Portrait of Clara Barton

Clara Barton’s willingness to put her personal safety at risk to tend the wounded near the front won the trust of soldiers and field doctors alike during the Civil War. It also earned her the endearing informal title of “Angel of the Battlefield.” [Wikimedia Commons]

Clarissa "Clara" Harlowe Barton - Facts

December 25, 1821–April 12, 1912

Key facts about the Angel of the Battlefield, and co-founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton.

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Full Name:

  • Clarissa Harlowe Barton

Birth Date:

  • December 25, 1821

Birth Location:

  • Oxford, Massachusetts

Parents:

  • Stephen and Sarah (Stone) Barton

Education:

  • Clinton Liberal Institute

Occupation:

  • Teacher
  • copyist
  • volunteer worker
  • lecturer
  • administrator

Career Summary:

  • Founder and president of the American Red Cross

Spouse:

  • None

Place of Death:

  • Glen Echo, Maryland

Date of Death:

  • April 12, 1912

Place of Burial:

  • North Cemetery, Oxford, Massachusetts

Significance

  • Clara Barton was the youngest (by ten years) of Stephen and Sarah (Stone) Barton’s five children.
  • Clara Barton’s father was a successful businessman, farmer, and horse breeder who served as a militia captain during the French and Indian War and the Indian War in the Northwest Territory.
  • Little is known of Sarah Barton other than that she was a homemaker who cared for her daughter but struggled to understand her peculiarities.
  • Clara Barton was a shy and quiet child who struggled with the social facets of formal education.
  • Clara Barton attended local schools, and was home-schooled by her older siblings.
  • Between the ages of eleven and thirteen, Clara Barton nursed her older brother, David, back to health after he seriously injured himself upon falling from the roof of a barn.
  • In 1839, Clara Barton passed the requisite examinations to become a schoolteacher.
  • From 1839 to 1845, Clara Barton taught school in a one-room schoolhouse near Oxford, Massachusetts.
  • In 1845, Clara Barton moved to the town of Charlton, Massachusetts, where she established a school for the children of her brother’s mill workers.
  • After teaching for more than a decade, Clara Barton moved to Oneida County, New York, in 1850 and enrolled at the Clinton Liberal Institute for a year to pursue formal studies in the field of education.
  • In 1852, Clara Barton established a school in Bordentown, New Jersey, that is often cited as the first free school in New Jersey.
  • In 1854, Clara Barton resigned from her duties at the Bordentown school she founded when the school board replaced her as the principal with a man earning twice her salary.
  • In 1855, Clara Barton secured employment in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.
  • Clara Barton’s co-workers at the U.S. Patent Office harassed her because she earned as much as the men who worked there.
  • Clara Barton lost her job at the U.S. Patent Office in 1857 after James Buchanan became U.S. president.
  • Clara Barton resumed working at the U.S. Patent Office in 1861 after Abraham Lincoln’s election to the U.S. presidency.
  • After the Civil War began, Clara Barton began collecting and delivering supplies to Union soldiers.
  • After the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Clara Barton broadened the scope of her relief efforts to include tending to the wounded soldiers.
  • Following Clara Barton’s vigorous lobbying campaign, on August 3, 1862, the War Department granted her permission to deliver supplies and render aid at the front.
  • Clara Barton’s first experience nursing wounded soldiers at the front occurred on August 13, 1862, after the Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862).
  • During 1862, Clara Barton delivered supplies and nursed wounded soldiers at numerous major conflicts including the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862), the
  • Battle of Chantilly (September 1, 1862), the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862), the Battle of Antietam, Maryland, (September 17, 1862), and the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862).
  • At the Battle of Antietam, Clara Barton barely escaped death when a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress, killing the wounded man she was attending.
  • In 1863, Clara Barton served in South Carolina.
  • Clara Barton accompanied the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign (May 4–June 24, 1864).
  • On June 23, 1864, the War Department placed Clara Barton in charge of diet and nursing at a 10th Corps hospital near Point of Rocks, Virginia, during the Petersburg Campaign. She served in that capacity for the remainder of the war.
