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PIAS TOWER 11F, 3-19-3
Clarissa Harlowe Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) was a pioneering nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, a teacher, and patent clerk. Nursing education was not very formalized at that time and she did not attend nursing school, so she provided self-taught nursing care. Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy at a time before women had the right to vote. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1973.
She began to play with her male cousins and, to their surprise, she was good at keeping up with such activities as horseback riding. It was not until after she had injured herself that Barton's mother began to question her playing with the boys. Barton's mother decided she should focus on more feminine skills. She invited one of Clara's female cousins over to help develop her femininity. From her cousin, she gained proper social skills as well.
While teaching in Hightstown, Barton learned about the lack of public schools in Bordentown, the neighboring city. In 1852, she was contracted to open a free school in Bordentown, which was the first ever free school in New Jersey. She was successful, and after a year she had hired another woman to help teach over 600 people. Both women were making $250 a year. This accomplishment compelled the town to raise nearly $4,000 for a new school building. Once completed, though, Barton was replaced as principal by a man elected by the school board. They saw the position as head of a large institution to be unfitting for a woman. She was demoted to "female assistant" and worked in a harsh environment until she had a nervous breakdown along with other health ailments, and quit.
Barton quickly recognized them, as she had grown up with some of them, and some she had even taught. Barton, along with several other women, personally provided clothing, food, and supplies for the sick and wounded soldiers. She learned how to store and distribute medical supplies and offered emotional support to the soldiers by keeping their spirits high. She would read books to them, write letters to their families for them, talk to them, and support them.
After the end of the American Civil War, Barton discovered that thousands of letters from distraught relatives to the War Department were going unanswered because the soldiers they were questioning about were buried in unmarked graves. Many of these soldiers were labeled just as "missing". Motivated to do more about the situation, Miss Barton contacted President Lincoln in hopes that she would be allowed to respond officially to these unanswered inquiries. She was given permission, and "The Search for the Missing Men" commenced.
Barton achieved widespread recognition by delivering lectures around the country about her war experiences in 1865–1868. During this time she met Susan B. Anthony and began an association with the woman's suffrage movement. She also became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and became an activist for civil rights. After her country wide tour she was both mentally and physically exhausted and under doctor's orders to go somewhere that would take her far from her current work. She closed the Missing Soldiers Office in 1868 and traveled to Europe. In 1869, during her trip to Geneva, Switzerland, Barton was introduced to the Red Cross and Dr. Appia; he later would invite her to be the representative for the American branch of the Red Cross and help her find financial benefactors for the start of the American Red Cross. She was also introduced to Henry Dunant's book A Memory of Solferino, which called for the formation of national societies to provide relief voluntarily on a neutral basis.
As criticism arose of her mixing professional and personal resources, Barton was forced to resign as president of the American Red Cross in 1904, at the age of 83 because of her egocentric leadership style fitting poorly into the formal structure of an organizational charity. She had been forced out of office by a new generation of all-male scientific experts who reflected the realistic efficiency of the Progressive Era rather than her idealistic humanitarianism. In memory of the courageous women of the civil war, the Red Cross Headquarters was founded. During the dedication, not one person said a word. This was done in order to honor the women and their services. After resigning, Barton founded the National First Aid Society.
In 1975, the Clara Barton National Historic Site, located at 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo, Maryland, was established as a unit of the National Park Service at Barton's home, where she spent the last 15 years of her life. As the first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman, it preserves the early history of the American Red Cross, since the home also served as an early headquarters of the organization. The North Oxford, Massachusetts, house in which she was born is now also a museum.
In 1997, General Services Administration carpenter Richard Lyons was hired to check out the building for its demolition. He found a treasure trove of Barton items in the attic, including signs, clothing, Civil War soldier's socks, an army tent, Civil War-era newspapers, and many documents relating to the Office of Missing Soldiers. This discovery led to the NPS saving the building from demolition. It took years, however, for the site to be restored. The Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office Museum, run by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, opened in 2015.