Clara Barton


"The Angel of the Battlefield"

Clara Barton: "The Angel of the Battlefield"

Clarissa "Clara" Harlowe Barton- (1821-1912)

Clarissa "Clara" Barton is best known as the founder of the American Red Cross. She began her lifetime of helping others at the beginning of the Civil War, when she organized medical care for Union troops wounded in the Baltimore Riots of 1861.

Born into a middle-class family in Oxford Massachusetts, she entered into a typical middle-class career for a woman at the time as a school teacher. When the war began, she was living in Washington D.C. , working as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, (at the time, she was the first woman to hold the important clerkship position in the Federal government), when she saw the need to help wounded soldiers. Prior to Barton's work with wounded soldiers, the military had never allowed female nurses in army camps or hospitals. She accompanied the U.S. Army as it marched and fought in Virginia, nursing the wounded soldiers at great risk to her own life. In one battle, a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress, killing the wounded man she was helping. While with the army, she contracted typhoid fever, but later recovered.

Her efforts to bring better medical care and to help locate missing servicemen laid the groundwork for her future role as the founder and leader of the American Red Cross, which she began in 1881. Her drive to create an American chapter of the Red Cross, came during a trip to Europe, which began in 1869. While there, she learned of the International Red Cross, an organization to which the United States did not belong . Observing Red Cross volunteers at work with the wounded during the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War (see Franco-German Wars), she saw the need for the United States to form its own branch of the Red Cross. One feature of the U.S. Red Cross that she added to the original role as a source of wartime aid, was the idea of Red Cross assistance in times of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods.

Under Clara Barton's leadership, the American Red Cross's early peacetime work included helping victims of of the Mississippi and Ohio River floods in 1882 and 1884, the Texas famine of 1886, the yellow fever epidemic in 1887 in Florida, an Illinois earthquake in 1888, and the now-famous 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood. Through Barton's and the Red Cross's peacetime work, other countries saw need for such peacetime aid and the Geneva Convention adopted the so-called "American Amendment" to its charter in 1884 to make peacetime work part of the purpose of the International Red Cross. The American Red Cross first experience in war was in the Spanish-American War of 1898. In her career after the Civil War, she also travelled the country giving speeches, for which she was paid quite well. Her friendship with Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe led her to support the women's suffrage movement. She also supported civil rights for freed African-Americans after the war.

She ran the Red Cross until retiring in 1904. She died in Glen Echo, Maryland on April 12, 1912.

Clara Barton Personal Information:

Role in the war years: Clara Barton organized relief efforts for wounded Union soldiers. She worked as a nurse, and worked to bring better medical care for the wounded. She also began efforts to locate soldiers missing in action.

Soldiers called her "The Angel of the Battlefield," for her nursing work.

Date of Birth: December 25, 1821

Date of Death: April 12, 1912

Occupation: Nurse

Pre-War: School Teacher, Founder of a free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey, first female clerk in the U.S. Patent Office

Post-War: Nurse, Founder of the American Red Cross


Links and Resources

Internet Links:

Clara Barton National Historic Site --From the National Park Services. Provides information on the Glen Echo house which served as Barton's home, the headquarters for the American Red Cross, and a warehouse for disaster relief supplies. Includes biography, images, and lesson plans.

Clara Barton Fansite--

Testimony of Clara Barton to Congress -Testifies during the 39th Congress concerning her experiences and observations while working in Andersonville, Georgia. Her testimony is recorded in the Reports of the Committees of the House of Representatives on February 21, 1866.

Clara Barton in Dansville --Traces Barton's service during the years of 1866 and 1876-1886.

Clara Barton: American Humanitarian

Life Stories of Civil War Heroes: Clara Barton --Biography of the nurse and founder of the American Red Cross.

Profiles in Caring: Clara Barton --Tribute to the woman who was known during the U.S. Civil War as the Angel of the Battlefield.

Spectrum Biography: Clara Barton

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