Clara Barton

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Clara Barton
"The angel of the battlefield"
Clarissa Harlowe Barton

December 25, 1821
DiedApril 12, 1912 (aged 90)
OccupationTeacher, nurse, humanitarian
Known forFounder and first president of the American Red Cross

Clarissa Harlowe "Clara" Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) was an American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian. During the American Civil War, she was a nurse and was in charge of the agency to find missing Union soldiers.[1] She also headed several hospitals in Virginia. She is best remembered for organizing the American Red Cross.[2]

Childhood[change | change source]

Clara Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts.[3] She was the youngest child of Sarah Stone and Stephen Barton. In her youth, Barton was timid and sensitive, which made household life difficult for Barton.[3]

Clara's father was an important member of the town; he served as the town's moderator, ran a decent farm, and were well-known members of the town's church.[4] Clara shared a special bond with her father. Both of them were adventurous and patriotic. Clara's father often told her stories about war, and they pretended to fight each other in fake battles.

Clara's mother was said to be a very beautiful woman. She was married at the age of seventeen, and by the time she was twenty she had already given birth to four children.[4] She was very practical (good with her hands) and taught Clara many chores around the house. Her mother was strict and would not even let Clara have a toy doll. However, Clara's mother taught her many important things. She was a very strong and determined woman, and was full of common sense, traits that were both passed on to Clara.[4]

Clara's four siblings were all older than she was. Her oldest sister, Dorothy, was seventeen years old when Clara was born; her oldest brother, Stephen, was fifteen; her younger brother, David, was thirteen; and her younger sister, Sally, was ten.[4] She learned many skills from her siblings. Her sisters taught her how to read before she was even three years old.[5] Stephen taught her mathematics, and David taught her how to ride a horse.

As a child, Clara liked to pretend she was a nurse. She took care of sick and injured animals. When she was eleven, her brother David fell off the roof of a barnhouse.[6] This incident had a large effect on Clara, who helped nurse her brother.[7] David suffered a severe injury to his head, and he was close to death for two years. For two years Clara took care of her brother, hardly leaving his bedside. She learned many medical practices, including bloodletting, giving medicine, and applying leeches.[7] Though she didn't realize it, Clara had discovered her talent and love of nursing. After David was treated, Clara felt anxious and restless. She began becoming depressed because she had nothing to do.[3] She tried being a weaver at her brother David's mill, but she quit and looked for a new job.

Early careers[change | change source]

Teaching[change | change source]

One day, a phrenologist visiting the Barton household told Barton's parents to teach in a school so she could overcome her extreme shyness. Barton was first terrified of this, but she soon taught a class of forty girls and boys in a local school. Barton impressed the children, who were barely younger than she was, and she felt happy at earning their respect.[3] After her school received an award for discipline, Barton received many job offers. She asked for and received the same pay for teaching as male teachers, which was uncommon at the time. Barton taught at the school for ten years.

When she was thirty, Barton enrolled at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. After graduating, two schoolmates, Charles and Mary Norton, invited her to live with their family in Hightstown, New Jersey. Barton began teaching in the local school, and then began starting free public schools like the ones in Massachusetts.[3] The school was very successful, and many new teachers were hired and a new building was built. A man was hired to run the school, and he received a salary almost twice as high as Barton's salary. Barton was angry at this treatment, and she left to find a new job in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.[change | change source]

Barton spent the next five years of her life in the US capital,[8] her first job being a clerk for the government. Department of the Interior records say that she became a clerk in 1855, which makes her the first female to work for the government.[8] Barton was appointed a position in the US patent office. She even received the same pay as the other workers, receiving $1400 a year. The other workers were very angry about this; they "spat on the floor", "blew smoke in her face", insulted her, and made slanderous remarks about her.[8] Many of these men lost their jobs because of this behavior.

Later life and death[change | change source]

Barton quit working and lived in Glen Echo, Maryland. She wrote a book about herself called The Story of My Childhood.[9]

She died at the age of 91 years old from Tuberculosis on April 12, 1912.

Notes[change | change source]


  1. Buchanan, Andrea J.; Peskowitz, Miriam (2008). "Important Women in First Aid: Clara Barton". The Daring Book for Girls. New York: HarperCollins. p. 205. ISBN 978-0061472572. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
  2. Red Cross Museum 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Goodwin 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Epler 1917, pp. 5–8
  5. Epler 1917, pp. 6–11
  6. Chew 2010
  7. 7.0 7.1 Epler 1917, pp. 12–13
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Epler 1917, pp. 24–27
  9. "The Story of My Childhood". World Digital Library. 1907. Retrieved 2013-10-10.

References[change | change source]