A Painting With a Past


A painting of a nurse hangs in a gold frame in the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. It sits on a wall completely austere except for the portrait and its ornate frame. The painting is rumored to be worth upward of $5,000, yet few at the Red Cross know the story behind the nurse’s life. The only clue is a small plaque, once gold but now tarnished, bearing in small script the words Jane A. Delano, March 1924.

When I began my internship at the Red Cross, I wondered why the nurse held such an esteemed spot on the office wall where she was spoken about so little. Clara Barton is widely recognized as the founder of the American Red Cross, yet Jane Delano received little fanfare aside from her mysterious presence on the wall. My curiosity waned as weeks went by, and I grew accustomed to her furtive existence behind my desk.

One day I overheard Tina Johnston, a health services volunteer going on her 37th year with the Red Cross, mention the name that had eluded me.

Who was Jane Delano? At last, I would find out about this nurse whom I had wondered about for so long. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Jane joined the American Red Cross.  A pioneer in the nursing profession, Jane went on to create American Red Cross Nursing, which united the American Nurses Association, the Army Nurse Corps, and the American Red Cross. Thanks to Jane, more than 8,000 registered nurses were trained and ready for duty when the United States entered World War I in 1917.

Tina Johnston is among those who believe that Jane Delano was the true founder of the Red Cross. Without Jane, American Red Cross Nursing would not exist as it does today. Volunteer nurses like Jane have always been a cornerstone of the Red Cross, providing services and teaching courses, and today more than 20,000 nurses remain involved. What do you think—should Jane get more credit as the founder of the Red Cross, or is Clara Barton the rightful title holder with her early commitment to military and medical advances?

All lighthearted competition aside, Jane Delano’s contributions to the American Red Cross live on through the Jane Delano Nurse Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to nursing students each year. Whether your efforts are remembered by a painting, a scholarship, or a single heartfelt act, every contribution is important. To learn more about how you can contribute, visit redcross.org.

By Michaela Zook