The American humanitarian Clara Barton (1821-1912) was the founder of the American Red Cross. Her work made her a symbol of humanitarianism.
Clara Barton was born on Dec. 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Mass. She was the youngest child of Stephen Barton, a farmer and state legislator who had served in the Revolution under Gen. Anthony Wayne; she later recalled that his tales made war early familiar to her.
Well-spoken and well-read, at the age of 15 Clara Barton began teaching at nearby schools. In 1850 she went to teach at Bordentown, N.J., where state tradition required paid schooling and thus served few children. Barton offered to teach without salary if payment were waived. She later took pride in having established the first free school in New Jersey and having raised enrollment in Bordentown from 6 to 600. When town officials decided to appoint a male administrator over her, she resigned. At this time she suffered her first crisis of nervous illness, associated in part with uncertainty about her future.
In 1853 she obtained an appointment as copyist in the Patent Office in Washington, D.C., becoming the first woman in America to hold such a government post. She continued this work till April 1861, when the Civil War began and she determined to serve the Federal troops.
Civil War Activities
Although the U.S. Sanitary Commission was formed in June 1861 to aid soldiers, Barton had little association with it. (Casual reports later misnamed her as one of its founders.) Her own enterprise involved appeals for provisions to be carried into the war zones; she collected and stored them in Washington for personal distribution. In 1862 the U.S. surgeon general permitted her to travel to the front, and she implemented this order with directives from generals John Pope and James S. Wadsworth, who welcomed her work. Barton was present with Federal forces during the siege of Charleston, S.C., and also at engagements in the Wilderness and at Fredericksburg, Va., and elsewhere.
Barton's mission was not primarily that of a nurse. She became increasingly adept at obtaining and passing out provisions, though her courage and humanity made her a vital presence everywhere. In 1864 she made her most influential connection, joining Gen. Benjamin F. Butler with the Army of the James. She later visited the notorious prison camp at Andersonville, Ga., to identify and mark Union graves.
In 1865 she conceived the project of locating missing soldiers and obtained a note of endorsement from President Lincoln. She set up the Bureau of Records in Washington and traced perhaps 20, 000 names. She also lectured on her experiences until her voice failed in 1868.
Barton's health continued to trouble her; in 1869 she went to Geneva, Switzerland, for rest and a change. There, officials of the International Red Cross, organized in 1864, urged her to seek United States agreement to the Geneva Convention recognizing the work of the Red Cross; the powerful U.S. Sanitary Commission had been unable to obtain it. But before Barton could turn to the task, the Franco-Prussian War began.
She offered her services to the Grand Duchess of Baden in administering military hospitals. Her most original idea (developed further in later situations) was to put needy Strasbourg women to work sewing garments for pay. Later, with the French defeated and Paris held by the Commune, she entered the starving city to distribute food and clothing. She served elsewhere in France—in Lyons again instituting her work system. She was awarded the Iron Cross of Merit by the German emperor, William I, in 1873; this was one of many such honors.
American Red Cross
Clara Barton settled in Danville, N.Y., where for several years she was a semi-invalid. In 1877 she wrote a founder of the International Red Cross, offering to lead an American branch of the organization. Thus, at 56 she began a new career.
In 1881 Barton incorporated the American Red Cross, with herself as president. A year later her extraordinary efforts brought about United States ratification of the Geneva Convention. She herself attended conferences of the International Red Cross as the American representative. She was, however, far from bureaucratic in interests. Although wholly individualistic and unlike reformers who worked on programs for social change, she did a great social service as activist and propagandist.