  • Clara Barton’s willingness to put her personal safety at risk to tend the wounded near the front won the trust of soldiers and field doctors alike. It also earned her the endearing informal title of “Angel of the Battlefield.”
  • After the Civil War, with President Lincoln’s blessing, Clara Barton founded the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army (commonly known as Missing Soldiers Office) on March 11, 1865.
  • During July and August of 1865, Clara Barton accompanied a U.S. Army expedition to the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia, charged with identifying the graves of Union soldiers who had died there.
  • In recognition of Clara Barton’s service, the U.S government accorded Barton the honor of raising the flag over Andersonville National Cemetery on August 17, 1865, during the dedication ceremony.
  • By the time the Missing Soldiers Office closed in 1869, Clara Barton and her staff had answered more than 63,000 letters from friends and family members, and they determined the fate of more than 22,000 soldiers.
  • Between 1866 and 1868, Clara Barton presented more than 200 lectures recounting her experiences during the Civil War.
  • In September 1869, on the advice of her doctor, Clara Barton embarked on a trip to Europe to regain her health.
  • While in Switzerland, Clara Barton met Dr. Louis Appia, one of the five founding members of the “International Committee for Relief to Wounded Soldiers” that later became the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • During the Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870–May 10, 1871), Clara Barton journeyed behind German lines to assist the International Red Cross relief efforts in Strasbourg, France.
  • In October 1873, Clara Barton returned to the United States and began campaigning for the creation of an American chapter of the International Organization of the Red Cross.
  • By 1876, Clara Barton’s health had deteriorated to the extent that she entered Dr. Jackson’s Sanitarium in Dansville, New York. Gradually, Barton’s health returned and she bought a private home in Dansville, choosing to remain close to her doctors.
  • On May 21, 1881, Clara Barton convened a meeting of supporters that adopted a constitution for the formation of the American Association of the Red Cross.
  • On June 9, 1881, the American Association of the Red Cross elected Clara Barton as its first president.
  • Clara Barton served as President of the American Red Cross for twenty-three years, from 1881 to 1904, and she never received a salary for her leadership.
  • Under Clara Barton’s guidance, the American Red Cross became far more than a relief organization for wounded or captured soldiers; it grew into a source of support for victims of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, forest fires, tornados, and hurricanes.
  • On the day after the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, touching off the Spanish-American War (April 21–August 13, 1898), Clara Barton was already rendering aid to wounded American sailors in a Havana hospital.
  • In 1891, Clara Barton had a building constructed in Glen Echo, Maryland, that served primarily as a warehouse for Red Cross supplies.
  • In February 1897, the Red Cross warehouse in Glen Echo, Maryland, became the national headquarters of the American Red Cross, as well as Barton’s personal residence. The property served as Barton’s home for the remainder of her life.
  • In 1975, the National Park Service dedicated Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo, Maryland, as the Clara Barton Historic Site.
  • During the later stages of Clara Barton’s life, she authored several books including The Red Cross in Peace and War (1899), A Story of the Red Cross (1904), and The Story of My Childhood (1907).
  • Clara Barton resigned as president of the American Red Cross on May 14, 1904.
  • The board of trustees of the American Red Cross accepted Clara Barton’s resignation as the organization’s president on June 16, 1904.
  • In 1905, Clara Barton established the National First Aid Association of America. Her new organization focused on basic first aid instruction and emergency preparedness.
  • Clara Barton served as the honorary president of the National First Aid Association of America from 1905 to 1912.
  • Clara Barton died from pneumonia on the morning of April 12, 1912, at the age of ninety.
  • Clara Barton’s last words were “let me go—let me go.”
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Clarissa "Clara" Harlowe Barton - Facts
  • Coverage December 25, 1821–April 12, 1912
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 28, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 28, 2021