Clara Barton Biography: Founder Of The American Red Cross
2020 has been named the Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization. To celebrate, every month we're highlighting a nurse who has helped change the world.
Clara Barton got her first bit of nursing experience as a teenager, caring for her ill brother. But originally, a future in nursing didn’t seem to be in the cards. As a young woman, Barton worked as a teacher, and then as a recording clerk at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. In both jobs, she faced discrimination because of her gender, earning less than her male colleagues and even getting demoted by a sexist supervisor.
Once the Civil War broke out, Barton left her job and dedicated herself to the Union war effort. She began transporting supplies to battlefields, and was at every major battlefield in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. This “angel of the battlefield,” as she was known, also tended to the wounded. Despite a lack of formal medical training, she was named head nurse for one of General Benjamin Butler’s units in 1864. She also helped prepare slaves for their futures as free people, and after the war helped locate missing soldiers.
While visiting Europe after the war, Barton began working with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War. When she returned home, she lobbied to create a U.S. branch of the organization. The American Association of the Red Cross was formed in 1881, and Barton was elected as its first president.