In 1883 Barton served as superintendent of the Women's Reformatory Prison, Sherborn, Mass., thus deviating from a career marked by single-minded commitment to her major cause. As a Red Cross worker, she went to Michigan, which had been ravaged by fires in 1882, and to Charleston, S.C., which had suffered an earthquake. In 1884 she traveled the Ohio River, supplying flood victims. Five years later she went to Johnstown, Pa., to help it recover from a disastrous flood. In 1891 Barton traveled to Russia, which was enduring famine, and in 1896 to Turkey, following the Armenian massacres. Barton was in her late 70s when the Cuban insurrection required relief measures. She prepared to sail in aid of Cubans, but the outbreak of the Spanish-American War turned her ship into a welfare station for Americans as well. As late as 1900 she visited Galveston, Tex., personally to supervise relief for victims of a tidal wave. In 1900 Congress reincorporated the Red Cross, demanding an accounting of funds. By 1904 public pressures and dissension within the Red Cross itself had become too much for Barton, and on June 16 she resigned from the organization. (She even entertained unrealistic thoughts of beginning another one.) A figure of international renown, she retired instead to Glen Echo, Md., where she died on April 12, 1912.
Clara Barton was the subject of innumerable sketches and books, many merely eulogistic and even fanciful. She herself wrote The Story of My Childhood (1907), as well as enlightening accounts of her work, such as The Red Cross in Peace and War (1899). Most useful for general purposes is Ishbel Ross, Angel of the Battlefield: The Life of Clara Barton (1956). William E. Barton, Life of Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross (2 vols., 1922), is adulatory but reproduces revealing letters. Percy H. Epler, The Life of Clara Barton (1915), details her life as it appeared to her contemporaries. □
"Clara Barton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404700473.html
"Clara Barton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404700473.html
Barton, Clara (1821-1912)
Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Founder of the american red cross
Responsibility. With her indomitable will, limitless energy, and sense of mission, Clara Barton was ideally suited to work on the battlefront during the Civil War and in disaster relief as the head of the American Red Cross, whose founding was largely a personal achievement. Born on Christmas Day 1821 to prosperous farmers Stephen Barton and Sarah Stone Barton in Oxford, Massachusetts, Clarissa Harlowe Barton was a shy and sensitive child with a quick temper. Born ten years later than her youngest sibling, Clara grew up with no playmates but with a good education. Her mother, troubled by Clara’s shyness, consulted phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler, who offered the advice, “Throw responsibility upon her…As soon as her age will permit, give her a school to teach.” So, at age fifteen, Clara Barton began a career as a teacher.
Teacher. Despite her youth and inexperience, she was immediately successful and gained self-confidence as well as initiative. After running several district schools, she moved to North Oxford and for ten years oversaw the education of local children and workers of a mill owned by her brothers. After completing a course at the Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York, she accepted a teaching position in Bordentown, New Jersey, where she displayed the qualities that would make her both a powerful and controversial figure. At the time, free public schools were a rarity, and Barton offered to serve three months without pay if the town would make the school free for all the town’s children. Overcoming powerful opposition, she personally persuaded the town’s leaders to support her experiment. It was such a success that a larger schoolhouse had to be built and an assistant teacher hired. But when opposition to a woman heading so large a school caused the town to appoint a male principal, Barton resigned rather than accept a subordinate role, thus ending her eighteen-year career in education.
An Angel. In 1854 Barton moved to Washington, finding employment as a clerk in the Patent Office. In 1861 she began her war service by supplying the needs of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, which en route to Washington had had to fight its way through Baltimore (many of whose residents sympathized with the South) and whose soldiers had lost much of their baggage. Moved by stories of soldiers’ suffering during the Battle of Bull Run, she took the initiative to advertise in the Worcester Spy for supplies for the wounded. As donated provisions accumulated, she established a distributing agency. During the remainder of the war she displayed great courage and perseverance in getting supplies to the front. The horrors of battle did not faze her. Thousands of soldiers remembered fondly this slight, seemingly frail woman ministering to the wounded during battle, applying to her the sobriquet “Angel of the Battlefield.” Rather than as a field nurse, her greatest service was in securing provisions for the relief of suffering and in getting them to where they were needed promptly.
