Youth, education, family nursing
Barton was born to Captain Stephen and Sarah Barton in Oxford,
Massachusetts. Her father was a farmer and horse breeder while
her mother managed the household. The two later helped found the
first Universalist Church in Oxford. She was the youngest of five
siblings. All her brothers and sisters were all at least 10 years
older. Young Clara was home-educated and extremely bright. It
is said that her older brothers and sisters were kept busy answering
her many questions, and each sibling taught her complementary
skills, her older sisters being teachers and her brothers happy
to teach her how to ride horses and do other things thought of
being only appropriate for men.
Barton also spent four years at the Liberal Institute in Clinton,
New York. As a child, she was a shy and retiring little girl.
At the age of 11, when her brother became ill, for 2 years Clara
stayed by his side and learned to administer all his medicine,
including the "great, loathsome crawling leeches." This
was an early indication of what would become Clara's lifework.
organizing, learning bureaucracy, a mission
Clara became a teacher at age 17, a post that she was to hold
for the next 18 years. For ten years, Clara taught in a small
Massachusetts town, where her brother owned a factory. After she
was invited to teach in a private school in Bordentown, New Jersey,
Barton recognized the community's need for free education, and
despite opposition,she set up one of the first free public schools
in the state, which is now Barton High school in New Jersey.
1854 she suffered from a serious nervous breakdown probably brought
on by overwork. She took a break from teaching (which would be
called a sabbatical in modern times) and attended the Clinton
Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York, where she studied analytic
geometry, calculus, astronomy, mathematics and natural science
in addition to French, German, ancient history, philosophy and
religion. Afterward, she was appointed to a job as a clerk in
the Patent Office in Washington, D.C. here she learned the ins
and outs of the federal bureaucracy.
her father was dying, they had a conversation that she later said
changed her life. He gave Clara a command that she would always
a patriot he bade me serve my country with all I had, even with
my life if need be; as the daughter of an accepted Mason, he bade
me seek and comfort the afflicted everywhere, and as a Christian
he charged me to honor God and love mankind."
When the American Civil War began, Barton resigned her position
in the Patent Office to devote herself to the care of wounded
soldiers on the field of battle. With the outbreak of war and
the cascade of wounded Union soldiers into Washington, Miss Barton
quickly recognized the unpreparedness of the Army Medical Department.
In April 1861, after the First Battle of Bull Run, she established
an agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers.
For nearly a year, she lobbied the U.S. Army bureaucracy in vain
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 and Richmond. Barton
delivered aid to soldiers of both the North and South. In 1864
she was appointed by Union General Benjamin Butler "lady
in charge" of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the
1865, President Abraham Lincoln placed her in charge of the search
for the missing men of the Union army, and while engaged in this
work she traced the fate of 30,000 men. As the War ended, she
was sent to Andersonville, Georgia, to identify 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 veterans and soldiers' families. She also delivered
lectures on her war experiences, which were well received. She
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.
sees the International Red Cross in action
The search for missing soldiers and years of toil during the Civil
War physically debilitated Miss Barton. In 1869, her doctors recommended
a restful trip to Europe. In 1870, while she was overseas (on
"vacation"), she became involved with the International
Red Cross and its humanitarian work during the war between France
and Prussia. Created in 1864, the International Red Cross had
been chartered to provide humane services to all victims during
wartime under a flag of neutrality.
the American Red Cross
When she returned to the United States, she inaugurated a movement
to secure recognition of the International Red Cross society by
the United States government. When she began this organizing work
in 1873, no one thought the U.S. would ever again face an experience
like the Civil War, but she finally succeeded during the administration
of President James Garfield on the basis that the new American
Red Cross organization could also be available to respond to other
types of crisis. 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 gave money to create a national headquarters
in Washington, DC, located one block from the White House.
Various authorities call her a “Deist-Unitarian.”
However, her actual beliefs varied throughout her life across
a spectrum between freethought and deism. In a 1905 letter to
her friend, Norman Thrasher, she called herself a “Universalist.”
Clara Barton continued to do relief work in the in the battle
field as an aid until she was well into her 70s. She went to Cuba
with a cargo of supplies in 1898 and spent six weeks on the scene
of the Galveston, Texas floods, at age 79. She resigned from the
American Red Cross in 1904 at the age of 83 and spent her remaining
years in Glen Echo, Maryland. She died in 1912 at age 90, and
is buried less than a mile from her birthplace in a family plot
in Oxford, Massachusetts.
published source sums her life up this way: "Clara Barton
was one of America's greatest heroines -- a true patriot and philanthropist
who, when she saw a practical need, gave every ounce of her strength
to address it. "
American Red Cross she founded is one of the largest humanitarian
organizations in the entire world. Clara was the most decorated
American woman, receiving the Iron Cross, the Cross of Imperial
Russia, and the International Red Cross Medal. Her final act was
founding the National First Aid Society in 1904. In 1942, a United
States Liberty ship named the SS Clara Barton was launched. She
was scrapped in 1970.
Clara Barton's Birthplace House and Museum
Clara Barton's Birthplace in North Oxford, Massachusetts is operated
as a house museum as part of The Barton Center for Diabetes Education,
Inc., a humanitarian project established in Clara Barton's honor
to educate and support children with diabetes and their families.
Barton National Historic Site
In 1975, Clara Barton National Historic Site was established as
a unit of the National Park Service at her Glen Echo, Maryland
home. The first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments
of a woman, it preserves the early history of the American Red
Cross and the last home of its founder. Clara Barton spent the
last 15 years of her life in her Glen Echo home, and it served
as an early headquarters of the American Red Cross as well.
National Park Service has restored eleven rooms, including the
Red Cross offices, parlors and Miss Barton's bedroom. Visitors
to Clara Barton National Historic Site can gain a sense of how
Miss Barton lived and worked surrounded by all that went into
her life's work. Visitors to the site are led through the three
levels on a guided tour emphasizing Miss Barton's use of her unusual
home, and come to appreciate the site in the same way visitors
did in Clara Barton's lifetime.