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Clara Barton
Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton
December 25, 1821(1821-12-25)
Oxford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died April 12, 1912 (aged 90)
Glen Echo, Maryland, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Teacher, Nurse, Humanitarian, Founder and first president of the American Red Cross
Spouse(s) none

Clarissa Harlowe "Clara" Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) was a pioneer American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian. She is best remembered for organizing the American Red Cross.


Youth, education, and family nursing

Clara Barton's birthplace, N. Oxford Mass.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in Oxford, Massachusetts, to Stephen and Sarah Barton. She was the youngest of five children. Clara's father was a farmer and horse breeder, while her mother Sarah managed the household. The two later helped found the first Universalist Church in Oxford.

When Clara was eleven, her brother David became her first patient after he fell from a rafter in their unfinished barn. Clara stayed at his side for three years and learned to administer all his medicines, including the "great, loathsome crawling leeches".

As she continued to develop an interest in nursing, Clara may have drawn inspiration from stories of her great-aunt, Martha Ballard, who served the town of Hallowell (later Augusta), Maine, as a midwife for over three decades. Ballard helped deliver nearly one thousand infants between 1777 and 1812, and in many cases administered medical care in much the same way as a formally trained doctor of her era.[1]

On his death bed, Clara's father gave her advice that she would later recall:

"As a patriot, he had me serve my country with all I had, even with my life if need be; as the daughter of an accepted Mason, he had me seek and comfort the afflicted everywhere, and as a Christian he charged me to honor God and love all kind. "The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to open widely for me." -Clara Barton

American Civil War

Clara Barton circa 1866.

In April 20 1862, after the First Battle of Bull Run, Barton established an agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. She was given a pass by General William Hammond to ride in army ambulances to provide comfort to the soldiers and nurse them back to health and lobbied the U.S. Army bureaucracy, at first without success, to bring her own medical supplies to the battlefields. Finally, in July 1862, she obtained permission to travel behind the lines, eventually reaching some of the grimmest battlefields of the war and serving during the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. In 1864 she was appointed by Union General Benjamin Butler as the "lady in charge" of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln placed Clara in charge of the search for the missing men of the Union Army. Around this time, a young soldier named Dorence Atwater came to her door. He had copied the list of the dead without being discovered by the Andersonville officials, and taken it with him through the lines when he was released from the prison. Having been afraid that the names of the dead would never get to the families, it was his intention to publish the list. He did accomplish this. His list of nearly 13,000 men was considered invaluable. When the war ended, Barton and Atwater were sent to Andersonville with 42 headboard carvers, and Barton gave credit to young Dorence for what came to be known as “The Atwater List” in her report of the venture. Dorence also has a report at the beginning of this list, still available through Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. Because of the work they did, they became known as the "Angels of Andersonville," according to a biography of Barton. She was also known as "The Angel of the Battlefield".[2] Her work in Andersonville is displayed in the book, Numbering All the Bones, by Ann Rinaldi. This experience launched her on a nationwide campaign to identify all soldiers missing during the Civil War. She published lists of names in newspapers and exchanged letters with soldiers’ families.

American Red Cross

Barton then achieved widespread recognition by delivering lectures around the country about her war experiences. She met Susan B. Anthony and began a long association with the suffrage movement. She also became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and became an activist for black civil rights, or an abolitionist.

The years of toil during the Civil War and her dedicated work searching for missing soldiers debilitated Barton's health. In 1868, her doctors recommended a restful trip to Europe. In 1870, while she was overseas, she became involved with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its humanitarian work during the Franco-Prussian War. Created in 1864, the ICRC had been chartered to provide humane services to all victims of war under a flag of neutrality.

When Clara 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.[5] When she began work on this project in 1873, most Americans thought the U.S. would never again face a calamity like the Civil War, but Barton finally succeeded during the administration of President James Garfield, using the argument that the new American Red Cross could respond to crises other than war. As Barton expanded the original concept of the Red Cross to include assisting in any great national disaster, this service brought the United States the "Good Samaritan of Nations" label.

Barton naturally became President of the American branch of the society, which was founded on May 21, 1881 in Dansville, N.Y.[3]

Barton at first dedicated the American Red Cross to performing disaster relief, such as after the 1893 Sea Islands Hurricane. This changed with the advent of the Spanish-American War during which it aided refugees and prisoners of war. In 1896, responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the Hamidian Massacres, Barton sailed to Istanbul and after long negotiations with Abdul Hamid II, opened the first American International Red Cross headquarters in the heart of Beijing,China. Barton herself traveled along with five other Red Cross expeditions to the Armenian provinces in the spring of 1896. Barton also worked in hospitals in Cuba in 1898 at the age of seventy-seven.[4] Barton's last field operation as President of the American Red Cross was the relief effort for the victims of the Galveston hurricane of September 1900. The operation established an orphanage for children of the 6,000 dead, helped to acquire lumber for rebuilding houses, and teamed with the New York World newspaper to accept contributions for the relief effort. As criticism arose of her management of the American Red Cross, plus her advancing age, Barton resigned as president in 1904, at the age of 83.

