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Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821 in
North Oxford, Massachusetts to Stephen and Sarah (Stone) Barton. She was the youngest of five children. Her father, Stephen was a farmer, horse breeder and politician. Clara got her passion for nursing at the age of 11 when she nursed her brother David back to health from an illness.
Clara became a teacher at the age of 17. After teaching she pursued writing and languages at the Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York. After her studies there, Clara opened up a free school in New Jersey. Clara was not hired to head the school instead the board hired a man. Clara then moved to Washington D.C. where she was hired as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office. With the Civil War going on Clara refused to take a salary from the government. She dedicated her life to aiding soldiers on the front of the war. Clara became the superintendent of Union nurses in 1864. As the war went on she aided in sixteen different battlefields.
After the war, Clara began a letter writing campaign to search for missing soldiers through the Office of Correspondence.
In 1869, Clara travelled to Europe. While in Europe she heard about the Red Cross as outlined in the Treaty of Geneva. The Treaty of Geneva was a Treaty that set the standards in international law for humanitarian treatment of the victims of war. Twelve nations had signed the treaty but the Unites States had not. Clara went back to the United States to convince them to join in the Treaty. The United States signed the Geneva Treaty in 1882 .
Clara was the President of the American National Red Cross for twenty-two years. Under her direction she set up the framework for the Red Cross to fit the needs of the United States during wartime and in peacetime.
In the early years of the Red Cross it aiding victims and workers in the floods of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in 1882 and 1884, the Texas famine of 1886, the Florida yellow fever epidemic in 1887, an earthquake in Illinois in 1888, and the 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania disaster/flood.
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Clara received the Iron Cross, the Cross of Imperial Russia and the International Red Cross Medal. She also founded the National First Aid Society in 1904. She retired as President of the American Red Cross at the age of 83. She spent the rest of the life in Glen Echo, Maryland. She died on April 12, 1912 from cold complications.
"An institution or reform movement that is not selfish, must originate in the recognition of some evil that is adding to the sum of human suffering, or diminishing the sum of happiness. I suppose it is a philanthropic movement to try to reverse the process. "
- Clara Barton
“I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.”
- Clara Barton