872, which led to agreements on the treatment of prisoners of war and pioneered the concept of settling international disputes in courtrooms instead of on battlefields.

Beyond his work with the Red Cross, Dunant pursued at least three other charitable projects -- an 1875 conference at which he hoped to banish slavery worldwide; an "International and Universal Library"; and a neutral settlement in Palestine -- none of which had any noteworthy success. Both he and his business were driven to bankruptcy in 1867, and Dunant found himself over a million Swiss francs in debt, a staggering figure at the time. Over subsequent decades, even as the Red Cross (and Red Crescent in Muslim nations) made profound humanitarian gains and his name came to be revered, he spent many years virtually homeless.

In 1892 he was located by a Red Cross volunteer, who arranged for the chronically ill Dunant to be admitted to a hospice in Heiden, where he spent the remainder of his life. In 1901 Dunant and Frédéric Passy were jointly awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize, and Dunant gave his share of the cash stipend to charity. In keeping with his oft-stated wish, when he died in 1910 he was given no formal funeral and "buried like a dog".

[1] Devoutly Calvinist for most of his life, but became bitter and disdainful toward religion in his latter years.

Father: Jean-Jacques Dunant (orphanage superintendent)
Mother: Antoinette Dunant-Colladon (d. 1868)

    High School: College de Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland (dropped out)

    Geneva Society for Alms
    International Committee of the Red Cross Founder (1863)
    Young Men's Christian Association
    Exiled (self-imposed) from Geneva, Switzerland 1867
    Bankruptcy 1867
    Nobel Peace Prize 1901

Author of books:
An Account of the Regency in Tunis (1858, non-fiction)
A Memory of Solferino (1862)

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