Every year, the American Red Cross responds to 70,000 disasters in the United States; the disasters range from hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and floods. The Red Cross provides food, shelter, and supplies for families and communities to get back on their feet. The Red Cross also helps 150,000 military families and veterans each year by providing training and support to wounded warriors. The Red Cross is also the nation’s leading provider of health and safety courses. The American version of this organization was founded by Clara Harlowe Barton.
Clara Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. When she was 16, phrenologists (studied bumps on people’s head) said a career in teaching would cure her of her shyness. After teaching for a few years, she moved to New Jersey where she found out that New Jersey did not have free schools. She opened up a free school and while only 6 students showed up on the first day of school, she had over 200 students when the school year ended. The people of Bordentown were impressed and donated $4,000 to build a new, larger school. When the school opened in 1853, Barton found out that she would not be the principal because she was a woman. Hurt that she could not be in charge of the school she help create, she quit and moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office. She would be the first woman to have a government job in the United States.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, thousands of wounded Union soldiers headed to Washington, D.C.. Barton quickly realized that the government was not prepared to care for the wounded soldiers. For a year, she pleaded with the bureaucracy to allow her to bring medical supplies to the field. When she was granted permission, she headed to the battlefield. Barton became the “nursing angel” to soldiers in some of the war’s bloodiest battles: Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Grateful soldiers who survived the war would name their daughters Clara. When regimental standard-bearer Sergeant Thomas Plunkett had both his arms blown off (still managed to support the flag staff with his body until another soldier could carry it forward into battle) Barton took care of his wounds and saw that he was placed on a train to D.C.. When he encountered trouble trying to return home, Barton pledged his case to U.S. Senator Henry Wilson, who saw that Plunkett had money and help for the rest of his life.
During the Civil War, Barton received hundreds of letters from families wandering if she knew where their sons were. When the war ended, Barton took charge of identifying and marking the graves of 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the Anderson, Georgia, prisoner-of-war camp. President Abraham Lincoln made her the head of the Missing Soldiers Office, the first woman to become in charge of a U.S. government bureau. The agency located 22,000 missing soldiers from 1865-1868.
In 1869, her doctor recommended her to travel to Europe to relax. Instead of relaxing, she took part in the relief effort during the Franco-Prussian War. While she was helping the wounded, she was introduced to the Red Cross, the organization created in 1864 to provide humane services to war victims. She also learned about the Geneva Conviction, rules that apply in times of armed conflict that seek to protect people who not taking part in hostilities. At the time, the United States had not signed it. Barton returned to the United States to establish the American Red Cross and she pushed the U.S. to sign the Geneva Convection. The Red Cross was recognized by the U.S. government to provide aid for natural disasters on May 21, 1881; after the Johnston Flood (dam broke and killed 2,000 people) Barton and 50 doctors and nurses showed up to take care of the town.She resigned its presidency in 1904 and she died in Glen Echo, Maryland on April 12, 1912.
Clara Barton would rather take care of wounded soldiers during a battle then speak at a meeting, but she was able to overcome her shyness when others needed her to. She became a teacher to overcome her shyness, but instead she made sure that children received free education in New Jersey. When she noticed wounded soldiers outside her house, she rushed to the battlefield to take care of them. When parents wanted to know where their son was, she was put in charge of the agency responsible for bringing 22,000 families peace. Barton never “relaxed” as her doctor ordered her to, she was too busy creating an organization that is now the number one organization to respond to a natural disaster.