Clara Barton

Clara Barton circa 1865 (Photograph by Matthew Brady)

Clara Barton circa 1865 (Photograph by Matthew Brady)

Clarissa (“Clara”) Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts and is best known for founding the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881.

In May 1839, she became a school teacher and spent the next several years teaching children in Oxford and North Oxford.  In 1845, she founded a school for the children of mill workers in West Millbury.   From 1850 until 1851, she studied at the Clinton Liberal Institute in Oneida County, New York.  She later resumed her teaching career and in 1852 founded the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey.  In 1854, she moved to Washington D.C. to work as a recording clerk at the U.S. Patent Office.   While her initial $1400 annual salary was on par with salaries of men working in the same office, political and social opposition by some to women working in government offices later resulted in her 1855 demotion to a copyist and eventually the elimination of her position at the Patent Office in 1857.  She returned to the Patent Office in 1860 after the election of Abraham Lincoln.  About a week after the start of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, Barton began organizing the collection of supplies for wounded soldiers.   In August 1862, she received permission to transport supplies directly to the battlefield.  On August 13, 1862 she arrived at the Battle of Cedar Mountain (Culpepper) in Virginia and began tending to the wounded at both Union and Confederate field hospitals.  From 1862 to 1864, she continued to travel to Civil War battlefields to provided supplies and medical assistance to wounded soldiers and helped establish a number of field hospitals.   In 1865, she began a campaign to locate missing Civil War soldiers and in March 1865, President Lincoln approved her establishment of the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.  She would spend the next several years directing an extensive search for the missing men but it wasn’t until March 1866 that Congress appropriated funds to reimburse her for the expenses ($15,000) incurred.

In 1877, she began campaigning for the establishment of an American association of the Red Cross.  The International Committee of the Red Cross had been established in August 1864 during the first Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded in Armies in the Field but the United States did not join the organization at the time.    In May 1881, the American Association of the Red Cross was formed and Barton was elected its first president in June 1881.  Over the next few months, numerous local chapters of the American Association of the Red Cross were formed and the organization expanded its role to provide peacetime disaster relief.  In March 1882, the United States signed the Treaty of Geneva and joined the International Red Cross.  In August 1884,  Barton was a delegate to the International Conference of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland and helped pass an amendment to the Geneva treaty that expanded the role of the International Red Cross to providing peacetime disaster relief.

In 1905, Barton established the National First Aid Association of America which focused on first aid education and emergency preparedness as well as producing first aid kids.

Barton died on April 12, 1912 in  Glen Echo, Maryland at the age of 90.

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