Clara Barton Clara Barton was a life long humanitarian whose life effected millions of people covering the globe. Her ideas and values live on through the 1.4 million volunteers who every year give of themselves when others close to home and far away are in need. Throughout her life she used her many talents to better the lives of others in need. Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas day in 1821. She lived her childhood years in North Oxford, Massachusetts.
When she was born she had two brothers and two sisters already much older than her. As a child Clara always felt that she could do no right in life causing her to be a very shy girl. Her brothers and Sisters still loved and took care of her teaching her in all areas of knowledge. As she grew up the shyness did not go away and her parents looked to a psychologist to explain why Clara was so shy and what should she do in life. The psychologist recommended that Clara become a teacher.
Clara liked this idea and thought she would make a good teacher. At about that time the state of Massachusetts proposed that education be free to everyone so they were looking for teachers. Barton applied and began teaching. She taught school for ten years all while still living with her parents. During this time she dated many men but never married and in 1931 was quoted as saying, “There is not a living thing that would be just as well off without me.”(Tilton,18) After her ten years of teaching she felt the big city calling her. She decided she wanted to see more of the world so she moved to Washington D.C.
In Washington she found work not as a teacher but as a clerk in a patent office. During this time many early civil war battles were occurring especially in the Annapolis area. Clara felt a calling to assist in many makeshift hospitals in the area. In these hospitals Clara assisted soldiers who were badly wounded getting her first encounter with life on the battlefield. Clara found during these times that the battlefield was where she belonged.
In July of 1862 Clara walked into Colonel Daniel Rucker’s office and said, “I want to go to the front.”(Tilton,29) Her five foot, hundred pound body was barely taken seriously by the Colonel but, with much persistence on July 11th U.S. surgeon general William Hammond granted her permission to “transport comforts to the wounded and sicksubject always to the direction of the surgeon in charge.”(Whitelaw,47) Barton first went into action at the battle of Culpeper on August 13th. At this battle Clara helped both sides earning her a name that would stay with her the rest of her life “angel of the battlefield.” For the next year Barton was constantly traveling helping both sides in the war. In the battle of Chantilly in Virginia she cooked meals for hundreds avoiding her own needs as she told in this passage of her autobiography, “In the mist of all thisnearly alone for my worn out assistants could work no longer, I continued to administer such food as I had left. Do you begin to wonder what it could be? Army crackers put into knapsacks and beaten to crumbs between stones, and stirred into a mixture of wine, whiskey and water and sweetened with coarse brown sugar. Not very inviting you will think but it was always acceptable.”(Tilton,37) In 1864 Barton was appointed in a union unit as superintendent of nurses.
In her three years on the battlefield probably no woman in the United States had seen as much suffering as she had. Once she was asked what made her go on and she answered, “You never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”(Whitelaw,53) This became Barton’s motto in life. Barton decided it was time to take a break from the gruesome battle field so she decided that she would set up a reception for letters from people her were missing loved ones. She also wanted to provide lists of the dead or lost and try to find ways to save prisoners of war. She wrote this letter to President Lincoln: To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln President of the United States Sir: I most respectfully solicit your authority and endorsement to allow me to act temporally as a general correspondent at Annapolis, Maryland, having in view the reception and answering of letters from the friends of our prisoners now being exchanged.
It will be my object also to obtain and furnish all possible information in regard to those that have died during their confinement. Hoping that the objects contemplated may commend them to your favorable consideration. Yours most respectfully, Clara Barton After months of not receiving anything she received this from the President: To the friend of missing persons Miss Clara Barton was kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please address her in Annapolis, Maryland giving her name, regiment, and company of any missing prisoner. A.
Lincoln Barton had quite a duty cut out for her. Thousand wrote in wanting her to find soldiers, which was made difficult because more than half of the 360,000 deaths were not accounted for. Barton found it was easier to print thousands of flyers and posters with lists of dead and missing men instead of replying to the individuals which wrote to her. The task became so costly that Barton took out loans to pay for the printing cost. But her work paid off.
Barton is credited with the recognization of over 20,000 lost soldiers. The government in 1866 finally acknowledged all the work that Barton had done and paid her 15,000 dollars, which remained in her bank account till her death. With this new publicity she became somewhat of a traveling celebrity traveling around the country telling of the civil war and speaking some on the woman’s right to vote which was a somewhat controversial topic at the time. By 1869 the travelling had began to take its toll on her. Barton’s doctors advised her to leave the country to regain her health.
While in Switzerland she discovered a wonderful organization called the Red Cross, which was already huge in many European countries. Against her doctors orders she became active in it hoping to gain enough knowledge to be able to bring it back to the United States. Barton believed that once the people of America knew what this great organization could do they would embrace it. In 1972 Barton’s health had gotten worse. She was only 51 and suffered blindness, coughs and weakness so she could hardly walk. Four years later she had regained enough energy to come back to Washington.
Once back in the United States Barton work diligently to get the Red Cross Organization running in the U.S. President Garfield showed interest and set up the first Red Cross chapter in Dansville, New York. The Red Cross was started at the right time. The years that followed the Civil War proved to be filled with natural disasters such as forest fires and floods, all of which the Red Cross helped by bring releif. She continued her good work in helping others up until her ninetieth birthday when she caught a terrible cold and knew she would not recover.
She died April 12, 1912. Hundreds came to the funeral of this woman who had been described by friends as “the greatest of American women if not the greatest women in the world!”(Whitelaw,61).