Memory of Solferino by Jean Henry Dunant

“A Memory of Solferino” by Henry Dunant follows the harrowing tale of Dunant’s experiences helping the wounded at the Battle of Solferino, though he mostly narrates the gruesome plights of the wounded Austrian and French armies in pretty graphic detail—I will admit, I had to look away at some points. This chronicle sets up Dunant’s proposal for a committee of unpaid humanitarian volunteers in every country to help treat the wounded during wartime and the creation of a convention to protect this group from “belligerent states” (Dunant, 27).

While I admired Dunant’s willingness to discuss the gruesome nature of war and proposals to relieve it, I vehemently disliked his hypocrisy in terms of women. While delving into his proposal, Dunant states that the women did not save the men wounded in the battle and that while “weak, ignorant women” are needed, they need to participate alongside “kindly, experienced, firm, and capable men” who work in an “orderly fashion” in order to treat soldiers effectively and efficiently (Dunant 28). However, in many of the cases he discussed such as the “Castiglione girls”, the “Brescian women and noble ladies”, “Countess Bronna”, and “great lady of Milan”, women endured seeing the gruesome wounds of soldiers injured in the battle (Dunant 17, 18, 22, 26). In the case of the Castiglione girls, these women saw these atrocities for hours on end. In fact, Dunant praises these women and girls as “imperturbable, unwearying, and unfaltering” which are total opposites from the word “weak”. However, at the end of his proposal, the impression is that Dunant believes women to be teddy bears, to be squeezed when someone is afraid or scared. And although he applauds them, Dunant still cannot relinquish his sexism, which perpetuates sexism as a result. This thinking also diminishes the impact of Dunant’s plan when considering that if women were included in this group of “capable, organized, firm, and experienced men” and actually working on patient injuries, Dunant’s proposed organization would have more resources to spread amongst more wounded and thus save more lives.

For additional information about the Battle of Solferino:

To read “A Memory of Solferino” and resulting Geneva convention:

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