Women Who Paved The Way: Clara Barton

A humanitarian who cared for the soldiers during the Civil War and eventually founded the American Red Cross.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known as Clara, is one of the most honored women in American history. She was working in Washington, DC when the Civil War began, and decided – with very little medical experience – that the best way to support the soldiers was by going to head to the battlefields to nurse them back to health. Becoming known as the ‘Angel of the Battlefield,’ Clara was a determined humanitarian who helped out wherever she could. “To say that Clara Barton was a nurse is a gross understatement of her importance. The fact is that she was a relief organizer during a time when women didn’t do that.” stated George Wunderlich, Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

“It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.”
-Clara Barton

Inspired by Geneva, Switzerland-based Red Cross, which was dedicated to building international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime, Clara was determined to add the United States to the global Red Cross network upon her return. In 1881, she founded the American Red Cross, where she volunteered in Cuba during the Spanish-American war and served as the organization’s president until 1904.
What else did this amazing woman accomplish?

  • In 1865 she opened the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army,” an organization intended to locate missing soldiers through letters with their friends and family. By 1867, she had established the whereabouts of over 22,000 men, and her office still exists to this day.  (Now known as Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office in Maryland) .
  • She established The Clara Barton Sessions, a recording project juxtaposing music from the American Civil War and newer original songs inspired by the era band written by  DC-based performers.
  • When her position as the first female clerk at the US Patent Office was brought down to the level of a copyist due to her controversial anti-slavery beliefs, she never stopped campaigning for equal pay and equal status.

To find out more about her incredible life, download Clara’s complete biography here.

Photos provided by:
Red Cross



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