Clara Barton was a nurse and educator and is most well-known as the founder of the American Red Cross. Clara had strong beliefs in equality for all people and for women’s rights, which were very controversial during her time. Her experience during the Civil War as a nurse helped to get changes in the ways that doctors and healthcare givers treated patients for cleanliness and sterilization and getting supplies to the front for soldiers that were injured.
- Clara was born in 1821 on Christmas Day, the daughter of Captain Stephen Barton, who fought in the Indian Wars and Sarah, her mother, who held strong beliefs about people being treated equally and women’s rights. Clara had four brothers and sisters, and she was the youngest. They lived on a farm, and all of the children, including Clara, did chores. Clara was learning everything from caring for sick animals, milking cows, and chopping wood. She took great joy in riding the family’s horses.
- Her life changed when her brother, David, fell from the barn roof and became extremely ill. The doctors didn’t think David would survive, but Clara devoted two years to taking care of him, and he did get better. It was this experience that led her to understand that she loved caring for others.
- Clara took a job as a summer teacher when she was 17 years old. Although she didn’t have any formal training, she was very good at it. When schools wanted to hire her, she found out that they paid women less than men. When she objected, the schools agreed to pay her an equal wage.
- Clara’s desire for education led her to go to a New York college and get her degree in 1851. After graduating, she taught at a private school but then decided that she wanted to open a free public school for all children. She opened her school in 1854 with six hundred students.
- Clara’s passion for women’s rights became clear when she took a job at the patent office in Washington, D.C. Her treatment as a woman in the job was very bad, and it escalated to the point where all of the female employees were fired simply because they were women. Clara fought to get her job and the others back and for equal treatment of women. Her voice became so loud that President Abraham Lincoln agreed with her.
- When the Civil War broke out, Clara and her sister Sally began to try to help the wounded men that were arriving. Clara found out that there was a need for supplies on the front lines, and she organized a method to get them what they needed. Clara went to many of the battle locations as a nurse, trying to get the soldiers back to health. Clara was even seen at the places where the fighting happened and the soldiers called her the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
- As many as 60% of the soldiers were dying from infection and disease because the doctor’s didn’t wash their hands or use any kind of medical equipment sterilization. Clara helped to establish some of the basic procedures to help to reduce these numbers.
- When Clara took a trip overseas she heard about the International Red Cross organization that assisted soldiers that were injured in the war. Their symbol was a white flag with a red cross on it and they would hang it outside of the tents that they set up as hospitals. Clara worked for the French Red Cross and made the decision to start the same type of organization in America.
- Clara returned home and spent four years lobbying before she finally achieved success on May 21, 1881 in creating the American Red Cross. The organization has helped countless thousands during natural disasters and they get blood donations for hospitals.
- Clara left the Red Cross and toured the country teaching a lot of people the idea of first-aid. Although she never got married, Clara had often said that she thought of the soldiers as her family. Clara died of pneumonia in 1912 when she was ninety years old.
How did Clara Barton change the way that doctors dealt with injured patients?
She instructed them to wash their hands and sterilize their equipment
What job did Clara Barton have that involved being fired because she was a woman?
A patent office job
What two philosophical ideals did Clara’s mother teach her?
Equality for all and women’s rights
What organization did Clara Barton found in America?
American Red Cross
What job did Clara Barton have in which she demanded the same equal pay that the men received?
What did the Civil War soldiers call Clara?
The Angel of the Battlefield