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Interpreting the Evidence

Henry Davison, Head of the State War Council

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Henry Davison, Head of the State War Council, World War I, c. 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Photograph of Henry Davison, Head of the State War Council, World War I, c. 1917.
Historical Context
Henry Davison was a New York banker chosen by President Woodrow Wilson to head the new War Council created to help the Red Cross deal with the chaos created by World War I. As local communities tried to establish their own local chapters, the organization was overwhelmed trying to keep up with all of the wartime needs.  President Wilson was not quite sure if he wanted a Wall Street man, and at first the two didn’t always agree, but as time passed, Davison won Wilson’s confidence. Davison had many qualities that allowed him to be very successful in his leadership position, and even though he overwhelmed people at times with his ideas (he proposed a war fund of $100,000,000 when others proposed nothing larger than $10,000,000), it quickly became clear that he was perfect for the role he held (the first fund drive raised $114,000,000.) The War Council and Davison, along with other businessmen and bankers helped the organization grow to a point where, by the end of the war, over 1/3 of all Americans were either contributing members or volunteers for the Red Cross.  This was equivalent to 20 million adults and 11 million children. The Red Cross provided services abroad and at home throughout the war, and was faced not only with wartime challenges, but with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that spread like wildfire throughout America (claiming 500,000 lives) and the world (claiming 20-40 million lives.) The War Council was disbanded four months after the armistice was signed and control of the Red Cross was returned to the Central Committee that had been in charge originally. Henry Davison remained helpful in the field by pushing for the formation of the League of Red Cross Societies.  Davison’s leadership during the war helped him earn eight honorary degrees of Doctor of Laws (all but one of which were awarded as a result of his work during the war years.)  He was thanked for his leadership during the war and the success of the Red Cross in helping aid so many people throughout the world.
Essential Question
How do individuals impact global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the photograph and explain his contribution to the war.
Historical Challenges
What did Henry Davison do before WWI? Do you think he was a good choice to head the Red Cross during WWI based on his previous experience? Why?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English: Write an ode to Henry Davison complimenting him on his WWI war work with the Red Cross.