Mission. Her health failing, Barton went abroad in 1869, but soon found herself in the midst of the Franco Prussian War. It was here that she began her association with the International Red Cross, which had been established in 1864, distributing relief in the French cities of Strasbourg, Paris, Lyons, Belfort, and Montpellier. Honored with the Iron Cross of Merit by the emperor of Germany, she returned home in 1873 determined to establish an American Red Cross. She initiated a crusade almost single-handedly and began an educational campaign, personally visiting the secretaries of state and war as well as influential congressmen and publishing a pamphlet titled “The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention, What Is It?” (1878). In 1881 she persuaded President James Garfield to adopt the treaty bringing the United States into the International Red Cross. After Garfield was assassinated, President Chester A. Arthur secured Senate confirmation of the treaty. In March 1882, after a four-year struggle, the American Red Cross became a reality, almost entirely due to Barton’s efforts.
American Red Cross. For the next twenty-three years she directed the activities of the organization, personally supervising its relief work during the various natural disasters of the period and during the Spanish-American War. She ran the Red Cross largely as her personal fiefdom, which was both its strength and its weakness: its strength because of the energy and zeal with which she directed the organization, and its weakness because her domineering role inhibited its growth and failed to inspire public confidence. While she was perfectly suited for the relief work itself, she was not as well qualified to run a large, bureaucratic organization. Her unwillingness to delegate responsibility and her arbitrary governance (she often acted without consulting the Red Cross’s executive committee) offended members and potential supporters. Public confidence waned as the organization’s accounting practices came under question, finally resulting in a congressional investigation. After a bitter fight she resigned the presidency, making possible a thorough reorganization of the society. Embittered by the affair, she briefly entertained the idea of going to Mexico to establish a Red Cross there but was finally dissuaded. She spent her remaining years at her home just outside Washington and died on Good Friday, 12 April 1912.
David H. Burton, Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity (Westport, Conn. & London: Greenwood Press, 1995);
Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton: Professional Angel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987);
Ishbel Ross, Angel of the Battlefield (New York: Harper, 1956).
"Barton, Clara (1821-1912)." American Eras. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536601365.html
"Barton, Clara (1821-1912)." American Eras. 1997. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536601365.html
Born: December 25, 1821
North Oxford, Massachusetts
Died: April 21, 1922
Glen Echo, Maryland
Ahumanitarian works for the well-being of others. The American humanitarian Clara Barton was the founder of the American Red Cross. Her work helping people in times of war and times of peace made her a symbol of humanitarianism.
Early life and career
Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. She was the youngest child of Stephen Barton, a farmer and state law maker who had served in the American Revolution (1775–83), and his wife, Sarah. She later recalled that his tales made war familiar to her at an early age. Barton acquired skills that would serve her well when, at age eleven, she helped look after a sick older brother. In return her brother taught her skills that young women did not usually learn, such as carpentry.
The teenage Barton was very shy but was also well spoken and well read. Her mother suggested that she put her gifts to work by becoming a teacher. At age fifteen Barton began teaching at nearby schools. In 1850 she left to teach at Bordentown, New Jersey. Families in Bordentown were required to pay for children's schooling. Thus many children were unable to attend. Barton offered to teach without salary if children could attend for free. She later took pride in having established the first free school in New Jersey and in having raised enrollment from six to six hundred. However, when town officials decided to appoint a male principal over her, she resigned.
Civil War activities
Barton was working for the patent office in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War (1861–65) began. She decided to serve the Federal troops by personally collecting and storing supplies that people had given freely in support of the troops. In Washington she collected and stored food and medical supplies that could be distributed to the troops. In 1862 she was permitted to travel to places where the fighting was taking place. Barton was with Federal forces during the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and also at battles in other areas.
Barton did not work primarily as a nurse during the war. She became increasingly skilled at obtaining and passing out supplies. However, her courage and concern for people made her presence strongly felt everywhere she went.
In 1865 Barton decided to begin the project of locating missing soldiers. With President Lincoln's approval, she set up the Bureau of Records in Washington and traced perhaps twenty thousand men.
Barton suffered from periods of poor health. In 1869 she went to Geneva, Switzerland, hoping to improve her condition through rest and change. There she met officials of the recently organized International Red Cross, a group that worked to help victims of war. They urged her to seek U.S. agreement to the Geneva Convention, a treaty that permitted medical personnel to be treated as neutral parties who could aid the sick and wounded during wars. Before Barton could turn to this task the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), a war in which France was defeated by a group of German states led by Prussia, began.
