Remembering Clara Barton – The Nurse Who Changed the World

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/ published 4 months ago

Remembering Clara Barton – The Nurse Who Changed the World

Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, as Clarissa Harlowe Barton. She was named after the novel Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

Clara Barton is a nurse from the Civil War Battlefields. She earned the name the Angel of the Battlefield by helping many soldiers. Before and after she stepped into nursing, she fought sexism at every turn. This is why many regard her as one of the most influential women in history.
Today, we will look at some facts about Clara Barton.

Named after a heroine in distress

Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, as Clarissa Harlowe Barton. She was named after the novel Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.
Yet, unlike the poor heroine of the book was obsessively controlled by her family, Clara set out to show the world she can be useful and proactive.
She remains one of the most honoured women in American history and one of the most influential in world history.
Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War, founded the American Red Cross in 1881, and then led it for the next 23 years.


So shy she wouldn’t eat

Clara was determined to show the world how useful and proactive she can be. But at a young age, she was quite shy. While she excelled at reading and spelling during school, she was shy she only had one friend, Nancy Fitts.
Her parents tried to cure her shyness by sending her to Colonel Stones High School. But Clara hated it and stopped eating because of misery.
But something good came out of her shyness. It convinced her to become a teacher. She was also influenced by visiting a phrenologist, who told her she had the skull of an educator.

The first free public school in New Jersey

Clara Barton excelled as a teacher. In 1852, she found many poor and school-age boys on the streets in New Jersey.
Determined to help them, she started a free public school, the first in Bordentown. By the end of the year, the school grew from six students to several hundred of them.
But here is the irony. When the school proved a success, the board hired a male principle to replace Clara and run it at two times her salary. Clara left in protest and later said, “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”.

Fighting for equal pay

Clara was one of the first women to work for the federal government where she fought for equal pay. She moved to Washington in 1854 and became a copyist for the US Patent Office.
During the first year, she was promoted to clear. When she got the job, she successfully lobbied to earn the same $1,400 salary as her male peers.
But her raise didn’t last long. A new boss came and demoted her to a copyist, earning only 10 cents for every 100 words.
While working in the Patent Office, she was unpopular among her male co-workers. But it did make her one of the first female patent clerks.

The Baltimore Riot

Clara’s work as a Civil War nurse and relief worker began with the Baltimore Riot. She had no formal education or experience as a nurse before that.
On April 19, 1861, just weeks after the beginning of the Civil War, Confederate sympathizers attacked Massachusetts soldiers traveling through Baltimore. They killed four of them and the injured were taken to the unfinished US Capitol building, close to where Barton worked at the US Patent Office.


She rushed to help the wounded and was shocked to discover some of them were her former students. She said, “they were faithful to me in their boyhood, and in their manhood faithful to their country”.
Barton quickly gathered food, medicine, and clothing from her home and helped care for them. This was the beginning of her Civil War nursing career.

She was almost killed at the Battle of Antietam

Barton had several close calls during her time as a nurse. But one of the most dangerous was the Battle of Antietam.
There, while taking care for a wounded soldier, a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress and into her patient.
The ball passed between her body and the right arm which supported him. It cut through his chest. But a little more to the side, and that bullet could have killed Barton.

Helping both sides

Barton didn’t care about the side of the soldiers. She offered her services to both Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners. In her diaries, she noted the conditions that soldiers were forced to deal with.
In one part, speaking about the Battle of Fredericksburg, she recorded, “she went to the old National Hotel where some hundreds western men, sadly wounded, all on the floor, had nothing to eat. It was sight like these that further inspired her efforts to care for the wounded”.

Raising money for her efforts

Barton not only helped wounded men, but did so with her own money. Much of the money she used to help wounded men came out of her pocket.
She paid for transportation to and around battlefields. Yes, she was later reimbursed by Congress and supplemented with money from donations.
But in the beginning, she financed her efforts from her own pocket.

The Missing Soldiers Office

At the end of the Civil War, many soldiers were missing. With Lincoln’s approval, Sarah founded the Missing Soldiers Office.


The goal was to help families locate their loved ones. She received around 63,000 requests and managed to locate some 22,000 men.

Her office is now a museum

The Missing Soldiers office was closed in 1869. It was closed up and forgotten about until 1997, when a General Services Administration carpenter by the name Richard Lyons was sent to access the site for demolition.
While inspecting the property, he found a wealth of historical items in the attic. There were records and documents, clothing, and newspapers. He informed his superiors and instead of shutting it down, the building was preserved and turned into a museum.


That last part happened in 2015, with the help of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. It is now called the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum

She co-found the American Red Cross while on a health break

Many people remember Clara as the founder of the American Red Cross. She toured the country giving lectures on what she went through during the Civil War between 1865 and 18688.
Yet, in 1869, her health began to deteriorate. So, her doctor sent her to Switzerland to recover.
There, she met Dr. Louis Appia and learned about his work forming the Red Cross. Inspired by his efforts, she returned to America and created her own brand, which was finally established in 1880.


Barton served as president until May 1904. When she finally retired from the Red Cross, she was 82 years of age.

The Woman with many nicknames

Because of her courage and efforts on the battlefield, Clara was given many affectionate nicknames. Some of them include The American Nightingale and Angel of the Battlefield. The former is a reference to Florence Nightingale of Crimean War fame.

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