On this day May 8: Red Cross founder & 1st Nobel winner


Henry Dunant may 8

Henry Dunant, born May 8, 1822, founded the Red Cross and later won the first ever Nobel Peace Prize. Although believed by many to have been bisexual or gay, you won’t find any mention of that on either the Red Cross or Nobel websites.

Henry Dunant grew up in a devout Calvinist family. His businessman father and mother both undertook charity work in Geneva. As a young man, Henry also devoted his spare time to prison visits and other social work. In 1852, he founded the Geneva branch of the YMCA.

In 1859, Henry Dunany visited the Italian city of Solferino hoping for an audience with French Emperor Napoléon III. He hoped the emperor would intervene in a dispute he had with colonial authorities in French-occupied Algeria.

Napoléon III was headquartered in Solferino while fighting on the side of Piedmont-Sardinia against an Austrian occupation.

Henty Dunant arrived to a brutal scene. An earlier battle finished with 40,000 wounded, dead and dying men left on the battlefield with little care. Henry organised local civilians to help the wounded.

A Memory of Solferino

Later, Henry wrote about the experience in his self-published A Memory of Solferino.

In the book, he suggested the formation of a neutral organization to care for wounded soldiers and sent copies of the book to influential European political and military figures. Gustave Moynier, president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, suggested the society take up the idea and a 5-person committee including Henry Dunant was formed.

The first meeting of the International Committee of the Red Cross took place on February 17, 1863.

Dunant and Moynier argued from the beginning, particularly of Dunant’s insistence that the organisation remain neutral. However, Henry Dunant’s ideas resulted in the signing of the first Geneva Convention in 1864.

Meanwhile, Henry Dunant’s business interest suffered as he focused on humanitarian causes. Declared bankrupt in 1867, he left Switzerland amid accusations of financial chicanery and homosexuality. Many of the accusations against him seemed to emanate from Moynier.

Henry Dunant lived in relative poverty over the following decades with Moynier actively working against him. Moynier served as president of the Red Cross for 46 years and apparently preferred no credit went to the bloke who thought of the idea.

But, Dunant came back to public attention in a big way in 1901 when he was one of the two people to share the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize.

Sexuality

Henry Dunant died in 1910. His family later published a memoir supposedly written by Dunant. However, scholars suspect the family both heavily censored Dunant’s actual writings and then added stuff they’d made up themselves.

There is no evidence to prove that Dunant was gay or bisexual. But besides the allegations that drove him out of Switzerland, unpublished letters also apparently indicate he was gay or bisexual.

German gay magazine Der Eigene claimed in 1924 that an exchange of letters between Dunant and the ‘Comte de M.’ allowed the conclusion of a same-sex disposition. A Swiss gay magazine mentioned another trove of 200 letters in 1964 but none have yet seen publication.

Tchaikovsky, May 7 <— On this day —> May 9, Denny Fouts

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