Thursday, May 16, 2013

About Miss Clara Barton

Clara Barton
Clara Barton. Photo Courtesy of
So since I’ve been doing so much talking about Clara Barton because I am working on getting my Clara Barton Civil War 150th Anniversary Junior Ranger Badge, I’ve decided to write a series of articles about Clara Barton and the NPS sites associated with her, which are the same sites that are participating in the aforementioned specialty Junior Ranger program. So this is the first in a series of articles about Miss Clara Barton’s history, and as such, I’ll start with an overview of Barton’s life.

Explore on, Junior Rangers! :)

Clara Barton 1875
Clara Barton, circa 1875.Photo Courtesy of

It is said that this was her favorite portrait;
it would seem so, since she had it retouched
and the Red Cross badge added to it. :)

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known to all as Clara, was born on Christmas Day 1821 in North Oxford, MA. She was the youngest of five children. She cared for her siblings in her youth, one of whom was seriously ill. The experience of taking care of her siblings became her primary “medical training.”

Clara worked as a teacher until 1854, when she moved to Washington DC to work as a recording clerk in the US Patent Office. She was working there in Washington DC at the start of the Civil War in 1861. When the 6th Massachusetts Infantry was attacked on their way to their post in Washington DC, the wounded soldiers were sent to the unfinished Capitol building to recover. Barton heard about their condition and brought supplies from her own home to aid them in their recovery. This action would be the start to a lifetime career of aiding others.

Clara Barton on Conflict and Aiding SoldiersDuring the course of the Civil War, she provided food, clothing and medical supplies to the sick and wounded soldiers. Aside from providing tangible materials to aid them, Barton would take care of the soldiers’ emotional needs as well. She would read to and pray with the soldiers and listen to their personal problems, all in an effort to keep their spirits up.

As the war went on, she continued to aid wounded soldiers in Washington DC and would learn how to store and distribute these supplies, and eventually was allowed to establish a supply distribution agency. Despite the great efforts she made on the “sidelines,” Barton knew that the greatest need was on the battlefields themselves. For years, she worked tirelessly to get permission to take her aid out to the battlefields; it wasn’t until 1862 that she would receive official permission to transport these supplies to the area battlefields.

Quote from Dr James Dunn about Clara BartonIt was in August 1862 when she delivered supplies to a field hospital at midnight after the battle of Cedar Mountain that the on-duty surgeon, Dr. James Dunn, would write this famous quote about Clara Barton: “At a time when we were entirely out of dressings of every kind, she supplied us with everything, and while the shells were bursting in every direction...she staid [sic] dealing out shirts...and preparing soup and seeing it prepared in all the hospitals...I thought that night if heaven ever sent out a homely angel, she must be the one—her assistance was so timely.” It it from here that the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield" is derived.

Clara Barton on Danger and DutyThroughout the course of the Civil War, Clara Barton aided countless soldiers and supplied battlefields in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina during major battles. She would risk her life to do so by “following the cannon;” which means that she followed the troops as they marched into battle. And despite the fact that she never had any official training in medicine as a nurse or otherwise, she would assist in tending the wounded and sick soldiers. This was all in addition to providing the critically needed supplies to field doctors and surgeons as she always did.

Clara Barton 1865
Clara Barton, circa 1865.
Photo Courtesy of

This photo taken by Matthew Brady in
Washington DC is the most famous and
widely circulated photograph of Miss Barton.
When the war ended in 1865, Barton established the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army to help locate missing soldiers. This would later be known as the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office. During the four years this office operated, she received and answered more than 63,000 letters and identified over 22,000 missing men.  She was also involved in the effort to assist with the identification of soldier’s graves, and was instrumental in establishing a national cemetery at Andersonville. It was during this time that she was able to identify the graves of almost 13,000 men. She would later testify before Congress about her wartime experiences.

Clara Barton 1881
Clara Barton, circa 1881.
Photo Courtesy of

Clara Barton founded the American
National Red Cross on May 21, 1881
at the age of 60.
After the war, in 1869, Clara Barton traveled to Europe on the advice of her doctor in search of “rest.” But she would not rest. It was during this time that she heard about the humanitarian organization known as the Red Cross based in Geneva, Switzerland. She aided many during her time in Europe by working with the volunteers of the International Red Cross. She became determined to bring the concept of the Red Cross to the United States, so when she returned, she immediately went to work to execute her vision. It wasn’t until 1881 that she was able to establish the American National Red Cross at the age of 60. Over the years, the organization that would later be known simply as the American Red Cross helped people both nationally and internationally during times of natural disasters and wartime.

Clara Barton 1904
Clara Barton, circa 1904.
Photo Courtesy of

Clara Barton resigned as President
of the Red Cross in 1904, after
23 years of service.
Barton spent 23 years leading the American Red Cross. In 1904 she resigned from her post there as President. After leaving the organization she created, Barton immediately turned to work on a new project and established the National First Aid Association of America. This organization, though small and short-lived, worked on providing basic first aid instruction, emergency preparedness skills and developed what we know today as the first aid kit.

Clara Barton died at the age of 90 on April 12, 1912 at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland after a lifetime of intense and dedicated service to the needs of others. This house would become the Clara Barton NHS in 1975, and the first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman.

Sources: and

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