Object of the Month

“Make This a Red Cross Christmas": Santa Claus Solicits Aid for the “World’s Unfortunates” in an Unlikely Setting

Make This A [Red Cross] Christmas Color lithograph

Make This A [Red Cross] Christmas

Image 1 of 1

This poster by Charles E. Doty was printed for a Red Cross Christmas fundraising drive in the Philippines in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.

The Red Cross and Humanitarian Relief

By 1918, red-suited Santa Claus was a familiar figure in American popular culture, but in this poster, he had been transplanted to a tropical setting (but still in his fur-trimmed attire) to raise funds for international humanitarian relief. The American Red Cross had played an important role in the American war effort—President Woodrow Wilson was the honorary chairman of the Red Cross and publicly summoned all Americans to its “comradeship.” Millions of adult Americans answered his call and millions more school children became junior members. Tens of thousands of women and men served at home or overseas as Red Cross volunteers.

Humanitarian aid for a world ravaged by war and disease (November and December 1918 would be the height of the influenza pandemic in the Philippines) was admirable but came at a time of change in the Philippines. The First World War had bolstered the Philippine economy and strengthened military ties between the United States and its largest overseas possession, but had also strengthened Filipino demands for self-government or independence. While the 1918 Red Cross campaign in Manila was part of a world-wide humanitarian effort, the Filipinos desperately needed medical and food aid right at home.

Charles E. Doty, photographer and printer of empire

Charles Doty was born in Middletown, Ohio, in 1863. A photographer and engraver, he had served in Cuba during the Spanish American War as a private and unofficial company photographer in a volunteer engineer regiment. He stayed on as an official photographer for the U. S. forces in Cuba and when the American military occupation ended, moved to the Philippines (acquired in the aftermath of the Spanish American War) where he joined the bureau of printing of the Office of Insular Affairs. In Manila, he worked as a photographer and engraver, and as an instructor in engraving.

In 1920, Charles Doty resigned from his position because of illness and returned to the United States. That same year, he donated posters to the Massachusetts Historical Society including this Red Cross poster for which he provided the illustration. Other posters that he donated have themes more directly connected to the Philippines: a recruiting poster for the Philippine Scouts, a locally raised U. S, military unit; a Liberty Bond poster featuring an early illustration by Fernando Cuesto Amorsolo, a Filipino painter at the very beginning of a long and distinguished career; and the notice of a victory carnival and exposition scheduled to take place in Manila early in 1920. Doty died in 1921.

World War One posters at the MHS

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a large collection of World War One posters. Most are gifts from Henry Cabot Lodge, the senior senator from Massachusetts, and the president of the MHS from 1915 until his death in 1924. Lodge donated these large and colorful government posters, including Red Cross posters, to the Society as he received them. Other World War One posters have come to the MHS as individual gifts, but none, perhaps, from as far away as Charles Doty’s gift. World War One posters are recorded in ABIGAIL, the MHS online catalog, some linked to digital images.

For further reading

Capozzola, Christopher. Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America’s First Pacific Century. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Professor Capozzola gives an overview of his project in an online presentation available at the MHS YouTube channel.

Gealogo, Francis A. “The Philippines in the World of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Philippine Studies, vol. 57, no. 2 (2009), p. 261-282.

Gealogo documents the failure of the American government of the Philippines to effectively combat the pandemic.

Doty, Charles E. Photographs Relating to Cuba and the Philippines, circa 1898-1912. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. NAA.PhotoLot.73-26A.

Examples of Doty’s early career as a photographer in Cuba and the Philippines. Guide and digital images of the collection available via the Smithsonian Online Visual Archives.

New York State Library World War I Posters Collection, ca. 1914-1920.

The New York State Library has an extraordinarily large and wide-ranging World War I poster collection of more than 3,600 items including 21 posters printed in the Philippines. Brief descriptions and thumbnail images are available at the NYSL Digital Collections website.

Pier, Arthur S. American Apostles in the Philippines. Boston: Beacon Press, 1950.

An overview of the American proconsular government of the Philippines in which Charles Doty served through a series of brief biographies of political and military leaders.