Red Cross

The Legacy of Clara Barton: American Red Cross Founder

According to redcross.org, the American Red Cross responds to over 60,000 disasters a year.  Last year, the organization says it served more than 8.4 million snacks and meals.  The American Red Cross is an organization many, including the military, rely on in desperate and disastrous times. While the American Red Cross has its own legacy; its founder has quite the story.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born Christmas day in 1821. From an extremely young age, Clara Barton found a passion for helping those around her. At merely 10 years old, Barton assigned herself as the nurse of her brother, learning how to appropriately distribute his prescribed medications and care for him.  He fully recovered from his injuries.

Barton was also known for being a timid child, but over time, she developed her social skills.  So much so she became a school teacher who redesigned the districts, allowing more children could go to school and fought to get equal pay to her male counterparts.

Barton would teach for many years and eventually open the first free school in New Jersey.  When a man was hired to become principal for the school over herself, Barton resigned.  She would then move to Washington D.C. to become a patent clerk in 1855.

She would once again be a first in this type of position, which made waves.  Eventually, she would again be demoted from her position to a sub-position under a male.  She did not allow that to deter her, however, even after getting fired from the position.  She would eventually go back and regain her job, at least temporarily.

Barton was 40 years old when the Civil War began.  She immediately felt a call to action, going to the railroad station and aiding the men that came into D.C. for medical care. From there, Barton worked with other women to provide food, clothing, medical care and supplies to the wounded.

Although she had zero formal medical training, Barton took it upon herself to store medicines and run supplies to those in need.  Facing some opposition, Barton persisted and requested to work directly with those on the frontlines of the war.  Finally, she was given the appropriate permission and support she needed.

Barton would also write ads in local newspapers requesting supplies, which was met with incredible response.  Barton was able to provide meals, assist with cleaning hospitals, and send bandaging and supplies to multiple locations and battlefronts.  She supported both sides of the lines with these accommodations and made due with whatever supplies she was able to rally.  At one point, she had to use corn husks for bandages.

Barton’s dedication would earn her the title, “Angel of the Battlefield.” She always seemed to have the appropriate amount of supplies at just the right time, coming to the rescue of several field hospitals and their surgeons.  Even after the Civil War ended, Barton continued to dedicate herself and resources to helping families in need.

She received official permission from Lincoln to respond to thousands of letters asking about “missing” service members.  Barton would create the Office of Missing Soldiers and made it her mission to locate as many of the missing as possible.  Her team responded to over 40,000 letters and marked over 20,000 unmarked graves.

As if her legacy was not already grand at this point, Barton would continue working with women’s suffrage leaders, as well as civil rights activists.  She would travel the country for all of these causes.  Eventually, she would get doctor’s orders to take a break from her work and take a trip.

This caused Barton to travel to Europe, where she would be go to Switzerland, where she was introduced to the Red Cross agency. While she was still in Europe in 1870, Barton assisted the Red Cross with providing work and supplies to the people. After the Franco-Prussian war ended, Barton was awarded the Prussian Iron Cross and the Golden Cross of Baden.

Upon her return to the States, she began working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to create a U.S. chapter.  While the President at the time hoped there would be no need for an agency like the Red Cross or another Civil War; it was finally decided the organization would be helpful during other major disasters.

On May 21, 1881, at 60 years old, Clara Barton officially formed the American Red Cross. A year later, the American Red Cross would become part of the International organization.  Barton would also become President of the American Red Cross.

Barton and the American Red Cross would immediately begin responding to disasters and conflicts all over the world.  From floods and famines in the U.S. to operations in Turkey and Cuba and others, Barton responded with supplies and aid wherever her organization was needed.

One of her last feats as President of the American Red Cross would be establishing an orphanage for those affected by the hurricanes in Galveston in 1900.  She stepped down at the age of 83. But that’s not all, her legacy still continues.

After her resignation, Barton also founded the National First Aid Society. Their goal was the development of first aid kits and emergency preparedness.  It has since become apart of the Red Cross organization.

Barton would eventually pass away in her home at the age of 90.  Her legacy, however, is immeasurable. According to their 2018 report, the American Red Cross delivered more than 9 million relief items, worked in 22 countries and helped more than 20,o00 families attempt to locate loved ones separated by things like international conflict.  Even military members know the value of the Red Cross and their resources across the globe.

Thank you Clara Barton for your invaluable legacy.

Know what we're sayin fam?

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