Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Clara Barton is best known as the founder of the Red Cross and a nurse during the American Civil War.
Born on Christmas in 1821, in Oxford, Massachussetts to Stephen and Sarah Barton, Clara was the youngest of five children. Her experience with nursing came at an early age of eleven, as she tended to her older brother who fell from the rafter of an unfinished barn. In his three years of recovery, Clara stayed by his side and administered all his medicine, which included leeches. Clara continued to show a growing interest in nursing and drew inspiration from her aunt, Martha Ballard, who served as a midwife for over three decades.
At the start of the Civil War, Clara tended to wounded Massachussets soldiers who were quartered in the U.S. Senate Chamber in Washington. Then, as soon as the First Battle of Bull Run, Clara established the main agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. She eventually was allowed to ride in ambulances, bring her own medical instruments to the battlefield, and go to the front lines. Most notably, she served on the front lines for the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond. Union General Benjamin Butler declared her to be the "lady in charge" of the hospitals for the Army of the James.
In 1865, President Lincoln gave her the task of finding missing Union soldiers. An Andersonville POW, Dorence Atwater sought her out and produced a list of over 13,000 dead soldiers that died inside the infamous Confederate POW camp. They traveled to Andersonville after the war and used the list to make an official report and publish the names of the dead. Without Clara and Atwater's work, thousands of soldiers would not have been identified. Her work with identifying missing bodies and on the field made her a well known figure and made nursing be seen as a skilled profession.
After the war, Clara went around the country delivering speeches on her experiences and eventually ran into Susan B. Anthony. After meeting Anthony and later Fredrick Douglass, Clara became a supporter of the Woman's Suffrage Movement and black civil rights. After her work in the Civil War, she was tired out, and her doctors recommended that she take a vacation to Europe. In her time there she saw the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War and decided she wanted to bring the organization to America. When she came home and lobbied for the creation of the American Red Cross, people didn't think it was necessary for they felt that there was no way that America would ever go through something as devastating as the Civil War again. She was finally able to convince Chester A. Arthur that the Red Cross could serve in other ways than in war. Clara, naturally became the leader of the Red Cross, which started on May 21, 1881. Clara and others claimed that the group would help in any instance of natural disasters and would act as good Samaritans.
Clara led one of the first relief efforts for the group to help those effected by the Thumb Fire, other wise known as the Great Fire of 1881, which occurred in the thumb area of Michigan where over five thousand were left homeless. The second major disaster that involved the Red Cross and Clara was at the Johnstown Flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, which ended up killing over two thousand people.
Things went back to war with the war against Spain in which Clara and the Red Cross aided the wounded and prisoners of war. In 1896, responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the Hamidian Massacre, Clara sailed to Istanbul and after long negotiations with Abdul Hamid II, opened the first American International Red Cross headquarters in Beijing, China. Clara traveled along with five other Red Cross expeditions to the Armenian provinces in the spring of 1896. Clara also worked in hospitals in Cuba in 1898 at the age of seventy-seven. Barton's last field operation as President of the American Red Cross was the relief effort for the victims of the Galveston hurricane of September 1900. The operation established an orphanage for children of the 6,000 dead, helped to acquire lumber for rebuilding houses, and teamed with the New York World newspaper to accept contributions for the relief effort. As criticism arose of her management of the American Red Cross, plus her advancing age, Barton resigned as president in 1904, at the age of 83. On April 12, 1912 at the age of 90 she died in Glen Echo, Maryland with all her friends by her side.
The Red Cross continues to help and aid those in America and in other countries that are hit by terrible natural disasters. The Red Cross has also continued and has helped serve in America's wars to help the injured and POW's. This is all thanks to Clara Barton and her unwavering service to America and it's people.