Sue Young Histories

Clara Barton 1821 - 1912

January 18, 2008

clara bartonClarissa Harlowe Barton 1821 - 1912 was a pioneer American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian. She is best remembered for organizing the American Red Cross. Barton organised receptions to support the homeopathic hospital in Washington and she was a board member of the New York Medical College for Women with Clemence Lozier, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carroll Dunham, Timothy Field Allen, William Guernsey, Edmund Carleton, Henry Ward Beecher and Julia Ward Howe.

Wikipedia: Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas day, 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts to Stephen and Sarah Barton. She was the youngest of five children. Barton’s father and mother were abolitionists

Clara’s father was a farmer and horse breeder, while her mother Sarah managed the household. The two later helped found the first Universalist Church in Oxford.

As a child, Clara was shy. She had two brothers Stephen and David and two sisters Dorothy/Dolly and Sally, who were at least ten years older than her. Young Clara was home-educated and extremely bright. It is said that her siblings were kept busy answering her many questions, and each taught her complementary skills, her older sisters being teachers. Her brothers were happy to teach her how to ride horses and do other things that, at the time, were thought appropriate only for men.

When Clara was eleven, her brother David became her first patient after he fell from a rafter in their unfinished barn. Clara stayed by his side for two years and learned to administer all his medicines, including the “great, loathsome crawling leeches.”

As she continued to develop an interest in nursing, Clara may have drawn inspiration from family stories of her great-aunt, [Martha Ballard](, who served the town of Hallowell (later Augusta), Maine, as a midwife for over three decades. Ballard helped deliver nearly a thousand infants between 1777 and 1812, and in many cases administered medical care in much the same way as a formally trained doctor of her era....

In April 1862 after the First Battle of Bull Run, Barton established an agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. She was given a pass by General William Hammond to ride in the army ambulances to provide comfort to the soldiers and nurse them back to health.

She lobbied the U.S. Army bureaucracy, at first without success, to bring her own medical supplies to the battlefields. Finally, in July 1862, she obtained permission to travel behind the lines, eventually reaching some of the grimmest battlefields of the war and serving during the sieges of Petersburg, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia.

In 1864 she was appointed by Union general Benjamin Butler as the “lady in charge” of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln placed Barton in charge of the search for the missing men of the Union army. While engaged in this work she traced the fate of 30,000 men. When the war ended, she was sent to Andersonville, Georgia, to set up and mark the graves of Union soldiers buried there. This experience launched her on a nationwide campaign to identify soldiers missing during the Civil War. She published lists of names in newspapers and exchanged letters with soldiers’ families.

Barton delivered lectures on her war experiences, which were well received. She met Susan B. Anthony and began a long association with the suffrage movement. She also became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and became an activist for black civil rights.

The years of toil during the Civil War and her dedicated work searching for missing soldiers debilitated Barton’s health. In 1869, her doctors recommended a restful trip to Europe. In 1870, while she was overseas, she became involved with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its humanitarian work during the Franco-Prussian War.

Created in 1864, the ICRC had been chartered to provide humane services to all victims of war under a flag of neutrality.

When Clara Barton returned to the United States, she inaugurated a movement to gain recognition of the International Committee of the Red Cross by the United States government. When she began this organizing work in 1873, most Americans thought the U.S. would never again face a calamity like the Civil War, but Barton finally succeeded during the administration of President James Garfield, using the argument that the new American Red Cross could respond to crises other than war.

As Barton expanded the original concept of the Red Cross to include assisting in any great national disaster, this service brought the United States the “Good Samaritan of Nations” label.

Barton naturally became President of the American branch of the society, which was founded on May 21, 1881. John D. Rockefeller donated funds to create a national headquarters in Washington, DC, located one block from the White House.


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