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Clara BartonClara Barton

Founder of the American Red Cross

1821 - 1912

By Cole Summers

Clara Barton is considered one of the greatest nurses ever. She was a nurse on the battlefield, providing care to soldiers. Clara formed the American Red Cross in 1881.

Clara Barton was born in Massachusetts, on December 25, 1821. Clara and her four older siblings were raised on a small farm by their parents Sarah Stone and Stephen Barton. During her childhood, she was very shy, and her older brothers and sisters were always bossing her around. At school Clara didn't interact with other children. However, she did have some fun. At age 5, her brothers dared her to ride a horse bareback, and she succeeded. Clara read many books, thanks to her sister, Sally. One time, when her older brother David fell off a flagpole, he was seriously injured. The physician gave up hope, but Clara didn't. Clara took care of David for two years before he recovered.

At age seventeen, Clara's mother had a man "read" Clara's strengths and weaknesses. He said Clara was too sensitive for her own good. He also said she would be a great teacher. Clara's family urged her to do teaching. So she did. She went to the Clinton Liberal Institute to learn how to become an even better teacher. Clara's students liked her and learned a lot, because she treated them with respect and joined them in many activities. Later, after seeing a group of boys doing nothing on a sidewalk, Clara opened a school where all people, rich or poor, could attend. Years later, she went to the U.S. government and worked in the Patent Office in Washington, DC, granting permits for inventions.

Clara BartonBut when the Civil War started in 1861, Clara saw pictures of her former students, who were now soldiers. She felt that she had to help. She tried very hard to get a permit to give first aid on the battlefield, and finally, she did. But it was only for campgrounds, where there was no fighting. One day she broke that permit. She went to work on the battlefield immediately .Clara was not in favor of slavery. On the battlefield, she would provide care to all soldiers, Union or Confederate. She cooked food and gave the injured care. Nursing education was not very formalized at that time and Clara did not attend nursing school. So she provided self-taught nursing care. Clara wrote down words dying soldiers wanted to pass on to their families. She was nicknamed "The Angel of the Battlefield." Shortly before President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed, he gave Clara a permit to locate missing soldiers. Later, she found 22,000 soldiers who were marked "missing."

Clara BartonWhen the war was over, Clara traveled to Europe because she was ill. Her physician had urged her to go because the Europeans would not know her and she could stop working. But the physician was wrong. When Clara got there, many people knew of her and visited her. One day she met Dr. Louis Appia and Henri Dunant who had founded the International Red Cross, which helped people who had been hurt in war. Appia talked with Clara about The Red Cross and its work. She stayed and worked for the Red Cross during wars.

When Clara came back to America, she tried to convince President Rutherford Hayes, the Secretary of State and Congress to have the U.S. join the International Red Cross. But months went by and Congress had not yet signed the treaty to join the International Red Cross, so Clara founded the American Red Cross, and became its first President. She wanted the American Red Cross to help the victims of natural disasters, not just war, and she later persuaded the International Red Cross to do that too. Clara led the American Red Cross from 1881 to 1904. The Red Cross had warehouses full of food, water, and health care supplies. In 1905, Clara formed the National First Aid Society to teach people how to give first aid and save lives even when health workers are not there. On April 12, 1912, Clara Barton died in her home in Glen Echo, Maryland.

I think Clara was a brave and self-sacrificing person. She was persistent at her work and she accomplished many things, even though it was hard then for women to work outside the home. Clara Barton was an inspiration to many people. She was a leader who taught American society that we can help people who are caught in disasters. She invented new ways to solve big health problems and saved many lives.


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