Childhood & Early Life
Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts to Capt. Stephen Barton, a farmer and a selectman, and Sarah Stone.
Since the age of three, she had exceptional reading and spelling skills and attended the Col. Stones High School, but was a very shy kid.
She first found her calling as a nurse at the age of eleven, when she took care of her sick brother David, who miraculously recovered under her care even after doctors had given up.
In 1838, at the age of seventeen, she worked as a teacher in Massachusetts where she showed extraordinary skill in handling troublesome children.
In 1850, she attended the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York, where she studied writing and languages. Following her education, she set up a free school in New Jersey.
Continue Reading Below
In 1855, she shifted to Washington D.C., where she took up the job of a clerk in the US Patent Office. Here, her salary was equal to that of a man, which was uncommon in those days. After a brief period, the issue of appointment of a woman in government office faced strong opposition and hence her position was reduced to that of a copyist and she was later fired in 1856.
In 1861, she was again appointed to the US Patent Office and started serving as a temporary copyist and wished to grant more opportunities for women to work in the government offices.
By 1862, she obtained permission to work at the front lines of the battle field during the American Civil war and distributed first aid supplies to hospitals, camps and treated wounded soldiers on the field.
In 1864, she started serving as ‘lady in-charge’ at the behest of Union General, Benjamin Butler, at the hospitals located at the front of the Army of the James - the regiment that served along the James River, Virginia.
After the conclusion of the American Civil war, she worked at the Office of Missing Soldiers which was located at 437 Seventh Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. The organisation tracked missing soldiers and reunited them with their families.
She soon started delivering lectures pertaining to her experiences during the war across the country and also became a part of the woman's suffrage movement and an African-American rights activist.
In 1869, she travelled to Europe during the Franco-Prussian War and worked with the International Red Cross, after which she wished to start the organisation in America.
In 1871, following the Siege of Paris, she worked relentlessly and took care of the public distribution of food and medical supplies to the poor and affected victims in Paris.
On May 21, 1881 she founded and became the president of the American branch of the Red Cross, known as the American National Red Cross. The first official meeting of the society was held at her apartment in Washington D.C.
Continue Reading Below
On August 22, 1882, the first local branch of the Red Cross was set up in Dansville, Livingston County, New York, where she owned a country home and also had many social connections.
In 1897, she travelled through sea to Constantinople and established the headquarters of the American International Red Cross in Turkey after obtaining official permission from Abdul Hamid II.
In 1896, she travelled to several parts of Armenia in order to provide the people with essential food supplies, medicine, humanitarian aid and other vital necessities.
In 1900, she tended to the people affected by the Galveston hurricane; this was her last work as the President of the American Red Cross. During this period she also set up a home for orphan children.
In 1904, she stepped down from the post of the President of The American Red Cross, after which she established the National First Aid Society.
Personal Life & Legacy
She chose not to marry all her life. However, it is speculated that she was romantically involved with a person named John J. Elwell.
She passed away at the age of 90 in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States.
In the year 1975, her home in Glen Echo was made into a historic site and was named the Clara Barton National Historic Site, the first National Historic Site dedicated to a woman.