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Clara Barton was born to farmers, Stephen and Sarah Barton, of North Oxford
Massachusetts on December 25, 1821. The youngest of five children, Clara’s siblings provided the majority of her education. She proved to be a very intelligent child constantly asking questions. It is remembered that she was able to spell complex words by the age of four. At the young age of eleven, Clara had her first patient. Her brother David was injured in an accident at the new barn. Clara showed great commitment and dedication in the two years that she spent nursing him. Clara Barton went on to spend the majority of her life helping people, Proving her care, courage, dedication, and persistence as a woman.
At the age of seventeen, Clara began teaching in Massachusetts. She spent the next twelve years teaching, and receiving a higher education from Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York. In 1850, Clara Barton began teaching in Bordentown, N.J. At that time New Jersey shcools required payment. As a result fewer children were receiving an education. Barton offered to teach without salary if payment were waived. Because of her willingness to teach without pay, she established the first free-school and raised school enrollment from 6 to 600 in Bordentown. Clara later decided it was time for a new career after the New Jersey school board hired a man to oversee the school that she had founded. Subsequently, she became an employee at the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C. Clara Barton was the first woman to work in a federal position.
Near the start of the Civil War, Clara was involved in collecting and distributing medical supplies for wounded soldiers in the Union army. Not long after, Clara was given permission by General Hammond to accompany army ambulances and provide medical aid to wounded soldiers. In July 1862, after much debate, the United States Army bureaucracy granted her access onto the battlefield to administer her own aid and supplies. It was during this time that she acquired her nickname “The Angel of the Battlefield” from wounded soldiers, because she appeared on a battlefield just at the moment of great need. This was evidence of her care, courage, dedication and persistence. In 1864, a year before the end of the Civil War, Clara Barton was appointed Superintendent of the Union Nurses. This position allowed her to obtain assistants, medical supplies and training for use on the battlefield.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln placed Barton in charge of searching for missing men of the Union army. In order to identify missing soldiers, Clara began a nationwide campaign. She published soldiers’ names in newspapers, and corresponded with the soldiers’ families. While engaged in this work she traced the fate of 30,000 men. When the war ended, she was sent to Andersonville, Georgia, to set up and mark the graves of Union soldiers.
Clara gained nationwide recognition, through her campaigning and lectures that she gave on her war experiences.
Due to physical exhaustion from the war, her campaigns and lectures, Clara Barton’s doctors suggested that she go to Europe to recuperate in 1869. While in Europe, Switzerland, Barton began working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Established in 1864 the ICRC provided aid to anyone under the flag of neutrality. During the time that Clara Barton was in Switzerland, Europe became involved in the Franco-Prussian War. Wanting to help, Clara offered her medical aid to the Grand Duchess of Baden. Clara later helped the needy women of Strasbourgh and Lyons make money by sewing clothing. She also helped distribute food and clothing to the city of Paris after France was defeated and Paris was taken captive by the Commune. Because of her great service, Clara received the Iron Cross of Merit from William I, the German emperor in 1873.
Clara returned to the United States in 1873 and lived quietly in Danville, New York until 1877. At that time she began a movement for the United States Government to recognize the ICRC. At first, she was not successful because the majority of the people in America believed that the United States would never face another war. Clara was eventually successful under the administration of President Garfield. Because she presented the argument that the Red Cross would be able to aid in the event of natural disaster as well as in war.
The American Red Cross was established on May 21, 1881. Clara Barton set herself up as president and served in that capacity for the next twenty-three years. During that time the Red Cross provided aid in many natural disasters including the Mississippi and Ohio River floods in 1882 and 1884, the Texas famine in 1886, the yellow fever epidemic in Florida in 1887, an earthquake in Illinois in 1888, and the flood of Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889. Despite the original war argument against the Red Cross. Aid was provided during the Spanish-American War of 1889. In 1904, due to question of ability and age, Barton resigned as president of the American Red Cross. She was eighty-three.
Clara spent the remaining years of her life at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland. In 1912 Barton passed away peacefully in her home at the age of ninety-one. Today she is remembered at the Clara Barton Birthplace museum in North Oxford, Massachusetts and the National Historic site at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland.
Clara Barton’s life is testament to her care, courage, dedication and persistence in helping people. It is believed that Barton’s greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the American Red Cross association, an organization that is legacy to all Clara Barton stood for as a woman.
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