A Life Well Lived: Happy 200th, Clara Barton

Clara Barton was born 200 years ago on December 25, 1821.  She died age 90 on April 12, 1912.

Unlike the mythical being allegedly born on this date, Barton existed.  She accomplished meaningful and tangible things and saved lives.  But given the obsession with “xmas”, her birthday will likely be overlooked everywhere except in feminist and atheist circles.

Barton began as a school teacher at age 18, founding and developing her own school.  But after being passed over for promotion to a less qualified man, she quit.  From 1854 until the US civil war began, she worked as a recording clerk in the US government patent office.

“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

During the US civil war, starting at 40, she began to work as a nurse.  While not formally trained (there were no nursing schools at the time), her education and experience made her a very capable leader and organizer both of people and resources, moving supplies and treating soldiers on the battlefield.

Her family were abolitionist and she shared that opposition to slavery long before the civil war.  She was also a civil rights activist, and a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage.  She also founded the National First Aid Association of America in 1904, encouraging emergency preparedness in the home.

Most importantly, Barton founded the US Red Cross.  From the RC website:

On May 21, 1881, Clara founded the American Red Cross, and by 1882, the U.S. ratified the Geneva Conventions — laws that, to this day, protect the war-wounded and civilians in conflict zones. This later resulted in a U.S. congressional charter, officially recognizing Red Cross services.

Clara Barton served as Red Cross president for 23 years, retiring in 1904. After a lifetime of service, Clara died at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912.

To this day Clara’s legacy lives on, reflected in the spirit of Red Cross volunteers and employees. Because of one woman, Clara Barton, the American Red Cross brings help and hope across the nation and around the world.

Now there’s a life well lived, an actual person worthy of admiration.

Here are a few sites with more detail about Barton’s life:

Biography.com’s profile

The Clara Barton Museum

American Red Cross’ biography of Clara Barton

National Women’s History Museum


  1. garnetstar says

    Thanks! I read a biography of Clara Barton when I was a child, and was inspired even then.

    Merry Clara Barton-mas to you!

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Clara was a class act all the way. I did not know she was born on 12/25. Happy bday, Clara!
    I do want to mention some things about the American Red Cross. First, some ppl hate the ARC because at times in the past, in war zones, the ARC charged money to American GIs for little things like coffee and sandwiches. Please be aware that the US government asked them to do that in order to try to support the local economy. The USG wanted some money to be spent in native cafes and grocery stores, it was NEVER the ARCs idea to gouge GIs.
    Second, many American’s encounter with the ARC will probably be blood donations. I fully support blood donations. They save lives, and make life easier for many people. HOWEVER, I want to provide a caveat for donors: The ARC, and probably every other blood drive you might encounter, are focused much more on the recipients of the blood than they are on the donors. I don’t mean that they will mistreat you. I have donated many times at my local ARC site, and was treated almost like royalty every single time. The problem is the ARC’s determination that a donor can donate again eight weeks after their last donation. I do not dispute that a first donation, followed by a second donation eight weeks later is extremely safe. But, if you look at it as a strictly mathematical problem, it implies that a donor can give 13 units of blood in 2 calendar years, and that is how the ARC views it, and I am here to tell you that that is dangerous.
    The local ARC blood bank was quite close to where I used to work, and when I would get an email from them that it had been 8 weeks since my last donation and could I please come in for a new donation, it was usually easy to comply. I did this routinely for about 2 1/2 years until my MD, with a slight note of panic in her voice, told me I was anemic and I had an abnormally high level of immature red blood cells. I asked her if my many blood donations could be the reason, and she emphatically said “No”. To her credit, she referred me to a blood specialist, who confirmed that I was right, it was the blood donations that made me anemic. So now, I have a slightly jaundiced view of both the ARC and of MDs.
    That said, please do donate blood and do listen to your MD, but keep your mind open, and get a second, and a third, opinion if you ever have any doubts about what you are told.