American Civil War for Kids - Sanitary Fairs, forerunner of the American Red Cross, Union Civilian Fundraisers Illustration

American Civil War for Kids - Sanitary Fairs

In the North, in 1863, the first Sanitary Fair was held in Chicago. It was called a Sanitary Fair because the medical side of the war was called the Sanitary. The Sanitary was the forerunner of the American Red Cross. The fair was designed as a fund-raiser for the war effort. Monies gathered would be used for soldier-relief (medical personnel and supplies.)

To encourage people to attend the fair, the organizers set up exhibits. They also offered donated items for sale. The fee to enter the fair was 75 cents. That included free admission to all exhibit halls and a meal in a restaurant served by prominent women in Chicago society. The fair was a huge success. Exhibits included captured flags and battle relics, displays of art, and a hall of heavy machinery and farm equipment. Dozens of other halls offered goods for sale such as donated pianos, toys, clothes, food, furniture, artwork, and other goods. The most valuable donated items were auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. President Lincoln donated an item for the auction - his original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation! It sold for a staggering $3,000, which was a great deal of money at the time. At the conclusion of the fair, the organizers were shocked to learn they had raised over $100,000 for soldier-relief.

The idea of a Sanitary Fair caught on. Several fairs were held over the next two years, some big, some small. Some of the most popular items for sale were trinkets made by Confederate prisoners of war. The two most profitable fairs were held in New York City and in Philadelphia. These fairs included entertainment. Each raised over one million dollars ($1,000,000) for soldier-relief.

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