Clarissa Harlow Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts,on December 25th, 1821. She was the youngest of the six children of Captain Stephen Barton and his wife Sarah Stone Barton.
Having a keen interest in education since her younger years, when she was only 3 years old, she was sent to school with her older brother Stephen. At the age of 10, she had had her first experience with a patient, when her brother David fell off the roof of their barn and had to undergo a surgery.
David had suffered severe injuries but Clara was dedicated to nursing him back to good health. Two years later, David received a full recovery due to Clara’s extraordinary valor and dedication. This event was the turning point in her life that sparked her passion and love for healing others.
Her parents persuaded her to become a school teacher so at the age of 15, Clara decided to become a teacher and worked in education for several years. In 1852, she opened a public school in Bordentown, New Jersey, several years later she decided to move to Washington, D.C. where she worked at the Patent Office.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Clara volunteered at the local infirmary taking care of the wounded soldiers and collecting and distributing supplies for the Union Army. Clara first saw combat in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1862, where she served as an independent nurse and also took care of the soldiers wounded at Antietam.
She was so dedicated and passionate about her work that many soldiers addressed her as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
When the American Civil War ended, Clara worked in the War Department writing to many families who inquired about men who had been reported missing. She and her assistants received and answered over 63,000 letters and identified over 22,000 missing men.
In 1869 Clara visited Geneva, Switzerland and was introduced to the Red Cross organization during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – 1871.
In Europe, she was asked to be the a representative for the American Branch of the organization and when she returned home to the United States, she began to lobby for an American branch of this international organization.
In 1881 she got her wish, the American Red Cross Society was founded and Clara served as its first president. During1884, she chartered steamers to carry needed supplies up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to assist flood victims.
In 1892, she organized assistance for Russians suffering from famine by shipping them 500 railroad cars of Iowa cornmeal and flour.
She led her delegation of 50 doctors and nurses within days after the Johnstown Flood in 1889 and also helped the victims of the Galveston hurricane in 1900. Clara Barton resigned from the American Red Cross in 1904 but remained active giving speeches and lectures.
You can read more about the Johnstown Flood in our article: Johnstown: The Flood of the Rich & Famous – Devastating Results After the Dam Broke
She is the author of a book entitled The Story of My Childhood, which was published in 1907. She lived an amazing live and sadly Barton died of tuberculosis at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12th, 1912, at the age of 90.