Clara Barton | Biography
Clara Barton | Biography

Quick Information

  • Full Name Clarissa Harlowe Barton
  • Nickname Clara Barton
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace Oxford, Massachusetts
  • Born Year And Birthday 25-12-1821
  • Place Of Death Glen Echo, Maryland
  • Death Date 12-04-1912

Clara Barton | Biography

A humanitarian activist

A humanitarian activist, Clara Barton has played an impactful role in establishing American customs during the war, calamities, and gender equality.


Quick Information
  • Full Name Clarissa Harlowe Barton
  • Nickname Clara Barton
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace Oxford, Massachusetts
  • Profession A humanitarian activist
  • Birth Date 25-12-1821
  • Place Of Death Glen Echo, Maryland
  • Death Date 12-04-1912

A humanitarian activist, Clara Barton has played an impactful role in establishing American customs during the war, calamities, and gender equality.

Who is Clara Barton?

Clara Barton is the founder of the American Red Cross. She was initially a teacher who opened the first public school in New Jersey. Later she became an office clerk at the US Patent Office and eventually routed to nursing to take care of the wounded and sick soldiers during the American Civil War.

Barton was inspired by Henry Dunant’s humanitarian activities in Geneva, so she assisted the Red Cross during the Franco-Germany war. Later, she established Red Cross in America, mandating the committee to aid not only during the war but also during other natural calamities. She also campaigned to insist the American government sign the Geneva Convention, which was an international legal instrument protecting the victims of war.

Besides humanitarian projects, Barton actively participated in America's Women Suffragist movements, providing support and voice for the feminist revolution.

Early Life and Work

Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton on December 25, 1821, in Oxford, Massachusetts, she was her parents' youngest child. Her four older siblings were relatively older, so they were more like her guardians than playmates during her childhood.

When she was eleven, her older brother David got into an accident and was bedridden for almost two years. She helped in tending care to his injuries and nursed him back to health, which at a young age, made her recognize the essence of nursing.

Barton was a shy and timid child, but she excelled in both reading and writing at school. Hence, from the age of eighteen, she started teaching to local people near her home at Oxford. Later she joined the Liberal Institute at Clinton, New York, from 1850 to 1851 and eventually opened the first free public school in 1852, named Bordertown in New Jersey. 

Bordertown flourished under her leadership. In fact, it was so influential that the townsmen insisted on having a male principal instead of Barton. That affected her deeply, so she left teaching entirely and moved to Washington DC. On her leave, she said, “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

In Washington, Barton worked at the US Patent Office from 1854 to 1857. During her time at the office, women working in the same realm as men were frowned upon. She had to endure deeds of misogyny in her workplace; most of the time, she did not receive equal pay or enough pay for her work done. Due to the political changes in the capital in 1857, she was fired, and she had to go back to Massachusetts. She later returned to Patent Office in 1860, after Abraham Lincoln became the president.

American Civil War

America went through a civil war from 1861 to 1865. Barton was extremely mindful of the war atrocities and was highly involved in aiding the wounded soldiers.

For instance, in 1862, despite the War Department's objection, she, along with her friends, distributed first aid supplies to the fields where hospitals and camps were shorthanded. She insisted on caring for the wounded, and due to her graceful presence and support, she was named the ‘the angel of the battlefield’ by her patients. She continued her assistance to the medical officers, and eventually, in 1864, she was appointed as the Superintendent of the Union of Nurses for the Army of James.

Amidst the end of the war, the US government worked on accumulating information on the missing Civil War soldiers. Barton was appointed to set up the records bureau under the President's request, after which she helped in locating the unmarked graves of nearly 13,000 prisoners at Andersonville, Georgia.

After the war, she resumed teaching and then went on sessions to share her war experiences. The crowds adored her, and people came to hear her give speeches on her encounters. She settled in New York during her teaching phase, but she went through a physical breakdown and suggested that the doctors take a leave from all her involvements.

In 1869, she left for Europe to travel and subsequently found out about the humanitarian initiatives of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. During her stay, France and Germany were in the midst of a conflict, so she assisted the Red Cross from 1870-1871.

Founding the American Red Cross

Upon her return to the United States in 1873, she actively advocated for the Geneva Treaty. Geneva's laws incorporated the framework to protect the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked soldiers in times of war. It had immense humanitarian bolster in governing victims of the war. She led a successful campaign for the framework to be signed by America, finally signing in 1882.

But before that, in 1881, she successfully established the American Red Cross, associating America with the global network of the Red Cross, with the help of her influential friends such as Fredrick Douglas. The same year the first local Red Cross was established in St. Paul’s United Lutheran Church in Dansville, New York.

Barton was the first president of the American Red Cross. The committee received its first congressional charter from the government in 1900, on the amendments of the alliance, Barton included the provisions of distributing aid not only in times of war but also in times of calamities such as famines, flood, earthquake, tornadoes, and pestilence. Those provisions extended the mandate of the Red Cross, and it officially provided relief in the site of the Johnstown Flood and the Galveston, Texas flood. Eventually, after her extensive contribution to Cuba during the Spanish-American war, she resigned at the age of 83, serving the committee from 1881 to 1904.

During her time with the Red Cross and even after her tenure, she published several books—History of the Red Cross in 1882, The Red Cross in Peace and War in 1899, and The Story of My Childhood in 1907.

Later Years and Death

Although she was active in the suffrage movement while working for the committee, she was dedicated more actively to the movement after leaving the committee. She was a friend to Susan B. Anthony, one of the pioneering suffrage activists, so she actively spoke during the national women’s suffrage conventions and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Conventions in 1893, 1902 1904, and 1906.

She even hosted several NAWSA Convention receptions, accommodating hundreds of convention members, at her home, which was a glorified sanctum of her medals, decorations, and other memorabilia. Then in 1909, she went on to serve on the honorary Advisory committee of the National Committee on the Petition to Congress for Women Suffrage.

Barton died on April 12, 1912, at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland. Her role in making America sign the Geneva Treaty and establishing the American Red Cross stood as one of the legendary contributions by a woman, from a time when women were not conceived as equals.

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