Guillaume Dufour was born in Konstanz, Austria (now Germany), on 15th September, 1787. After studying in Geneva, Paris and Metz, he joined the French Army and served in Corfu (1813) and France (1814).
Dufour left the army in 1817 and moved to Switzerland where he supervised the construction of public works in Geneva. Two years later he became chief instructor at the Thun Military School. Appointed chief of staff of the Swiss Army in 1831, he saw action in Basel (1833), Sonderbund (1847), Neuchatel (1857) and Savoy (1857).
On his return he joined the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, an organization dedicated to social reform. Members were concerned with improving both the morals and material lives of working people. This included building a house of industry, a society for the improvement of working-class housing and the establishment of a children's playground.
In 1862 Henri Dunant sent Gustave Moynier, president of Geneva Society for Public Welfare, a copy of A Memory of Solferino. In the book Dunant stated that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized nations of an international and sacred principle which would be assured and placed on record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This would serve as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged in nursing war victims."
Gustave Moynier went to see Henri Dunant and invited him to a special meeting on 9th February, 1863, of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. Dunant told the fourteen people who attended that he wanted to form an organization that sent volunteer nurses to the battlefield. He also wanted to improve the methods of transporting the wounded and the care they received in military hospitals.
After the meeting it was decided to form an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. Dufour was appointed president while Henri Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Thomas Maunoir, and Louis Appia agreed to serve as board members. This eventually became the International Committee of the Red Cross.
At the meeting in Geneva on 26th October, 1863, Guillaume Dufour, in his opening address, he tried to reduce the fears of those governments that had refused to send delegates to the meeting: " Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret."
In 1864 Dufour, Henri Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Thomas Maunoir, and Louis Appia organized an international conference of 13 nations in Geneva to discuss the possibility of making warfare more "humane". At the end of the conference on 22nd August, 1864, the representatives signed the Geneva Convention. The agreement provided for the neutrality of ambulance and military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white flag with a red cross for use on hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation centres whose neutrality would be recognized by this symbol.
The campaign then began to persuade the different countries to ratify the Convention. It was approved by Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Switzerland in 1864. They were followed by Britain (1865), Prussia (1865), Greece (1865), Turkey (1865), Austria (1866), Portugal (1866), Russia (1867) and Persia (1874). Guillaume Dufour died in Geneva on 14th July, 1875.