Clara Harlowe Barton (1821-1912): Universalist

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Clara Harlowe Barton (1821-1912): Universalist

Founder of the American Red Cross (Edited from several different websites - listed below - for the sake of continuity.) Born on December 25, 1821 in Oxford, Mass., the youngest of 5 children in a middle-class family, Clara Barton started teaching at the age of 15. After she was invited to teach in a private school in Bordentown, New Jersey, Barton recognized the community's need for free education, and despite opposition, set up one of the first free public schools in the state. When officials decided to replace her with a male principal, Barton resigned. In 1854, she moved to Washington, where she became the first woman to work at the Patent Office, and for the same pay as the men. "I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man's work for less than a man's pay." - Clara Barton Barton was still working at the Patent Office when the Civil War broke out in 1861. When Barton learned that many of the battlefield wounded suffered, not from want of attention but from need of medical supplies, she advertised for donations and began an independent organization to distribute goods. Never before had women been allowed in hospitals, camps or on battlefields; initially, military and civil officials declined her help. For nearly a year, she lobbied the army bureaucracy in vain. Finally, with the help of sympathetic U.S. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, Miss Barton was permitted to bring her supplies to the battlefield of Antietam. Seeing the success of that operation, in 1862 U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond granted Barton a general pass to travel with army ambulances "for the purpose of distributing comforts for the sick and wounded, and nursing them." Officially, she became the superintendent of Union nurses in 1864 and began obtaining camp and hospital supplies, assistants and military trains for her work on the front. She practiced nursing exclusively on battlefields, experiencing first-hand the horrors of war on sixteen different battlefields. As a result of her untiring work, she became known as the "Angel of the Battlefield." "In my feeble estimation, General McClellan, with all his laurels, sinks into insignificance beside the true heroine of the age, the angel of the battlefield." - Dr. James Dunn, surgeon at Antietam Battlefield, describing Clara Barton. After the war, President Lincoln granted her the ability to begin a letter writing campaign to search for missing soldiers through the Office of Correspondence. Years of toil in the Civil War battlefields physically debilitated Barton. In 1869, she went to Europe to rest. However, the outbreak of war in 1870 between France and Prussia (part of modern-day Germany) brought hardship to many French civilians. Barton joined the relief effort, and in the process, was impressed with a new organization--the Red Cross. Created in 1864, the Red Cross was chartered to provide humane services to all victims during wartime under a flag of neutrality. Twelve nations had signed the treaty but the Unites States had not. Barton returned to the United States; rallied to have the US join in this treaty; and vowed to establish this work in the United States. A reluctant U.S. government could not imagine the country ever again being involved in armed conflict after the Civil War. But Barton persisted, and finally at age 60, she persuaded the government to recognize the Red Cross and sign the Geneva Agreement in 1882. Barton was the President of the American National Red Cross for twenty-two years. Under her leadership, she adopted the framework of the Red Cross to fit the needs of the United States not only during wartime but in peacetime (natural disaster relief). Internationally, countries noticed and recognized the need for such peacetime assistance and in 1884 the Geneva Convention passed the "American Amendment" to include this concept. This service brought the United States the "Good Samaritan of Nations" label. Barton herself was the most decorated American woman, receiving the Iron Cross, the Cross of Imperial Russia and the International Red Cross Medal.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative