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Clara Barton

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross and president of the organization from 1882-1904. (Library of Congress)

The American Red Cross of Camden County was the last organization to occupy 312 Cooper Street before Rutgers began implementing plans for restoration. To better understand the organization’s role in Camden, I began my research by delving in to the beginnings of the Red Cross abroad and within the United States.

The Red Cross’s website, along with a few books on founder Clara Barton, provides valuable insight as to how and why the organization was founded in the first place. During travel abroad in Europe in 1869, Barton was inspired by the work of Henry Dunant and his new humanitarian efforts to provide aid to wounded soldiers during times of war. Dunant had recent success in getting the Geneva Convention, which outlined terms for providing relief to soldiers regardless of their backgrounds, signed by 12 European countries. Barton offered her services during the Franco-Prussian War and worked alongside the newly formed International Red Cross.

Once back in the United States she helped persuade the President to sign the Geneva Convention and began the American Red Cross in 1881. She also helped get a federal charter for her organization and laid the ground work for the objectives of the ARC. Today her mission lives on with thousands of branches across the country providing disaster relief, community services intended to help the most needy, assistance for military members and their families, collection and distribution of blood and blood products, educational health, safety, and preparedness programs- and, on a larger scale, international relief and development programs.

The Camden County branch was founded in 1917 and provided the services listed above. In the 1950s the group was deeded 312 Cooper Street and it became the headquarters for their operations. During the approximately 50 years that the ARC spent in 312, Camden changed drastically as a city and the organization stood witness to rising crime, poverty, and unemployment rates as the after shocks of de-industrialization took their toll on the city.

The Camden branch, which had been instrumental in organizing and offering aid after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, hoped to continue growing and assisting Camden city and County from 312. In the early 2000s a comprehensive plan was about to be implemented which would have seen 312 Cooper Street drastically renovated (the building was a fire hazard and not up to ADA standards) and a donation center built next door. The plan would have taken eight years to complete but it was not fulfilled.

Rowan University proposed an extension of its campus that would include a revitalization of the space 312 occupied. The building was seized using eminent domain laws. The ARC had to move quickly. As Camden County executive director Camy Trinidad told me in an interview, “I showed up to work one day and there was a wrecking ball outside the building next door.”
Currently, there is no Red Cross branch in Camden city. The branch is now located in neighboring Pennsauken and has been combined with the Burlington County Red Cross.

Mikaela Maria
Rutgers-University, Camden