Barton helped organize military hospitals during this war. Her most original idea was to put needy women in Strasbourg, France, to work sewing garments for pay. She also introduced this work system in Lyons, France. In 1873 she was awarded the Iron Cross of Merit by the German emperor, William I (1797–1888). It was one of many such honors for Barton.
American Red Cross
Barton then returned to the United States and settled in Danville, New York. In 1877 she wrote to a founder of the International Red Cross and offered to lead an American branch of the organization. Thus, at age fifty-six she began a new career. In 1881 Barton incorporated the American Red Cross; that is, she organized it as a legal corporation. The American Red Cross was devoted to helping people in need during peacetime as well as wartime. She herself served as its president. A year later her extraordinary efforts brought about U.S. agreement to the Geneva Convention.
In 1883 Barton also served as superintendent of the Women's Reformatory Prison in Sherborn, Massachusetts. However, she remained devoted to her major cause. In 1882 she traveled as a Red Cross worker to assist victims of fires in Michigan and earthquake victims in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1884 she brought supplies to flood victims along the Ohio River. Five years later she went to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after it suffered a disastrous flood. Barton also traveled to Russia and Turkey to assist those in need. As late as 1900 she visited Galveston, Texas, to supervise assistance after a tidal wave.
Retirement and death
In 1900 Congress reincorporated the Red Cross and demanded a review of its funds. Soon public pressures and conflict within the Red Cross itself became too much for Barton. She resigned from the organization in 1904. By this point Barton was a figure of international fame. She retired to Glen Echo, Maryland, and died there on April 12, 1912.
For More Information
Burton, David H. Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Dubowski, Cathy East. Clara Barton: Healing the Wounds. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.
Oates, Stephen B. A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1994.
"Barton, Clara." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500079.html
"Barton, Clara." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500079.html
As the Civil War, especially early on, afforded few official roles for women, Barton could carve out an independent niche and use her status to bypass the formidable military bureaucracy. Throughout, she sought to bring humanity and personal dignity to the war; to counteract the brutal and dehumanizing affects of modern, large‐scale carnage. Although her relief activities abated somewhat later in the war, she began in February 1865 the herculean effort of identifying missing men. Much of her attention focused on the unknown dead of Andersonville Prison, securing the identification of nearly 11,000 in that infamous pen.
When the Civil War ended, Barton continued her mission of humanizing the horrors of military suffering. She worked tirelessly for U.S. ratification of the Geneva Conventions of 1864 (conferring neutrality on wounded and hospital personnel in war), and in 1881, organized the American Association of the Red Cross. In 1898, she personally led Red Cross relief efforts in Cuba during the Spanish‐American War.
Rev William E. Barton ., Life of Clara Barton, 2 vols., 1922.
Stephen Oates , A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War, 1994.
John Whiteclay Chambers II. "Barton, Clara." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-BartonClara.html
John Whiteclay Chambers II. "Barton, Clara." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-BartonClara.html
Clara Barton, 1821–1912, American humanitarian, organizer of the American Red Cross, b. North Oxford (now Oxford), Mass. She taught school (1839–54) and clerked in the U.S. Patent Office before the outbreak of the Civil War. She then established a service of supplies for soldiers and nursed in army camps and on the battlefields. She was called the Angel of the Battlefield. In 1865 President Lincoln appointed her to search for missing prisoners; the records she compiled also served to identify thousands of the dead at Andersonville Prison. In Europe for a conference at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870), she went to work behind the German lines for the International Red Cross. She returned to the United States in 1873 and in 1881 organized the American National Red Cross, which she headed until 1904. She worked successfully for the President's signature to the Geneva treaty for the care of war wounded (1882) and emphasized Red Cross work in catastrophes other than war. Among her writings are several books on the Red Cross.
See biographies by I. Ross (1956) and W. E. Barton (1969); S. B. Oates, A Woman of Valor (1994).
"Barton, Clara." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (August 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Barton-C.html
"Barton, Clara." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Barton-C.html