By Yoon Joung Lee
A pioneer American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian, Clara Barton, was born in 1832 in Oxford, Massachusetts. She was the youngest child of five in a middle-class family. Her father, Stephen Barton, was a farmer and horse breeder and her mother, Sarah Barton, managed the household.
When she was 12, her brother David fell from a rafter in their unfinished barn. For 3 years, she stayed at his side and took care of him as her first patient. During this time, she learned to administer all his medicines, and became interested in the field of nursing.
In 1861, her lifetime of philanthropy began as she organized a relief program to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers after the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. This independent organization, advertising for donations in the Worcester, Mass., Spy, was established when she learned many wounded soldiers from the battle had suffered from need of medical supplies. And this relief program was successful.
The following year, U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond allowed her to ride in army ambulances to provide comfort to the soldiers and nurse them back to health. For 3 years, she followed army operations reaching the actual battlefields of the war during the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. There, she cared for the casualties from the Battle of the Wilderness and also did nursing work at Bermuda Hundred. In 1884, she was appointed as superintendent of nurses at the front of the Army of the James, by Union General Benjamin Butler. In 1865, in President Abraham Lincoln’s command, she became in charge of the search for the missing soldiers of the Union Army. She was able to find out the status of missing men and notify their families as she interviewed with Federals returning from Southern prisons.
At the end of the war, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland. There, she was introduced to the Red Cross. When she came back to the States, she led a movement to gain recognition for the International Red Cross by the United States government. In 1881, she finally founded the new American Red Cross in Dansville, N.Y. and became President of the American branch of the society. She resigned as head of the organization in 1904. She spent the rest of her life at her hometown, Glen Echo, outside Washington, D.C., and passed away in 1912.