Clara Barton (1821-1912)
“Everybody's business is nobody's business, and nobody's business is my business.”
Born in 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts, Clara Barton began life as a shy child, but went on boldly to serve her community and country in ways few women or even men before her had ever tried. Where she saw a need, she imagined a solution. As an educator she founded the first free school in New Jersey. As a relief organizer during the Civil War she brought food and medical supplies directly to the front lines, earning her the nickname “angel of the battlefield.” And when she learned about an international relief organization in Europe that was always at the ready, she came back home and lobbied for the creation of the American Red Cross and for 23 years served as its president.
Barton first found her calling at the age of 10, nursing her brother back to health after he was severely injured in a fall. But her first occupation was as a teacher. After 12 years in the classroom, she founded a free school, which grew to serve more than 600 students. But when the school board hired a man to head the school instead of Barton, she left teaching and moved to Washington, DC. There she became one of the first high-level female clerks in the federal government, earning equal pay to her male counterparts in the US Patent Office, until political opposition put an end to her government career.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Barton shifted her focus to gathering medical supplies for the troops. She received official permission to transport supplies directly to the battlefields where hospitals were then set up. Without any formal training, she assisted doctors and surgeons and tended to the wounded and ill at all of the major battles in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. After the war, she led the effort to identify missing soldiers and find and mark thousands of graves. Considered a heroine, she testified in Congress about her war experiences and lectured to large audiences in over three hundred venues from 1866 to 1868.
While in Europe in 1869, resting on doctor’s orders, she learned about the International Committee of the Red Cross and aided in setting up military hospitals in the Franco-Prussian War. Returning to the US, she undertook a five-year campaign to establish the American Red Cross, adding disaster relief to the organization’s charter. As president, Barton oversaw relief efforts for 21 disasters both domestic and foreign and laid the foundation for the organization that we know today.