Religious beliefs

While various authorities have called Barton a “Deist-Unitarian" or freethinker or deist; in a 1905 letter to Mrs. Norman Thrasher, she called herself an "Universalist”[5] The term was used then to describe those believing the Universalist Church doctrine, which was also the Church her parents belonged to.

Clara Barton Birthplace Museum

Clara Barton Homestead
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Location: 3 mi. W of Oxford on Clara Barton Rd.
Nearest city: Oxford, Massachusetts
Governing body: Barton Center for Diabetes Education
Added to NRHP: September 9, 1977
NRHP Reference#: 77000202

Clara Barton Birthplace Museum[6] in North Oxford, Massachusetts is operated as part of the Barton Center for Diabetes Education,[7] a humanitarian project established in her honor to educate and support children with diabetes and their families.

Clara Barton National Historic Site


In 1975, Clara Barton National Historic Site was established as a unit of the National Park Service at Barton's Glen Echo, Maryland home, where she spent the last 15 years of her life. One of the first National Historic Sites dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman, it preserves the early history of the American Red Cross, since the home also served as an early headquarters of the organization.

The National Park Service has restored eleven rooms, including the Red Cross offices, the parlors and Barton's bedroom. Visitors to Clara Barton National Historic Site can gain a sense of how Barton lived and worked. Guides lead tourists through the three levels, emphasizing Barton's use of her unusual home. Modern visitors can come to appreciate the site in the same way visitors did in Clara Barton's lifetime.[8]

See also

Places named for Clara Barton


Clara Barton - etching by John Sartain
  1. ^ Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife's Tale: the Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. 1990.
  2. ^ Safranski, Debby Burnett, "Angel of Andersonville, Prince of Tahiti: The Extraordinary Life of Dorence Atwater," Alling-Porterfield Publishing House, 2008
  3. ^ Marks, Mary Jo. "History". American Red Cross Clara Barton #1. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  4. ^ Oates, Stephen B. (1994). A Woman of Valor. Macmillan. p. 382. ISBN 0-02-923405-0. 
  5. ^ "Positive Atheism website". Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  6. ^ "Welcome". Clara Barton Birthplace Museum. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  7. ^ "Barton Center website". Barton Center for Diabetes Education. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  8. ^ "Clara Barton NHS - The House". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 

Published Work

  • Barton, Clara H. The Red Cross-In Peace and War Washington, D.C.: American Historical Press, (1898)
  • Barton, Clara H. Story of the Red Cross-Glimpses of Field Work New York: D. Appleton and Company, (1904)

References and additional reading

  • Barton, William E. The Life of Clara Barton Founder of the American Red Cross New York: AMS Press, (1969)
  • Hutchinson, John F. Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., (1996)
  • Joyce, James Avery. Red Cross International and the Strategy of Peace New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., (1959)
  • Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Clara Barton: Professional Angel Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, (1987)
  • Ross, Ishbel. Angel of the Battlefield: The Life of Clara Barton New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, (1956)
  • Deady, Kathleen,W. "Clara Barton" Mankato:Capstone Press, (2003)
  • Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi features Clara Barton and Andersonville Prison, a Civil War prison with terrible conditions.
  • Safranski, Debby Burnett, "Angel of Andersonville, Prince of Tahiti: The Extraordinary Life of Dorence Atwater," Alling-Porterfield Publishing House, 2008

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CLARA BARTON (1821-), American philanthropist, was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821. She was educated at the Clinton Liberal Institute (then in Clinton, New York). Ill-health compelled her to give up the profession of teaching, which she had taken up when she was only sixteen years old, and from 1854 to 1857 she was a clerk in the Patent Office at Washington. During the Civil War she distributed large quantities of supplies for the relief of wounded soldiers; and at its close she organized at Washington a bureau of records to aid in the search of missing men for whom inquiries were made. In connexion with this work, which was continued for about four years, she identified and marked the graves of more than twelve thousand soldiers in the National Cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia. In 1869 she went for her health to Switzerland. Upon her arrival at Geneva she was visited by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who sought her co-operation in the work of their society. The United States had declined to become a party to the treaty of Geneva on the basis of which the Red Cross Society was founded, but upon the outbreak of the FrancoPrussian War Miss Barton went with members of this society to the seat of hostilities and assisted them in organizing their military hospitals. In 1871 she superintended the distribution of relief to the poor in Strassburg, and in 1872 performed a like service in Paris. For her services she was decorated with the Iron Cross by the German emperor. In 1873 she returned to the United States,. where she at once began her efforts to effect the organization of the United States branch of the Red Cross and to bring her country into the treaty of Geneva, which efforts were successful in 1881-1882. She was the first president of the American Red Cross, holding the position until 1904: and represented the United States at the International conference held at Geneva, 1884; Karlsruhe, 1887; Rome, 1892; Vienna, 1897; and St Petersburg, 1903. She was the author of the American amendment to the constitution of the Red Cross which provides that the society shall distribute relief not only in war but in times of such other calamities as famines, floods, earthquakes, cyclones,and pestilence, and in accordance with this amended constitution, she conducted the society's relief for sufferers from the yellow fever in Florida (1887), the flood at Johnstown, Pennsylvania (1889), the famine in Russia (1891), the hurricane along the coast of South Carolina (1893), the massacre in Armenia (1896), the Spanish-American War in Cuba (1898), the hurricane at Galveston, Texas (1900), and several other calamities. Upon her retirement from the Red Cross she incorporated and became president of "The National First Aid of America" for "first aid to the injured." She wrote An Official History of the Red Cross (1882), The Red Cross in Peace and War (1898), A Story of the Red Cross (1904), and Story of my Childhood (1907).

