Women’s History Month: Clara Barton

This month, we’re highlighting prominent contributions in the medical field from women to celebrate Women’s History Month. To see our full list, click here.

Today we’re celebrating Clara Barton. Barton founded the American Red Cross and was a nurse during the Civil War. However, her interest in nursing began when she was just a child. When she was 10, her brother fell off a roof and received a severe head injury. She learned how to give him prescribed medication and cared for him well after the doctors had given up on him.

She first worked as a teacher, spending 12 years teaching before opening the first free school in New Jersey. Nearly 10 years after opening the school, she wanted to serve her country and helped meet 40 men who were injured in the Baltimore Riot. Some of the injured men were former students and people she knew from back home.

She used her own living space as a storeroom for medical supplies and helped distribute them on the battlefield. In August 1862, she was allowed to work the front lines of battle, providing support and medical care to injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate.

In 1864, she was named the “lady in charge” and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” At one point while providing care to a soldier, a bullet went through her sleeve and killed the soldier she was helping. Barton was not physically hurt, but the experience was harrowing.

Once the Civil War ended, she focused her efforts on responding to letters sent to soldiers killed in action. President Lincoln gave her permission and the “Search of the Missing Men” began. She continued her efforts and was responsible for locating more than 22,000 soldiers.

In 1969, she took a trip to Geneva, Switzerland and discovered the Red Cross. Red Cross leaders in Switzerland helped her find benefactors to begin the American Red Cross. During president Chester Arthur’s term, she convinced him that the Red Cross was needed in order to respond to natural disasters, rather than war. The Red Cross was officially founded in 1881. She served as president until 1904 and then founded the National First Aid Society.

Barton died in 1912 at age 90.