Clara Barton, born December 25, 1821, was a nurse from the U.S. who started the American Red Cross. She pursued a daring career of service to those in need, inspired by a strong desire to serve others. During the American Civil War, she worked as a hospital nurse, a teacher, and a patent clerk. She was a self-taught nurse because nursing education was not highly standardized at the time, and she did not attend nursing school. Barton is notable for her humanitarian efforts and civil rights activism — she established the American Red Cross and was a supporter of women’s suffrage. She was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1973.
Clarissa Harlowe Barton
December 25, 1821
April 12, 1912 (age 90)
Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, and she was the sixth child of Stephen and Sarah Barton. She was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Barton left teaching to work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. She was one of the first female federal government employees.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Barton was residing in Washington. During that period, she bravely gave nursing care and supplies to soldiers, which characterized her life and won her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” Barton sought new methods to assist the military after the war ended. With President Lincoln’s permission, she established the Office of Missing Soldiers, which helped reunite almost 20,000 soldiers with their families. Barton learned about the Red Cross organization which inspired her to introduce the Red Cross movement to the U.S. Barton worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, giving civilian aid.
Barton formed the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881, and by 1882, the U.S. had signed the Geneva Conventions, which still protect the war-wounded civilians in crisis zones today. She was the head of the Red Cross for 23 years, retiring in 1904. Apart from her humanitarian cause, she was also a suffragist.
Berton died on April 12, 1912, at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, after a lifetime of devotion. Her legacy continues in the spirit of Red Cross volunteers and workers.
Barton receives her first teaching credential at 17 years old.
Barton begins working as a clerk at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Quartermaster Daniel Rucker grants Barton permission to work on the front lines of the Civil War, where she collects medical supplies and provides them to Union soldiers.
Barton spends the summer of that year assisting in the discovery, identification, and burial of 13,000 people who perished at Andersonville Prison Camp, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Georgia.
Barton starts the American Red Cross in New York to help those in need.
Barton dies at her home in Maryland, at the age of 90.
Why We Love Clara Barton
She was a pioneer
Barton opened one of the first free public schools in her state. She was also one of the first female nurses to aid wounded soldiers during the Civil War. She also provided medical care after disasters like earthquakes and fires. She was dedicated to helping those in need, regardless of gender or race.
She showed compassion for all people
Barton cared about everyone, including people she had never met before. She was known for having a "motherly instinct" when comforting those suffering from pain or losing loved ones. She traveled worldwide to help those affected by war or natural disasters like earthquakes or floods.
She spoke out for women's suffrage
In a speech, Barton advocated for women's right to vote. She pushed soldiers to support women's right to vote, not-so-subtly implying that they should assist women in obtaining that right in the same way she had helped them endure the traumas of battle. She was also outspoken in her support for equality and she endured sexism and slander in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just to inspire other women.
5 Surprising Facts
She founded a free public school
Barton successfully opened a free public school, but the school board unfairly demoted her and replaced her with a man because they thought that the head position was unfit for a woman.
She was a painter's assistant
She was intrigued by the house painter's method and persuaded her way into being his assistant.
She was paid the same as a man
She became a recording clerk at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., where her salary was the same as that of her male coworkers, which was unusual at the time.
She never formally studied nursing
Although official nursing education courses existed before the Civil War, they were uncommon, so she was self-taught.
She was unpopular among her coworkers
Her unpopularity stemmed from her gender in a government office and her open abolitionism, which led to her dismissal in 1857.
Clara Barton FAQs
What were Clara Barton's last words?
On the morning of the day she died, Barton’s last words were “Let me go! Let me go!”
What role did Clara Barton play at the Battle of Antietam?
Despite artillery fire, she and her cart drivers pushed onward all night to deliver medical supplies. Her supplies allowed surgeons to keep working, even at night.
What lesson can we learn from Clara Barton?
Despite failures, criticism, discrimination, and political resistance, Barton accomplished success where no one thought was possible.
Clara Barton’s birthday dates