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Clara Barton: The nurse who founded the American Red Cross

Marija Georgievska

Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton was an educator, suffragist, and nurse who founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil war and worked in the US Patent Office.

Portrait of Clara Barton.

Portrait of Clara Barton.

Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts and was the youngest of six children. Her father, Captain Stephen Barton,  was a member of the local militia and a selectman. Barton supplemented her early education with practical experience.

When she was ten years old, she assigned herself the task of nursing her brother David back to health after he fell from a roof and received a severe injury.

Clara Barton Homestead in Oxford. Photo Credit

Clara Barton Homestead in Oxford. Photo Credit

She became a teacher in 1839, at only seventeen years old. This profession motivated her to conduct an effective redistricting campaign that allowed the children of workers to receive an education. These projects gave Barton the confidence needed when she demanded equal pay for teaching.

Her father convinced her that it was her duty as a Christian to help the soldiers.

Her father convinced her that it was her duty as a Christian to help the soldiers.

When the Civil War broke out, Barton was one of the first volunteers to appear at the Washington Infirmary and help the wounded soldiers. In 1862, she gained permission from Quartermaster Daniel Rucker to work on the front lines.

Barton organized relief for the wounded, often bringing her own supplies to front lines. There were a lot of people who supported her because they believed in her cause.  These people became her patrons, her most supportive being Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts.

Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work at a time when relatively few women worked outside the home.

Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work at a time when relatively few women worked outside the home.

According to Wikipedia, she was known as the “Angel of Battlefield.” Among her more harrowing experiences was an incident in which a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress without striking her and killed a man to whom she was tending.

In 1864, Barton was appointed as the “lady in charge” of the hospitals at the front of the Army by Union General Benjamin Butler.

Clara Barton was honored with a U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1948.

Clara Barton was honored with a U.S. commemorative stamp, issued in 1948.

After the end of the American Civil War, Barton worked for the War Department. She contacted President Lincoln in hopes that she would be allowed to help reunite missing soldiers and their families or find out more about those who were missing.

She was given the permission, and the search for the missing men commenced.

She also became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and became an activist for civil rights.

She also became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and became an activist for civil rights.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, Barton visited Europe and worked with a relief organization known as the International Red Cross.

When Barton returned to the United States, she inaugurated a movement to gain recognition for the International Committee of the Red Cross by the United States government.

When Barton returned to the United States, she inaugurated a movement to gain recognition for the International Committee of the Red Cross by the United States government.

Inspired by her experience in Europe, after many efforts, in 1881 Barton officially founded the American Red Cross. She continued to live in her Glen Echo, Maryland home which also served as the Red Cross Headquarters.

Another great nurse story from us:Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was executed in WWI by the Germans for saving the lives of soldiers from all sides without distinction

Barton died in her home at the age of 90 on April 12, 1912.