Barton, Clara

Also found in: Medical.

Barton, Clara,

1821–1912, American humanitarian, organizer of the American Red Cross, b. North Oxford (now Oxford), Mass. She taught school (1839–54) and clerked in the U.S. Patent Office before the outbreak of the Civil War. She then established a service of supplies for soldiers and nursed in army camps and on the battlefields. She was called the Angel of the Battlefield. In 1865 President Lincoln appointed her to search for missing prisoners; the records she compiled also served to identify thousands of the dead at AndersonvilleAndersonville,
village (1990 pop. 277), SW Ga., near Americus; inc. 1881. In Andersonville Prison, officially known as Camp Sumter, tens of thousands of Union soldiers were confined during the Civil War under conditions so bad that nearly 13,000 soldiers died.
..... Click the link for more information.
 Prison. In Europe for a conference at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870), she went to work behind the German lines for the International Red Cross. She returned to the United States in 1873 and in 1881 organized the American National Red CrossRed Cross,
international organization concerned with the alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of public health; the world-recognized symbols of mercy and absolute neutrality are the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and the Red Crystal flags and emblems.
..... Click the link for more information.
, which she headed until 1904. She worked successfully for the President's signature to the Geneva treaty for the care of war wounded (1882) and emphasized Red Cross work in catastrophes other than war. Among her writings are several books on the Red Cross.


See biographies by I. Ross (1956) and W. E. Barton (1969); S. B. Oates, A Woman of Valor (1994).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Barton, (Clarissa Harlowe) Clara

(1821–1912) nurse, organizer; born in Oxford, Mass. An adventurous and strong-willed farmer's daughter, she nursed an invalid brother as a child, became a teacher at age 15, and worked in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., during the 1850s. After the Union defeat at the 1st Battle of Bull Run (July 1861) she advertised for provisions for the wounded and received such a large contribution that she set herself up as a distributing agency. From mid-July 1862 Barton operated as a freelance front-line nurse, distributing comforts and tending the sick and wounded of the Army of the Potomac. In 1864 she served as superintendent of nurses for the Army of the James, her only official connection—she had difficulty taking orders, and preferred to work on her own. After the war Barton worked under the auspices of the International Red Cross in Europe to distribute relief to the French in the Franco-Prussian War. When she returned to the U.S.A. she campaigned for the establishment of an American Red Cross. She headed the agency for 23 years after its incorporation in 1881. Small, slightly built but physically hardy, she expended a large portion of her substantial energies in the field; at age 79 she spent six weeks tending the ill and homeless in Galveston, Texas, after the disastrous flood there. A poor manager, unwilling to delegate, and more unwilling to share authority, Barton resigned under pressure as head of the Red Cross in June 1904, after which the agency experienced a thoroughgoing reorganization.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.