Woman Making History #15: Clara Barton

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barton_clara.jpgClara Barton's is a name most have heard, but I wonder how many could say for sure what she did? I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't have.

Clara Barton was born in 1821 in Massachutes, the far youngest of six siblings. She was home-schooled, taught by her older siblings as much as her parents. Her interest in medicine began at the age of 11, when one of her brothers took ill. She tended him for two years, administering his medications, including leeches. She was also inspired by an aunt who was a noted midwife.

Barton spent her early adulthood working first as a teacher and advocate for public schools and then as a copyist in the U.S. Patent Office. She was the first woman to have an independent clerkship in the U.S. federal government.

When the Civil War began, Barton became a field nurse. Seeing how unprepared the Army Medical Department was for the casualties coming in, in 1861 she formed an agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. The next year, she got permission from the Army to bring her own supplies on to the battlefields. In 1865, President Lincoln placed her in charge of the search for missing Union soldiers. She traced the fates of 30,000 men while in this position.

After the war, Barton met Susan B. Anthony and began her involvement in women's suffrage. She also met Frederick Douglass and became involved in early black civil rights.

Barton's hard work during and after the Civil War took a toll on her health, and in 1869 her doctor recommended she take a restful vacation to Europe. In 1870, while abroad, she became involved in the International Red Cross. When she returned to the U.S. after this trip, she immediately began work organizing the American Red Cross. In 1881, the American Red Cross was officially founded, with Barton as its President.

Barton continued her work providing medical aid to those in war and disaster situations late into her life. In 1898, she brought a cargo of medical supplies into Cuba; later she spent six weeks aiding survivors of the Galveston floods. She did not resign from the Red Cross until 1904, at the age of 83.

Clara Barton died in 1912 at the age of 91.

New York Suffragists
National Women's Hall of Fame


Clara Barton was the youngest of 5 children and she attended school in North Oxford, MA. Her siblings supplemented her education because Clara was an intelligent child who was eager to learn but the subjects were too easy for her. At the age of 29, she attended the Clinton Liberal Inst. in Clinton, NY

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