Barton, Clara (1821-1912)
The Red Cross; a history of this remarkable international movement in the interest of humanity. Washington: American National Red Cross, 1898.
In her hometown of Oxford, Massachusetts, Clara Barton began serving humanity early in life when she set up a school for the children of her father’s sawmill workers in 1836. She was only fifteen years of age (Library of North American Biographies). Departing from this position in 1851 to enhance her education, Barton attended school at the Liberal Institute of Clinton, NY for one year. Thereafter, she found herself teaching again in Bordentown, NJ from 1852 to 1854. Clara’s school in Bordentown was one of New Jersey’s first free, public schools, and its great success and growth in such a short period of time caused the local school board to hire a male principal to supervise. This action, however, upset Clara, prompting her to leave her job and teaching career behind. Her departure has been described as "a tactful, characteristic display of independence" (American Reformers). But soon, with the help of her congressman, Barton secured a job with the Patent Office in Washington in 1854, becoming the first regularly appointed female civil servant (Notable American Women). These actions from Clara’s early years show a dedication to work and a pioneering spirit.
However, Barton’s humanitarian pursuits truly began when the Civil War broke out. First she came to the aid of Union soldiers who found themselves in Washington after being attacked at Baltimore. Many were wounded and without supplies, and so Clara placed advertisements in the newspaper for medicines, bandages, food and clothing donations. Initially she used her own rooms to store the abundant contributions. Soon her service expanded and she rented a warehouse to keep supplies, which she insisted upon personally delivering to the battlefields. The War Department at first objected to a female presence on the field, but her persistence won them over, and she eventually secured army carts and mules to aid in her distribution. Barton also prepared meals for the soldiers and nursed the sick and wounded, earning the name “Angel of the Battlefield”. Only for a brief time in 1864 was she affiliated with the army in any official capacity. During this year she was head nurse with the Army of the James under General Benjamin Butler (American Reformers). Otherwise, Clara preferred to remain independent of the official United States Sanitary Commission and Dorothea Dix’s division of nurses (Notable American Women).
At the war’s end, Clara set up a missing soldier’s bureau with the approval of President Lincoln. Then from 1866 to 1868, she traveled around the northern and western parts of the United States speaking about her war experiences. In 1869, Clara went to Europe for health-related reasons and there became familiar with the International Committee of the Red Cross. This organization was formed during a convention in Geneva in 1863 and became official when the Geneva Treaty was ratified by eleven European countries in 1864. These countries agreed that in future wars, the wounded, ambulances and sanitary personnel would be neutral. Clara Barton believed strongly in the ideals of the Red Cross and joined them in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) relief effort (American Reformers; Notable American Women). In 1877, she began a five-year campaign to initiate an American Red Cross. Some Americans clung to the Monroe Doctrine, a policy that said the United States should stay out of foreign affairs. And also, there was a general belief amongst the American people that their country would not face a war on their own ground again (Library of North American Biographies). However, Barton overcame these obstacles by appealing to the American need for peacetime disaster relief. Not only did her campaign result in the establishment of the American Red Cross in 1881, it also convinced President Chester A. Arthur to ratify the Geneva Treaty in 1882. Her suggestion for peacetime relief, known as the “American Amendment,” was adopted by the international organization. Clara Barton became the first president of the American Red Cross, a position she held until 1904.
A copy of Barton’s important book, The Red Cross; a history of this remarkable international movement in the interest of humanity, published in 1898, is held at the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library. The story recounts the establishment of the organization in Europe and its adoption by the United States. It also gives detailed accounts of specific early American relief efforts, during the Michigan forest fires, the Mississippi and Ohio River floods, the Texas Famine, the Johnstown Flood, the Russian Famine, the Spanish-American War, and several others. In 1899, this book was reprinted under the title The Red Cross in Peace and War, and the Reynolds-Finley Library also has a copy of this book.
Image: [From] Barton, Clara. The Red Cross; a history of the remarkable international movement in the interest of humanity. Washington: American National Red Cross, 1898; Reynolds-Finley Historical Library.