Clara Barton 

(1821 - 1912)

Photograph of Clara Barton from 

Clara Barton was born in 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts.  She is best known for being the founder of the American Red Cross and the National First Aid Society.  Barton supported many of the nineteenth-century reform movements that affect our lives even today.  In the 1840's and 50's, she supported the public school movement by teaching and establishing free schools.  She was an avid supporter of the Black Civil Rights and Women's Rights Movement.  Barton worked closely with Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony on these issues.

During the Civil War, Barton worked independently to give relief to the wounded in the Union Army at Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, Chantilly, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Hilton Head, the Wilderness, and Petersburg. She performed her work initially without government support or assistance.  In 1864, her work was recognized and she was appointed Superintendent of Nurses for the Army of the James.  After the war, she worked to locate missing soldiers and led the War Department in the effort to mark over 12,000 Union graves at Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

In 1869, Clara Barton went to Europe.  In Europe, she became involved in the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Barton returned to the United States and worked diligently to create the American branch of the Red Cross, established in 1881. Barton was 60 years old when she became the first president of the organization.  She held this position from 1882 to 1904.  While presiding over the Red Cross, she realized that its services could be utilized during peace time as well as in wartime to relieve the needs of those affected by natural disasters and epidemics.  Today, the Red Cross continues to carry out Barton's commitment to bringing relief wherever needed.

At the age of 83, she retired from the American Red Cross and established the National First Aid Society.  The organization grew rapidly during the last seven years of her life and its mission was later included with that of the American Red Cross.

Barton spent the last fifteen years of her life in Glen Echo, Maryland.  She lived in a three story, thirty-eight room building which also served as a dormitory for Red Cross volunteers, warehouse for Red Cross supplies, and the first permanent headquarters of the American Red Cross.  The site is now administered by the National Park Service as the Clara Barton Historic Site.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 1987.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001