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Clara Barton: A Brief Look at Her Life

By: R.C. Bryan

It is widely noted that Clara Barton founded The American Red Cross, however not many of us know that much about her. The point of this article is not to provide a thorough biography, but to provide a picture of the person whose spirit continues to live today as strongly as it did in 1881.

Clara Barton, the first child of Sarah Stone and Stephen Barton, was born on Christmas Day 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts. Her childhood wasn't an easy one, but even at an early age she demonstrated signs of what was to come. In her late teens her parents, on the advice of a doctor, advised Clara to become a teacher in order to defeat her shyness. She took on forty boys and girls at a district school. After her school acquired an award for discipline, Clara received many job offers, and demanded (and received) the same pay as male teachers.

On April 19, 1861 military personnel came to Washington in disarray, having been routed by the secessionists. Barton and her sister met the men, some of whom she had taught, at the train station. The city had no facilities for the soldiers, and so Clara and her sister took the most severely wounded to her sister’s house and looked after them. Finding that the men’s baggage had been lost in the fighting at Baltimore, Clara solicited local merchants to round up clothing, food, and supplies.

Barton became the recipient of supplies sent to Washington in reply to letters the men had sent home. When large numbers of wounded soldiers arrived in the city following the first battle of Manassas, she collected supplies from groups such as the Worcester Ladies’ Relief Committee, teaching the women what to pack and how to pack it.

Following the war, President Lincoln put Barton in charge of locating Prisoners of War. She replied to hundreds of letters that poured in, giving or requesting information about the dead and missing.

Clara first became associated with the newly formed International Red Cross in Europe when the Franco-Prussian War erupted. She set up a number of aid centers in several war torn cities.

The American Red Cross was formed on May 12, 1881 following four years of lobbying in Washington. The organization struggled financially for a long time but provided great assistance wherever Chapters were set up. Clara Barton made The American Red Cross presence felt in emergencies such as the Johnstown flood, the Sea Island and Galveston hurricanes, and typhoid outbreaks in Butte, Pennsylvania.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton passed away due to pneumonia at Glen Echo on April 12, 1912.


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