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: