2 minute readClara Barton, History
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Your Top Clara Barton Questions, Answered

Throughout the year, the Red Cross social media team fields a number of questions about our fearless founder, Clara Barton. While there are many places online (and in libraries) to find information about Clara, we took some of the most asked questions we’ve seen and compiled them here. Do you have any questions? Ask in the comments section!

Portrait of Clara Barton, 1881. This image was used in the Red Cross Courier, May 15, 1931, page 295.

1. What is Clara’s full name and what is special about her birth date?

Clarissa Harlowe Barton is her full name. Clara was a nickname. She was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1821.

2. How big was Clara’s family?

Clara was the youngest of five children.

3. What was Clara’s first job?

She was a school teacher in North Oxford, Massachusetts.

In this little red schoolhouse, Clara Barton established the first free public school in New Jersey. She began teaching in it in 1853, starting with six unruly pupils. Within a few months the school was so crowded
In this little red schoolhouse, Clara Barton established the first free public school in New Jersey.

4. Was Clara a nurse?

Clara was a self-taught nurse. She acquired nursing experience during the two years she tended her seriously-injured brother, David. She also learned healthcare skills on the battlefield while assisting the doctors who cared for the wounded soldiers. Clara did not have an official nursing degree because there were no formalized nursing schools at the time of the Civil War.

May 1887. National Guard camp in Washington, D.C. Clara Barton, seen standing in front of the American Red Cross flag, was invited to direct the camp’s hospital.


5. Who was the first American Red Cross volunteer?

Antoinette Margo is considered Clara’s first volunteer. She traveled with Clara to Strasbourg, France, during the Franco-Prussian War in the late 1800s.

6. Did Clara Barton know President Abraham Lincoln?

Yes! In fact, Clara had an invitation to President Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball in 1861, but a bad cold kept her from attending. This would have been her first opportunity to meet Lincoln, who would become her great friend. Ultimately, she became so closely associated with the president that a special guard was sent to her house following his assassination.

7. What did Clara do during the Civil War?

A form letter from the office of missing men, Office of Correspondence for Missing Men of the U.S. Army. Civil War Era.
A form letter from the office of missing men (click to expand)

While offering relief to the soldiers during the Civil War, Clara gathered personal information about the men and their regiments. She had many requests from families inquiring about men who had been reported missing. Seeing a need, Clara got permission from President Lincoln to start an Office of Missing Soldiers. By 1869, she and her assistants had received and answered more than 63,000 letters and identified more than 22,000 missing men.

8. Did Clara marry and have children?

She never married nor had any children. Her life was spent in service to others.

9. What’s one interesting thing about Clara that most people don’t know?

For eight months in 1883, she was the superintendent of the Women’s Reformatory Prison in Sherborn, Massachusetts.

10. When did Clara die?

She died on April 12, 1912, at age 90 at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland. Her home is now a national historic site, part of the National Park Service.

Home of Clara Barton in Glen Echo, Maryland.