Clarissa Harlowe “Clara” Barton http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Barton was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Her parents were Capt. Stephen Barton, a member of the local militia and a selectman, and Sara Stone Barton, a homemaker. Clara started school when she was three years old when she accompanied her brother Stephen; she excelled in reading and spelling but was very timid. She became good friends with Nancy Fitts, her only known friend. She attended Col. Stones High School but went home almost immediately due to a depression brought about by her timidness.
Captain Barton relocated his family in order to help the widow of his nephew and his four children run a farm. The house where the Barton family was to live needed to be painted and repaired, and Clara persistently offered her assistance. The painter was grateful for the help, but Clara was at a loss of how to spend her time when the task was completed. Clara began playing with her male cousins and kept up with them until she was injured. Her mother decided that she needed to learn some femininity and invited female cousins over to help teach proper social skills.
When Clara was ten years old, her brother David fell from the roof of a barn and was severely injured. Clara assigned herself the task of nursing him back to health and continued to care for him after the doctors had given up. David made a full recovery.
In 1838 Clara began teaching in schools located in Canada and West Georgia and continued for about twelve years. She excelled at handling “rambunctious children” because of her experience with brothers and male cousins. In 1850 Clara “decided to further her education by pursuing writing and languages at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York.” When she completed her studies, she opened a free school in Bordentown, New Jersey, “the first free school to be opened in the state. The attendance under her leadership grew to 603, but the board hired a man to head the school instead of Clara.
In 1855 Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and found work in the US Patent Office. “This was the first time a woman had received a substantial clerkship in the federal government and at a salary equal to a man’s salary.” There was political opposition to women working in the government; her position was reduced and eventually eliminated in 1856 during the James Buchanan administration. She spent three years in Massachusetts with relatives and friends and then returned to Washington, D.C. after Abraham Lincoln was elected. In the autumn of 1861, Clara returned to the patent office as a temporary copyist. “She was probably the first woman to hold a government job in the US.”
Before he passed away, Clara spoke about the war effort with her, and he convinced her that she had a Christian duty to help the soldiers. Following his death, Clara returned to Washington, D.C. in April to gather medical supplies; in August she finally gained permission from Quartermaster Daniel Rucker to work on the front lines of the battle field. Meanwhile, she enlisted Ladies’ Aid societies to help by sending bandages, food, and clothing for the soldiers. She gained support from other people who believed in her cause, with Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts being the most supportive.
Clara supported the soldiers by distributing stores, cleaning field hospitals, applying dressings, and serving food to wounded soldiers from several battles, including Cedar Mountain, Second Bull run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. In 1863 she became romantically involved Colonel John J. Elwell, a married officer.
Union General Benjamin Butler appointed Clara in 1864 as the `lady in charge’ of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James. She had some “harrowing experiences” including having a bullet go through the sleeve of her dress without hitting her and killing the man she was tending. She is known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
When the Civil War ended, Clara ran the Office of Missing Soldiers. She then spent about a year traveling around the country giving lectures about her war experiences. She became mentally and physically exhausted from her tour and received orders from her doctor to go somewhere far away from what she was currently doing. She traveled to Europe for some rest and relaxation and met Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. From these two chance meetings, she “began a long association with the woman’s suffrage movement” as well as “an activist for civil rights.”
Clara traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1869 and was “introduced to the Red Cross and Dr. Appia. Dr. Appia later “[invited] her to be the representative for the American branch of the Red Cross and even [helped] her find financial beneficiaries for the start of the American Red Cross. She became involved in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 when “she assisted the Grand Duchess of Baden in the preparation of military hospitals” and “gave the Red Cross society much aid during the war. The German authorities and the Strasbourg Comite` de Secours asked her to supervise “the supplying of work to the poor of Strasbourg in 1871, after the Siege of Paris.” She was also assigned to supervise “the public distribution of supplies to the destitute people of Paris. When that war was over, she was given the Golden Cross of Baden and the Prussian Iron Cross.
Upon her return to the United States in 1873, Clara began “a movement to gain recognition for the International Committee of the Red Cross by the United States government.” Five years later “in 1878, she met with President Rutherford B. Hayes, who expressed the opinion of most Americans at that time which was the U.S. would never again face a calamity like the Civil War.” During the administration of President Chester Arthur, Clara finally succeeded by “using the argument that the new American Red Cross could respond to crises other than war such as earthquakes, forest fires, and hurricanes.”
The American Red Cross held its first official meeting at Clara’s apartment in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 1881, and she became the president of the organization. The first local society was founded in Dansville, Livingston County, New York, on August 22, 1882, near Clara’s country home.
During the Spanish-American War, the Red Cross “aided refugees and prisoners of the civil war.” The society became involved domestically as well: Ohio River flood in 1884, food and supplies to Texans during the famine of 1887, took workers to Illinois in 1888 after a tornado, and the yellow fever epidemic in Florida in 1888 when she had 50 doctors and nurses responding within days of the Johnstown Flood.
When a humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire erupted in 1897 after the Hamidian Massacres, Clara went to Constantinople. There she negotiated with Abdul Hamid II long enough to gain permission for the first American International Red Cross headquarters in the heart of Turkey. Clara traveled with five other Red Cross expeditions to the Armenian provinces in the spring of 1896 to provide relief and humanitarian aid. At the age of 77, Clara worked in hospitals in Cuba in 1898. Her last field operation as President of the American Red Cross was to aid victims of the Galveston hurricane in 1900 where she established an orphanage for children.
Clara resigned as president of the American Red Cross in 1904 when she was 83 years old because her management of the society was being criticized. She then founded the National First Aid Society.
Retiring to Glen Echo, Maryland, Clara published her autobiography in 1907 with the title The Story of My Childhood. She died on April 12, 1912, in Glen Echo at the age of 90. She contracted tuberculosis two years previously and had been bedridden for a month before her death.
“In 1975, Clara Barton National Historic Site, located at 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo, Maryland, was established as a unit of the National Park Service at Barton’s home, where she spent the last 15 years of her life. One of the first National Historic Sites dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman, it preserves the early history of the American Red Cross, since the home also served as an early headquarters of the organization. The North Oxford, Massachusetts, house in which she was born is now a museum also.
“The National Park Service has restored eleven rooms, including the Red Cross offices, the parlors and Barton’s bedroom. Visitors to Clara Barton National Historic Site can gain a sense of how Barton lived and worked. Guides lead tourists through the three levels, emphasizing Barton’s use of her unusual home. Modern visitors can come to appreciate the site in the same way visitors did in Clara Barton’s lifetime.”
Clara H. Barton published three books: 1) The Red Cross – in Peace and War, Washington, D.C.: American Historical Press (1898); 2) Story of the Red Cross – Glimpses of Field Work, New York: D. Appleton and Company (1904); 3) The Story of My Childhood, New York: Baker & Taylor Company (1907).
Two fictional depictions honor Clara Barton. 1) Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi features Clara Barton and Andersonville Prison, a Civil War prison with terrible conditions. 2) Angel of Mercy (MGM, 1939) is a biographical short subject directed by Edward L. Cahn, starring Sara Haden as Clara Barton and Ann Rutherford as a woman whose brother’s death in a Civil War battle inspires her to join Barton in her work.
Clara Barton also has the honor of having her likeness on a U.S. commemorative stamp issued in 1948 as well as having many places named after her: schools, streets, subdivision, county, town, dormitory, lake, community center, and a crater on Venus.