Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, has played a pivotal role in U.S. history. From establishing the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey to helping wounded soldiers and reconnecting missing soldiers with their families after the Civil War, only scratch the surface of her harrowing life. With a vast number of accomplishments, here are seven facts you may have not known about her which we hope will inspire you to be as bold as Clara and lead like her.
A unique birthday, for a unique person
Clara Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas day, December 25, 1821, in North Oxford Massachusetts. Clara was the youngest of five children.
A Love for Teaching, (but with Equal Pay)
While still a teenager, she began teaching school near North Oxford, Massachusetts at time when most teachers were men. The school offered her a position in the winter months with the same lower pay she received for the summer months. She stated “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’s resolve and sterling reputation as a teacher won out and she was paid the same as the male teachers. Go Clara!
One of the First Female Federal Workers
Clara Barton was one of the first female employees in the federal government. Yes, you heard that right. As a recording clerk in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., she made $1,400 a year which was the same as her male co-workers. Sadly, Secretary Robert McClelland of the Interior Department had long objected women working at the patent office. He thought they were taking jobs from men. When Commissioner Mason stepped down, his Chief Clerk Shugert became acting commissioner and in an effort to please McClelland, considered removing the four female clerks from the office. The result was Clara being demoted to a copyist making 10 cents per 100 words copied. In 1857, President James Buchanan got rid of her position, but the next administration – Abraham Lincoln’s – reinstated it.
Angel of the Battlefield
She was a self-taught nurse with no formal nursing degree. She acquired nursing experience at a young age while caring for her injured brother, and later, on the battlefield and in field hospitals while caring for wounded soldiers. She was called the “the true heroine of the age, the angel of the battlefield” by a surgeon, Dr. James Dunn, during her time providing nursing care and supplies in the Civil War. She served as honorary president of the National First Aid Association of America founded in 1905. After leaving the Red Cross in her 80s, Clara traveled the country promoting first aid.
Reconnected Missing Families after the Civil War
With help from Senator Wilson, Clara won the approval of President Lincoln to address the large numbers of missing soldiers. She established The Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army in 1865 and was later recognized by the War Department two months later. The office received more than 63,000 inquiries about missing family members which were answered by her small and mighty office. She directed a four-year search for missing men. By the time she left her post in her final report to Congress in 1869, she and her assistants had identified 22,000 missing soldiers, 13,000 of which died in the Confederacy’s Andersonville Prison.
Traveling for Good
After the Civil War, she traveled to Europe to rest, per the advice of her doctor. While in Geneva Switzerland, she was visited by a delegation headed by Dr. Louis Appia with the International Red Cross. This is where she learned about the movement. By 1870, the Franco Prussian war had started and Clara volunteered with the International Red Cross providing primarily civilian relief. Through this experience, she knew that her mission was to return to the United States and found a Red Cross Society.
Founder of the American Red Cross
Clara Barton galvanized political support for the United States to enter the Treaty of Geneva. In May 1881, she founded the American Red Cross and in 1882, President Chester Arthur signed on to the Geneva Convention. Clara Barton served as president of the American Red Cross until May 14, 1904 when she resigned at the age of 82.
Looking for more Clara Barton inspiration? Check out these factoid blogs along with one about the trunk bed she used during the Civil War. You can also find an interactive map of Clara Barton’s life and leave a comment on how Clara has inspired you!