Humanitarian Profile: Henry Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910) was a Swiss businessman and social activist. During a business trip in 1859, he was witness to the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in modern day Italy.

After returning to Geneva early in July, Dunant decided to write a book about his experiences, which he titled Un Souvenir de Solferino (A Memory of Solferino), in which he described the battle, its costs, and the chaotic circumstances afterwards. He also developed the idea that a neutral organization should exist to provide care to wounded soldiers.  A Memory of Solferino was published in 1862, with the initial 1,600 copies printed at Dunant’s own expense.  He distributed the book to many leading political and military figures in Europe.

On February 9, 1863, the President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, Gustave Moynier, made the book and its suggestions the topic of the meeting of the organization.  Dunant’s recommendations were examined and positively assessed by the members. They created a five-person Committee to further pursue the possibility of their implementation, and made Dunant one of the members. Their first meeting on February 17, 1863 is now considered the founding date of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In 1901, Dunant was awarded the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention. Norwegian military physician Hans Daae advocated Dunant’s case on the Nobel committee. The official congratulations which he received from the International Committee is as follows:

“There is no man who more deserves this honour, for it was you, forty years ago, who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken.”


Henri Dunant Biography from Nobel Lectures, Peace 1901‐1925, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972.

Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross by Caroline Moorehead

University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC

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