Jean Henry Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant (May 8, 1828 – October 30, 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. He recorded his memories and experiences in the book A Memory of Solferino which inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863.
The 1864 Geneva Convention was based on Dunant's ideas; In 1901 he received the first Nobel Peace Prize together with Frédéric Passy.
Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland as the first son of businessman Jean-Jacques Dunant and his wife Antoinette Dunant-Colladon. His family was very devoutly Calvinist and had significant influence in Geneva society. His parents strongly stressed the value of social work, and his father was active helping orphans and parolees, while his mother worked with the sick and poor.

Dunant grew up during the period of religious awakening known as the Réveil, and at age eighteen he joined the Geneva Society for Alms giving. In the following year, together with friends, he founded the so-called "Thursday Association", a loose band of young men that met to study the Bible and help the poor, and he spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work. On November 30, 1852, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization.

In 1849, at age 21, Dunant was forced to leave the Collège Calvin because of bad grades, and he began an apprenticeship with the money-changing firm Lullin et Sautter. After its successful conclusion, he remained as an employee of the bank.

Dunant decided to write a book about his experiences, which he titled Un Souvenir de Solferino (A Memory of Solferino). It was published in 1862 in an edition of 1,600 copies and was printed at Dunant's own expense. Within the book, he described the battle, its costs, and the chaotic circumstances afterwards. He also developed the idea that in the future a neutral organization should exist to provide care to wounded soldiers.

Among several other awards in the following years, in 1903 Dunant was given an honorary doctorate by the medical faculty of the University of Heidelberg. He lived in the nursing home in Heiden until his death. In the final years of his life, he suffered from depression and paranoia about pursuit by his creditors and Moynier. There were even days when Dunant insisted that the cook of the nursing home first taste his food before his eyes to protect him against possible poisoning. Although he continued to profess Christian beliefs, in his final years he spurned and attacked Calvinism and organized religion generally.

He died on October 30, 1910, outliving his nemesis Moynier by just two months.His birthday, May 8, is celebrated as the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. The former nursing home in Heiden now houses the Henry Dunant Museum. In Geneva and other places there are numerous streets, squares, and schools named after him. The Henry Dunant Medal, awarded every two years by the standing commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is its highest decoration.

His life is represented, with some fictional elements, in the film D'homme à hommes (1948), starring Jean-Louis Barrault, and the period of his life when the Red Cross was founded in the international film coproduction Henry Dunant: Red on the Cross (2006).


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