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Simple English

Clara Barton
Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton
December 25, 1821
Oxford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died April 12, 1912 (aged 90)
Glen Echo, Maryland, U.S.
Known for Founder and first president of the American Red Cross
Spouse none

Clarissa Harlowe "Clara" Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) was an American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian. During the American Civil War, she was in charge of the agency to find missing Union soldiers. She also headed several hospitals in Virginia. She is best remembered for organizing the American Red Cross.[1]



Clara was born on Christmas Day, 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts.[2] She was the fifth and last child of Sarah Stone and Stephen Barton. In her youth, Barton was timid and sensitive, which made household life difficult for Barton.[2]

Clara's father was an important member of the town; he served as the town's moderator, ran a decent farm, and were well-known members of the town's church.[3] Clara shared a special bond with her father. Both of them were adventurous and patriotic. Clara's father often told her stories about war, and they pretended to fight each other in fake battles.

Clara's mother was said to be a very beautiful woman. She was married at the age of seventeen, and by the time she was twenty she had already given birth to four children.[3] She was very practical (good with her hands) and taught Clara many chores around the house. Her mother was strict and wouldn't even let Clara have a toy doll. However, Clara's mother taught her many important things. She was a very strong and determined woman, and was full of common sense, traits that were both passed on to Clara.[3]

Clara's four siblings were all older than she was. Her oldest sister, Dorothy, was seventeen years old when Clara was born; her oldest brother, Stephen, was fifteen; her younger brother, David, was thirteen; and her younger sister, Sally, was ten.[3] She learned many skills from her siblings. Her sisters taught her how to read before she was even three years old.[4] Stephen taught her mathematics, and David taught her how to ride a horse.

As a child, Clara liked to pretend she was a nurse. She took care of sick and injured animals. When she was eleven, her brother Stephen fell off the roof of a barnhouse.[5] This incident had a large effect on Clara, who helped nurse her brother.[6] Stephen suffered a severe injury to his head, and he was close to death for two years. For two years Clara took care of her brother, hardly leaving his bedside. She learned many medical practices, including blood-letting, giving medicine, and applying leeches.[6] Though she didn't realize it, Clara had discovered her talent and love of nursing. After Stephen was treated, Clara felt anxious and restless. She began becoming depressed because she had nothing to do.[2] She tried being a weaver at her brother Stephen's mill, but she quit and looked for a new job.

Early careers


One day, a phrenologist visiting the Barton household told Barton's parents to teach in a school so she could overcome her extreme shyness. Barton was first terrified of this, but she soon taught a class of forty girls and boys in a local school. Barton impressed the children, who were barely younger than she was, and she felt happy at earning their respect.[2] After her school received an award for discipline, Barton received many job offers. She asked for and received the same pay for teaching as male teachers, which was uncommon at the time. Barton taught at the school for ten years.

When she was thirty, Barton enrolled at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. After graduating, two schoolmates, Charles and Mary Norton, invited her to live with their family in Hightstown, New Jersey. Barton began teaching in the local school, and then began starting free public schools like the ones in Massachusetts.[2] The school was very successful, and many new teachers were hired and a new building was built. A man was hired to run the school, and he received a salary almost twice as high as Barton's salary. Barton was angry at this treatment, and she left to find a new job in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.

Barton spent the next five years of her life in the US capital,[7] her first job being a clerk for the government. Department of the Interior records say that she became a clerk in 1855, which makes her the first female to work for the government.[7] Barton was appointed a position in the US patent office. She even received the same pay as the other workers, receiving $1400 a year. The other workers were very angry about this; they "spat on the floor", "blew smoke in her face", insulted her, and made slanderous remarks about her.[7] Many of these men lost their jobs because of this behavior.


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