US Η Barton, Clara

Clarissa Harlowe “Clara” Barton
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Clarissa Harlowe Barton was a pioneering American nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, a teacher, and patent clerk. Nursing education was not very formalized at that time and she did not attend nursing school, so she provided self-taught nursing care.

Born: December 25, 1821

Birthplace: North Oxford, Massachusetts

Father: Captain Stephen Barton Jr. 1774 – 1862
(Buried: North Cemetery, Oxford, Massachusetts)​

Mother: Sarah “Sally” Stone 1783 – 1851
(Buried: North Cemetery, Oxford, Massachusetts)​

Attended Colonel Stones High School​
1839: Received a Teacher’s Certificate​
Attended Clinton Liberal Institute​

Clara Barton.jpg
At Age 10 nursed her brother back to health learning how to distribute prescribed medicine​
She loved to go horseback riding​
Educator in Schools in Canada and West Georgia​
Educator in Hightstown, New Jersey​
Helped to open a Free School in Bordentown, New Jersey​
1855 – 1856: Clerk for United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C.​
1856: fired as clerk by President James Buchanan​
1861: Became a temporary copyist for United States Patent Office​
Barton 1.jpg

Civil War Role:

1861: Massachusetts Soldiers transported to her home in D.C.​
1861: Nurse for 40 men during the Baltimore, Maryland Riot​
Helped provide bandages, clothing and Food for Wounded Soldiers​
She learned how to store and distribute medical supplies to wounded​
Worked to distribute stores, clean field hospitals, apply dressings to wounds and serve food to Wounded Soldiers​
1862: At Antietam she used corn husks in place of bandages​
1863: Had a romantic relationship with Colonel John J. Elwell​
1864: Appointed lady in charge of hospitals by Major General Butler​
Known as “Florence Nightingale of America”​
Known as “Angel of the battlefield”​

Role after War:

She ran the Office of Missing Soldiers in Washington, D.C.​
1865: Helped locate and properly bury 13,000 Soldiers who died at Andersonville Prison​
After four years she helped properly bury 20,000 more Union Soldiers​
1870: Helped in preparation of military hospitals Franco – Prussian War​
Barton Stamp.JPG
Helped Found the American Red Cross Chapter​
1881 – 1904: President of American National Red Cross​
Founder of National First Aid Society​
1907: Published her autobiography​

Died: April 12, 1912

Place of Death: Glen Echo, Maryland

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Age at time of Death: 90 years old

Burial Place: North Cemetery Oxford, Massachusetts

Older Barton.jpg
Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821, and educated at home, chiefly by her two brothers and two sisters. She was a teacher at first and the founder of various free schools in New Jersey. In 1854 she became a clerk in the Patent Office, Washington, D.C., but resigned at the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865) to work as a volunteer, distributing supplies to wounded soldiers.

After the war she supervised a systematic search for missing soldiers. Barton eventually received a Congressional appropriation to run what was known as the Missing Soldiers Office and became the first woman to head a government bureau. Barton tracked down information on nearly 22,000 soldiers before the office was closed in 1868.

Between 1869 and 1873 Barton lived in Europe, where she helped establish hospitals during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and was honored with Germany's Iron Cross for outstanding military service.

Through Barton's efforts the American Red Cross Society was formed in 1881; she served as the first president of the organization until 1904. In 1884 she represented the United States at the Red Cross Conference and at the International Peace Convention in Geneva. She was responsible for the introduction at this convention of the "American amendment," which established that the Red Cross was to serve victims of peacetime disasters as well as victims of war.

She superintended relief work in the yellow-fever pestilence in Florida (1887); in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood (1889); in the Russian famine (1891); among the Armenians (1896); in the Spanish-American War (1898); and in the South African War (1899-1902). The last work that she personally directed was the relief of victims of the flood at Galveston, Texas, in 1900. She wrote several books on the Red Cross and Story of My Childhood (1907). She died in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912.
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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts


Sep 14, 2019
Sounds like a great lady.
My wife Alice’s grand-mother Martha Ann Denton was a nurse in the Nashville Hospitals as was her husband Abner Baker. They were there initially to nurse Abner’s brother, Lieutenant David Baker back to health after his losing a leg at Chickamauga. That relationship is discussed in Abner’s son William’s memoirs which can be read at:

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
After the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War the Red Cross became more focused on natural disasters than wars.
The International Red Cross was originally entirely focused on war-related services. The extension of its focus to include disaster relief, preparedness, and education, known as "the American Initiative," introduced by Clara Barton after the formation of the American RC in 1881. The organization continued its wartime services (Clara herself was back in the field in Cuba in 1898, worrying the generals by getting too close to the front lines). They are, perhaps, not so visible now because of the great improvement of official military medical services.
See also: George Korson, At His Side: The Story of the American Red Cross Overseas in World War II


Forum Host
Nov 27, 2018
Chattanooga, Tennessee
On the field in Cuba in 1898, when she was 73? If I was a general I would worry about her too! I read her Biography, the one @FarawayFriend mentions. It was a good book, but I do not remember the incident of her father's passing in 1862, whether it is mentioned at all. My memory must have forgotten, for it is too big an event not to have written as a subject matter.

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
On the field in Cuba in 1898, when she was 73? If I was a general I would worry about her too!
“General Shafter [commander in Cuba in 1898] used to say that he did not think Clara Barton knew the meaning of the word fear. Sharp words passed between the General and Miss Barton because she would not obey his orders to keep away from the 'firing line,' out of the way of the ... bullets. On one occasion he even threatened to order her out of Cuba if she continually disobeyed his orders in this respect."
[Chas. Sumner Young, Clara Barton: a centenary tribute, 1922, p. 95]​

Gen. Shafter later remarked: "She was absolutely fearless. Miss Barton is a wonder; the greatest, grandest woman I have ever known."

A volume of Memorial Addresses and Funeral Tributes published at the time of her death in 1912, contains an amazing range of astounding stories and admiring recollections of Clara Barton's life and work.


May 2, 2018
Springfield, Illinois

One of my favorite memories from Miss Barton was even included in one of our Sunday sermons:

One time an acquaintance turned on Clara and humiliated her in front of a number of other people. Years later, a friend mentioned the incident to Clara, who seemed to have forgotten about it. Stunned, her friend questioned her, “Don’t you remember it?” Clara responded. “No – I distinctly remember forgetting it.”

Clara Barton had obviously not only forgiven her acquaintance but had also made a conscious decision to forget the offense.