213195 Patching Up Peril: Railroad Philanthropy and Early Worker First Aid Programs

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 4:55 PM

Marian M. Jones, PhD, MPH , L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
In 1911, the American Red Cross collaborated with philanthropists, industry, and state and federal governmental bodies to develop First Aid and injury prevention campaigns in railroads, mines, and other industries. This organization, founded in 1881 and chartered by Congress in 1900 as a quasi-governmental, privately funded voluntary body responsible for relief in “national calamities” and war, had never before entered into such preventative public health and safety work. This unusual choice of worker First Aid as an initial “disaster prevention” campaign was motivated by a complex array of factors, not least of which was the fact that the widow of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman offered to donate prodigious sums to the American Red Cross earmarked for the purpose of First Aid to railroad and other workers. With Harriman's money and collaboration, the ARC sent special doctor-equipped First Aid trains to mining districts and railroad depots to educate workers about how to prevent or minimize on-the-job injury. The ARC also began a larger worker-focused campaign of First Aid and safety education, which included First Aid contests jointly sponsored with state mine bureaus and mining companies.

While the First Aid movement had begun in the U.K. in the 1870s and had already spread to British Commonwealth States and Germany before coming to America in 1903, the Red Cross' 1911 efforts vastly expanded and transformed the movement in the U.S. The collaboration of not only philanthropists, but also state governmental bodies concerned with workers safety, helped make this expansion and transformation possible. This case study will examine the odd organizational architecture of this collaborative effort, explore how it functioned, and discuss the ways in which this early First Aid work helped shape contemporary beliefs about individual responsibility for injuries in the workplace and in the home. Furthermore, it will address the lessons of the early First Aid movement for the relationship between public and private entities in 21st Century public health campaigns.

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain the unique role of philanthropy, the private and voluntary sectors in American public health programs. 2. Discuss the particular challenges of public-private collaborations in public health through study of historical example. 3. Demonstrate how historical examples can be used to inform current debates over public health.

Keywords: History, Workplace Safety

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have completed a dissertation on the subject.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.