In London prior to the 18th century, parochial and civic charities were typically established by bequests and operated by local church parishes (such as St Dionis Backchurch) or guilds (such as the Carpenters’ Company). During the 18th century, however, “a more activist and explicitly Protestant tradition of direct charitable engagement during life” took hold, exemplified by the creation of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Societies for the Reformation of Manners.

In 1739, Thomas Coram, appalled by the number of abandoned children living on the streets of London, received a royal charter to establish the Foundling Hospital to look after these unwanted orphans in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury.

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Philanthropists, such as anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, began to adopt active campaigning roles, where they would champion a cause and lobby the government for legislative change. This included organized campaigns against the ill treatment of animals and children and the campaign that succeeded in ending the slave trade throughout the Empire starting in 1807.

In 1863, the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant used his personal fortune to fund the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, which became the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Dunant personally led Red Cross delegations that treated soldiers. He shared the first Nobel Peace Prize for this work in 1901.

The French Red Cross played a minor role in the war with Germany (1870–71). After that it became a major factor in shaping French civil society as a non-religious humanitarian organization. It was closely tied to the army’s Service de Santé. By 1914 it operated one thousand local committees with 164,000 members, 21,500 trained nurses, and over 27 million francs in assets.

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