Clara Barton was the daughter of Captain Stephen Carton, who was a member of local militia and a politician, who inspired Clara’s patriotism and humanitarianism. Plagued by shyness, she eventually gained confidence and motivation after receiving her first teacher’s certificate in 1839.
In 1861, the American Civil War erupted, and Barton served her country by providing wounded and sick soldiers with clothing, food, and supplies, as well as emotional support. After the war, she became the American representative of the Red Cross, which responded to war crises and natural disasters like earthquakes, forest fires, and hurricanes.
After years of humanitarian service, Clara Barton passed away in her home at the age of 90, from tuberculosis.
Lived: December 25, 1821 - April 12, 1912
Why She Matters
Barton founded the American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization that continues to provide emergency assistance, disaster relief, and education.
Shortly after receiving her teacher’s certificate, she conducted an effective redistricting campaign that allowed children of workers to receive education, earning the respect of even the most rambunctious young male students.
Was contracted to open the first free school in Bordentown in 1852, the first ever “free school” in new Jersey. After one year, additional staff were needed to teach over 600 students.
Was in a relationship with an officer, Colonel John J. Elwell; however she never married.
After some time distributing medical supplies to the Union soldiers onto the battlefield, Barton finally gained permission to work on the front lines.
Was known as the “American Nightingale” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”, for her frequent timely assistance as she served the troops at many battles and maintained Army hospitals.
Launched the Office of Missing Soldiers in response to unanswered inquiries from distraught relatives of soldiers who were buried in unmarked graves as “missing”; over the course of four years, she helped to find, identify, and properly bury over 33,000 soldiers who died in various prison and POW camps.
Was introduced to the Red Cross during her trip to Geneva, Switzerland by Dr. Appia, who later invited her to be a representative for the American branch
Barton succeeded in convincing President Chester Arthur that the American Red Cross could respond to crises other than war -- crises such as natural disasters and emergency services.
She advocated “equal pay for equal work” for women.
Leaving a Legacy
Barton’s service to humanity is reflected in the services provided daily by those who serve at the American Red Cross throughout the nations and in various trouble areas around the world
The National Park Service manages the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo
Many schools and streets are named after Clara Barton; there is even a crater on Venus named after her