Updated July 7, 2020.
Looking for something a little off-the-beaten-path in D.C.? Are you a nurse? Blood donor? War and history enthusiast? If your timing is just right, you can go on this little-known tour of the American Red Cross Headquarters in D.C.! Here’s how and what to expect!
Know Before You Go
As with anything and anywhere, there are a few things to know before you go:
- You can schedule the tour in advance (via e-mail only; reservations are not accepted over the phone), or simply walk in a few minutes before tour time. A week’s notice is a good rule of thumb if you’re e-mailing.
- Tours are only offered Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:00am and 2:00pm.
- There are Tiffany’s stained-glass windows inside!
- Tours are FREE!
- Street parking only; I recommend taking Metro or Uber instead of driving yourself.
How to Book Your Tour
1. Visit the American Red Cross website.
Here you’ll find some background information, and if the procedure for scheduling your tour changes after this post is published, you will find the most current information here!
2. E-mail to request a tour.
Take a look at the schedule for your Washington, D.C., trip, and decide if you can make the tour happen! As previously stated, tours are only offered twice a day, two days a week: Wednesday and Friday at 10:00am and 2:00pm. E-mail them at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org!
3. Wait for a reply.
Your e-mail confirmation will give you the address and instructions for what to do when you arrive: sign the tour sheet at the security desk and wait for your guide in the lobby. Easy enough!
I sent my request in via e-mail on Sunday evening for the following Friday, thinking I’d likely get a response sometime on Monday. Not so! I did not receive a response until Wednesday after 10:00am, leading me to believe that the e-mail address is only monitored on tour days. This may not be true in all cases, but as a rule of thumb, request your tour at least a week in advance.
Or, just walk in a few minutes before tour time and ask if you can get on the tour!
How to Get There
In my opinion, the best way to get anywhere in D.C. is the Metro or Uber. I never recommend driving in D.C.!
Take the Blue, Orange, or Silver line to the Farragut West Station. When you get out, walk to 17th and I Streets and walk south (toward the National Mall) on 17th Street. The address is 430 17th Street NW. Need some pointers? Check out my Guide to the D.C. Metro!
Open your Uber app and where it says “Where to?” type in “American Red Cross National Headquarters” or 430 17th Street NW (that “NW” is very important, so don’t leave it out!).
I do not recommend driving, but if you do, be aware that there is no designated parking. All available parking is on the street or in a parking garage.
Read on: D.C.’s Metro: A Guide
and The Ultimate Guide to Uber
Highlights of the Tour
This is one of the first tours I took, almost by accident, when I first moved to D.C. in 2008! So I decided it was high time to go back and re-take the tour. Here are the high points!
The American Red Cross Headquarters was completed in 1917, and it was originally intended to be a museum and office building, which it is today. But when it opened, there was simply too much work to do, so it was only an office building for a while!
World War I (The Great War)
The whole first floor is dedicated to the start of the American Red Cross and its role in World War I. There are loads of wonderful artifacts from the era. Our tour guide made sure to point out particularly notable or interesting items. For instance, an American Red Cross “Searcher” spent all her available time searching for missing and wounded soldiers. If or when she found someone, she would report to their families to give them some peace of mind, closure, or answers.
Celebrity Red Cross Members
Well, they may not have been celebrities to the full extent at the time, but there are several Red Cross members who became quite well-known! My two favorites are Walt Disney (he’s the one with the cartoon on the side of his vehicle!) and Ernest Hemingway. His experiences in the First World War (including a bit of a romance with a Red Cross Nurse) inspired A Farewell to Arms!
Clara Barton Artifacts
Clara Barton founded and then successfully ran the American Red Cross, so it’s not surprise that some of her field office items are on display! You’ll find them on the second floor. If you’re interested in more on Clara Barton, make sure to visit the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, Maryland, where she lived the last 15 years of her life (open 1:00pm-4:00pm Fridays and Saturdays only).
Tiffany Stained Glass Windows
They save the best for last, and it’s truly the best! These Tiffany stained glass windows were a gift to the American Red Cross from both the Women’s Relief Corps and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They donated the windows in memory of the heroic women of the Civil War.
Are you ready for a visit to the American Red Cross Headquarters? Let me know in the comments!
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