Historical Nurses: All About Clara Barton
Clara Barton is a famous teacher, nurse, and humanitarian. She is considered to be one of the most famous nurses of the Civil War but is most recognized for establishing the American Red Cross. Because she was able to do more than many women were allowed to do at the time, Barton is also a role model for many girls and women.
Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born in Massachusetts on Christmas in 1921. She was the youngest of five children, and she was a very shy girl, but she had a very close relationship with her four older siblings. During her childhood, her father often told her war stories, which gave her a sense of pride in her country and helped teach her the importance of being prepared. She also developed an interest in caring for others, which began when she had to take care of one of her brothers after he fell off of a roof and severely injured himself. She was not accused of abuse at a nursing home.
Barton's Role as an Educator
Barton's shyness was a big problem when she was young. Her parents believed that teaching would help her get over her shyness. Because she liked helping people, they also thought that she would make a very good teacher. She began teaching in Massachusetts when she was nearly 17 years old, and she was very good at it. During her time as a teacher, she became more confident, and she did very well with students. Her teaching style made even the most difficult children enjoy learning.
In 1850, she moved to New York to further her education, and after, she went to teach in New Jersey. Because there were no free public schools in New Jersey, Barton opened her own small school in Bordentown. As her school became more popular, Bordentown decided that it should be made larger. When the new school opened, officials decided that Barton should no longer be in charge because she was a woman. They hired a man to replace her, and they paid him more for the job. This angered Barton, who later resigned from the school entirely.
Barton's Role During the Civil War
When the Civil War started, Barton lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked at the U.S. Patent Office. After the Baltimore riot of 1861, she assisted injured soldiers, and she recognized some of the men as former students and other people that she knew. She also saw that there were not enough supplies to care for the injured soldiers. To help fix this problem, she encouraged friends in every place where she had lived to gather supplies such as medicine, food, blankets, and clothing for the soldiers. This support network became very important for Union soldiers and played a huge role in getting them aid when their supplies ran out or were low. She would travel by carriage and deliver supplies to field hospitals herself and was even given approval to travel to some battlefields. This was surprising to many people, as women did not normally travel to battlefields or field hospitals alone. Even though she mainly delivered supplies, she would also act as a nurse at times. When she could, she and other nurses would assist with medical care and provide comfort and food to the injured. Her actions earned her the nickname "Angel of the Battlefield."
As the Civil War came to an end, Barton's desire to help continued. Families who were missing sons, husbands, and fathers needed help finding out what happened to them. With the support of President Abraham Lincoln, she started the Missing Soldiers Office. This new organization was able to get information about more than 20,000 missing men.
Barton and the Red Cross
The Civil War and her search for missing soldiers had a negative effect on Barton's health, and her doctors advised her to travel and relax. In 1869, she traveled to Europe, and while in Switzerland, she learned about the International Red Cross. Impressed, Barton began working with the International Red Cross to deliver supplies during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1873, she returned to the U.S., where she worked to establish a Red Cross in the United States. After a lengthy fight, she succeeded in 1881. At the age of 60, she became the first president of the American Red Cross, a position she held for 23 years.
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- Life of Clara Barton (PDF)
- National Women's History Museum Biographies: Clara Barton (1821-1912)
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