Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Clara Barton (1821-1912)
MSA SC 3520-13563

Biography:

Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton on December 25, 1821 in (North) Oxford, Massachusetts.  Daughter of Stephen (1774-1862) and Sarah "Sally" (Stone) Barton (1783-1851).  Educated at home; attended the Liberal Institute, Clinton, New York, c. 1845-46.  Universalist.  Resided in Glen Echo, Montgomery County, Maryland.  Died April 12, 1912.  Buried in Oxford, Massachusetts.

Clara Barton began her career at an early age, teaching school as a teenager to the children of the workers at her father's sawmill in Worcester County, Massachusetts.  She taught school for approximately ten years, from about 1836 until about 1846.  In the mid-1840s she helped establish a free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey.  In the 1850s until the outbreak of the Civil War worked at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Barton was quick to volunteer.  Her work began after the first Battle of Bull Run, when she learned that there were not enough medical supplies to treat the wounded soldiers.  In order to procure the needed supplies, she advertised for donations in the Worcester, Massachusetts Spy magazine.  Her ads were successful and she began an independent organization to distribute the bandages, socks, and other goods to the wounded soldiers.  The relief operation was so successful that U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond granted her a general pass to travel with army ambulances to deliver supplies directly to the front lines.

For three years she followed army operations throughout Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.  Her work soon attracted attention from around the country, and in 1864 she was made superintendent of the nurses serving under General Benajmin F. Butler.  At Camp Parole, Maryland, she organized an effort to locate soldiers listed as missing in action called the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.  She conducted interviews with Union soldiers returning from southern prisons and published lists of names and information about the missing soldiers submitted to the office by family members.  She was able to find many missing soldiers and to notify family members of their status.  She continued her efforts to find missing soldiers for several years after the end of the war, raising money for the Office of Correspondence by giving lectures about her war experiences throughout New England and the United States.

By the late 1860s, Clara was physically exhausted.  On the advice of her doctor, she made a trip to Europe in 1869 in order to rest and regain her health.  Unable to rest for long, she found herself traveling to the front lines of the Franco-Prussian War with volunteers from the European Red Cross.  Her work there earned her an Iron Cross of Merit from the German emperor.  While in Europe, she also learned that the U.S. had not signed the Geneva Convention of 1864 which would make possible an international Red Cross.  After her return to the U.S. in 1873, she successfully lobbied the government until congress ratified the agreement in March of 1882.  Several months before that, however, Clara had already established local chapters of the American Red Cross in Dansville, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York.  So it was that in 1881, at the age of 60, Clara Barton formed the American Red Cross, serving as its first president until 1904.  During her tenure as president, she amended the Red Cross constitution to provide for disaster relief in peace as well as in war.  Under her guidance, the organization provided relief for victims of famine, flood, pestilence, and earthquakes throughout the United States.  She also served as an emissary of the Red Cross and addressed several international conferences.  The last operation she personally directed was relief for victims of the Galveston, Texas flood in 1900.  She died at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912 after a brief illness.

The Clara Barton House near Glen Echo, Montgomery County, Maryland, was made a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and a National Historic Site in 1974.  Since 1975 it has been a National Park Service Site.  The house was given to Clara Barton as a gift from the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in appreciation of her humanitarian work in the aftermath of the Johnstown flood of 1889.  It served as her home as well as the headquarters of the American Red Cross until 1904.  In September 1962, a Clara Barton memorial was placed on the grounds of Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.  The birthplace of Clara Barton on 25 Beacon Street, North Oxford, Massachusetts, is owned and operated by the Association of Universalist Women.

As a result of Civil War centennial commemorations, the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission erected in 1962 a monument and plaque on the Antietam Battlefield in memory of Clara Barton.

Return to Clara Barton's Introductory Page


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