> Early Life
Clara Barton was born Clarissa Harlowe Barton in North Oxford, Massachusetts, on December 25, 1821. Her parents were Captain Stephen Barton and Sarah Stone Barton. Captain Stephen Barton was a politician, horse breeder and a farmer. Barton received the majority of her education from her two sisters and brothers, as she was the youngest among her siblings.
Barton made an impression at a young age already, having achieved some accomplishments by the time she was a young woman. When she was only 17 years of age, Barton was established as a teacher. Then, only six years later, she founded her own school. However, after spending 10 subsequent years in teaching, she determined that a career change was in order. As a result, she enrolled at the Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York, where studied both languages as well as writing.
Barton became one of the most honored women in American history for her courage, determination and humanitarianism. She risked her life time and time again in order to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the line of fire during the Civil War.
> American Civil War
During the American Civil War, Barton committed herself to helping soldiers on the frontlines by bringing them supplies, support and care. At first, civil officials and military officials refused her help since women were never before permitted on battlefields, camps or hospitals. She earned the trust of these officials after she proved successful at gaining supplies from all over the US. After she got to be the superintendent of the Union nurses in 1864, Barton received hospital and camp supplies, military trains and assistants for her work on the frontlines of the war. Barton provided clothing, food, and bedding for many of the wounded soldiers who before her, had little to no access to these supplies on the battlefields. She also offered personal support to each of the men in hopes to keep their spirits up during this treacherous time. She would read to them, write letters for them, listen to them and even pray for them. Many of the men she helped she had grown up with and even taught when she was a teacher, so she often had a personal tie with many of "her boys." She practiced nursing on 16 various battlefields, where she was a witness to the harshness and brutality of war. She was one of approximately 2,000 women from the North and South to serve as a volunteer nurse for the military during the American Civil War. Barton and many other women would later become known as "The Angels of the Battlefield."
The dedication and commitment she showered on the men in the military allowed her access to a wealth of information about the military’s many regiments and the different men who belonged to them. As a result of this privileged information, Barton spent the close of the war writing back to the numerous families who asked about men who were reported to be missing. She had another remarkable accomplishment during her war service when she suggested that a national cemetery be built around the Union mens’ graves who died in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Andersonville, which lies in Georgia. To this end, Barton and another woman named Dorence Atwater identified the graves of almost 13,000 men with the help of 30 military men. She also had a hand in suggesting that 400 unidentified graves receive commemoration, thus forecasting future honors like the Tomb of the Unknowns.
> The International Red Cross
The International Red Cross was a humanitarian movement and organization that began in Europe. Henry Dunant was the founder of the Red Cross movement that called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime, regardless of where the soldiers were from. He also called for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily to the individuals in need of assistance. The first treaty that portrayed Dunant's ideas was negotiated and ratified by 12 European nations in Geneva, Sweden, in 1864. In 1870, Barton accompanied volunteers from the International Red Cross as they went onto the battlefield of the Franco-Prussian War. She helped distribute supplies while wearing the newest symbol that represented the Red Cross (red cross with a white background, opposite of the Swiss flag).
> American Red Cross
Clara Barton was so inspired by the efforts and triumphs of the volunteers of the International Red Cross that she took this movement all the way to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 where it was unfortunately rejected. Later, President James Garfield was supportive of her appeal but did not get a chance to sign it for he was assassinated. His successor, Chester Arthur signed the treaty in 1882, and the Senate approved it just days later. Barton and some supporters established the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881, as a corporation in the District of Columbia. In 1893, the American Association of the Red Cross was reincorporated the American National Red Cross. For the first 20 years of its life, the American Red Cross was committed to disaster relief efforts. In 1884, chartered steamers were used by the American Red Cross to bring supplies up and down the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers to victims of floods.
After the tenure of Barton, the American Red Cross continued to expand in its scope and mission. It undertook more ambitious efforts and spent its time assisting more diverse matters. For example, during the Spanish-American War, the American Red Cross brought supplies to Cuba. People who got help from the Red Cross included prisoners of war, US armed forces, and refugees from Cuba. That marked the first time that the American Red Cross provided aid to civilians and US armed forces during a war.
> Other Accomplishments
Clara Barton was an amazing woman and a tenacious pioneer who did not stop with the development of the American Red Cross. For instance, she was an advocate for the rights of women. As a result, she worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and also Lucy Stone. Barton was the most accomplished woman as evidenced by all the honors and medals she was awarded. She got the International Red Cross Medal, the Cross of Imperial Russia, and the Iron Cross.
The Iron Cross was normally awarded as a military decoration by the Kingdom of Prussia. In Barton's case it was awarded for performing the military function of helping to nurse wounded soldiers. Barton was awarded the Cross of Imperial Russia for relief work that she had performed in Russia several years prior to 1902. The International Red Cross Medal was awarded to Barton for her contributions to nursing and tending to the sick in different countries across the world.
When Barton resigned as president from the American Red Cross in 1904 she immediately established the National First Aid Association of America. She served as its president for another 5 years. Although the organization was short-lived, it emphasized basic first-aid instruction, emergency preparedness and the development of first aid kits. Barton continued to be strongly dedicated to her work until she died in 1912 at the age of 90.
> Clara Barton National Historic Site and Birthplace Museum
The Clara Barton National Historic Site was established in 1975. It is a part of the National Park Service at her Glen Echo, Maryland, home which preserves the American Red Cross’ early history. The National Park Service has succeeded in restoring 11 rooms of the house, which includes Barton's bedroom. The Clara Barton Birthplace Museum sits in North Oxford, Massachusetts, where it is a part of the Barton Center for Diabetes Education. This is a humanitarian project that was set up in Barton’s honor to provide support for kids with diabetes and their families.
> To learn more about Clara Barton and the Red Cross, see the following links.
- All About Clara Barton
- Nursing Article: Clara Barton
- Clara Barton In-depth
- Barton and the Red Cross
- "Angels of the Battlefield"
- American Red Cross History
- Protect Victims of War
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
- Henry Dunant
- Red Cross Movement
- Winning the Vote
- Clara Barton: More In-Depth Look
- Birthplace Museum of Clara Barton
- National Historic Site