27. Aug, 2017


Clara Barton (1821-1912), American nurse, humanitarian, and founder of the American Red Cross. Her efforts as a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War (1861-1865) earned her the affection of the soldiers and the nickname Angel of the Battlefields.



Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on December 25, 1821, the fifth child in her family. She was educated at home, chiefly by her two brothers and two sisters. From 1839 to 1850 she taught in local Massachusetts schools. She later taught in the first public school in New Jersey, in Bordentown. In 1854 she left teaching after her voice failed her in the classroom, and became a clerk in the Patent Office in Washington, D.C.



Barton resigned from the Patent Office at the start of the Civil War to work as a volunteer, rounding up and distributing supplies to wounded soldiers. During the war, Barton helped army surgeons, bandaged the wounded, and fed and nursed dying men, but she viewed herself more as a provider than a nurse. Soldiers welcomed the soup she cooked in an iron kettle. Her sense of humor and practical methods endeared her to the soldiers. On two occasions she nearly lost her life, when fragments of shell ripped through her clothing.

After the war United States president Abraham Lincoln commissioned Barton to put into action an idea she had: a systematic search for missing soldiers and prisoners of war. Barton eventually received a Congressional appropriation to run what was known as the Missing Soldiers Office and became the first woman to head a government bureau. Barton tracked down information on nearly 22,000 soldiers before the office was closed in 1868.



Between 1869 and 1873 Barton lived in Europe. While she was in Switzerland, she was visited by officials of the International Red Cross, which had been established in 1864. Barton served with the Red Cross and helped establish hospitals during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Afterward she was honored with Germany’s Iron Cross for outstanding military service. The United States had not yet signed the Geneva Convention that established the International Red Cross, and Barton returned to the United States in 1873 to work for the establishment of an American Red Cross organization.

While working for her cause, Barton badgered politicians, generals, professors, and newspaper editors, appealed to three presidents for support, and distributed brochures and pamphlets. Her driving spirit overcame much antagonism to relief work and the Red Cross. During this time, Barton maintained close ties with the parent organization in Geneva, Switzerland. In May 1881 Barton and a group of her friends established the American Red Cross. The first local chapter was founded later that year in Dansville, New York, and in 1882 the U.S. Senate ratified the Geneva Convention.

Barton served as the first president of the American Red Cross until 1904. She wrote, lectured, and attended international conferences, gradually becoming one of the world’s best-known women. At the International Peace Convention in Geneva in 1884, Barton was responsible for the introduction of the so-called American amendment. It established that the Red Cross was to serve victims of peacetime disasters, such as floods and famine, as well as victims of war.



Barton superintended relief work in a yellow-fever outbreak in Florida (1887); in a severe flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (1889); in a Russian famine (1891); among Armenians (1896); in the Spanish-American War (1898); and in the Boer War (1899-1902). The last relief work that she personally directed was among flood victims at Galveston, Texas, in 1900. By this time Barton’s leadership had come under criticism from within the organization. She resigned in 1904, having outlived an era when a single pioneer could manage a growing organization. She died in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912. She wrote several books on the Red Cross and Story of My Childhood (1907).