Miss Clara Barton

Clarissa Harlowe Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) known as Clara Barton, was a pioneering American teacher, female U.S. patent clerk, Civil War nurse, humanitarian, civil rights activist, founder and first president of the American Red Cross.

Born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1821, In New Oxford, Massachusetts, Clara was the youngest daughter of Captain Stephen Barton, a former militia captain and selectman, and Sara Stone Barton.  The youngest of five children, her siblings were significantly older than she and served as surrogate parents and teachers to her.  As a child she was extremely shy and related to adults more than her peers.  She began school at three years old and it quickly became apparent how smart she was.  Her cousins were mostly boys and she learned to engage in outdoor pursuits with them becoming quite the rider and tom boy.  She would always prefer male company to female and as an adult was always more comfortable with men than women. In a man’s world of 19th Century America this made her extremely successful in accomplishing her agendas. Despite the fact that there were no public nursing programs in America until after the Civil War, Clara Barton’s nursing career began early.  When she eleven years old her brother David fell through a barn and was dangerously hurt.  Clara Barton nursed him for two years until he gained his health back.  A childhood victim of small pox she survived to be immune to this desperate disease and helped nurse victims in her community as a young teen.  Later during the Civil War she would also nurse victims of small pox as well as the wounded.  At seventeen she was certified as a teacher and her parents encouraged her to pursue that profession as an antidote for her terrible shyness.  She would develop a reputation for scholarship and excellent discipline. She was not afraid to discipline misbehaving students; however she seldom had to as her students, even the most difficult older boys, were affectionate and respectful toward her.  She would come to realize “that the surest test of discipline was its absence. “ She was recruited to teach in the toughest district schools and was unafraid to demand equal pay to the male teachers, and she got it. She would state, “I may sometimes be willing to teacher for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

After ten years of successful teaching she searched for higher education for herself and entered the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York where she excelled academically.  In 1852, she began teaching in Bordentown, NJ.  A believer in free public education for all she noticed many boys lingering on the streets.  She began a free school and convinced the community that free schools were not a form of charity, but education was a necessity for all.  Her school began with six boys in a small house and within a year grew to 600 pupils with her at the head of the school.  The town built a large, brand new school and when Barton returned after summer break she found that the town fathers felt the school she built was too successful for a woman to lead.  They hired a man as principal and she became his assistant.   In 1854 she left teaching forever, unable and unwilling to put up with a subordinate situation that ruined her nerves and her health.  She moved to Washington, DC and soon was hired as a full-time patent clerk employed permanently by the Federal Government.  Her new salary was much more than any teachers’ and she made more than most men.  Despite widespread belief of the “obvious impropriety in the mixing of the two sexes within the walls of a public office,” Barton was a hard worker and highly effective.  She successfully battled many of the incompetent and dishonest men with whom she worked.  This did not make her popular, but no one could argue her own honesty and competent hard work.  She would lose her job at the U.S. Patent Office when President Buchanan took office in 1856.  She regained her position under the Lincoln administration in 1860 and despite long absences for her war work would hold her position until the Johnson administration. After the attack on Ft. Sumpter on April 12, 1861 and the April 19, 1861 attack on Federal Massachusetts troops coming to the aid of Washington DC, Miss Barton collected supplies for the soldiers and went to their aid.  She soon had three warehouses full of supplies for the army and began managing large-scale distribution.  She went to the front and directly onto the battlefield at Cedar Mountain in 1862.  She would repeatedly and heroically risk her life to supply Union surgeons and nurse the wounded on the battlefields of Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Ft. Wagner, the Carolinas and the Wilderness.  Through the war years Miss Barton kept records of all she came in contact with to be able to notify families back home.  In 1865 she would establish the Missing Soldiers Office to locate the missing and dead with the approval of President Lincoln.  She would go to Andersonville to establish the National Cemetery identifying 12,920 graves with only 440 remaining unknown.  After the war she would write and lecture until her health broke and she left for Europe to recover.  In Europe Miss Barton learned of the Geneva Convention and the International Red Cross.  She participated in relief work during the Franco-Prussian War and received many honors from European nations for her work.  She returned to the United States determined that the Senate would ratify the Geneva Treaty and that an American Red Cross would be established. Despite the fact that as a women she could not vote and had no political rights, she worked with Presidents and senators, she testified in Congress, and in 1881 she was successful where powerful men had failed.  President Chester A. Arthur signed the ratified Treaty of Geneva. Now sixty years young Miss Barton became the President of the American Red Cross.   She would lead the organization for the next 26 years in war and peace.  Under her administration the Red Cross would expand its efforts and provide relief in all the great disasters of 19th Century America.  In 1884 The International Red Cross would adopt the American Amendment for peace time relief in her honor. Since that time the Red Cross has delivered relief efforts in all the natural disasters and wars the world has seen.  Miss Barton would resign as President of the Red Cross in 1904 when she was 83.  She would go on to found the National First Aid Society and she would write.  In 1912 at the Age of 90 she would pass away in her Glen Echo home after a remarkable and dedicated lifetime of service to her nation and the world.


Carolyn Ivanoff

Carolyn Ivanoff is a retired high school assistant principal.  She is an educator, author, and independent historian.  As an educator Carolyn is committed to bringing history and social studies education programs out of the classroom and into the community. She is a living historian with Company F 14th Connecticut, Blue and Gray Hospital Association, Confederation of Union Generals, a board member of the Society of Civil War Surgeons.  Carolyn serves on various boards for local history organizations in Connecticut and is a long-time member of the American Battlefield Trust.   Carolyn’s first person portrayals include Queen Elizabeth I, First Lady Dolley Madison, and Miss Clara Barton. Her programs can be found on her webpage at: https://sites.google.com/site/carolynivanoff/

Carolyn writes and speaks frequently on American history at local, state, and national venues. In 2003 Carolyn was named Civil War Trust’s Civil War Teacher of the Year. In 2010, 2011 and 2013 her education programs received Awards of Merit from the Connecticut League of History Organizations. In 2016 Carolyn was honored by the Connecticut Council of Social Studies with the Bruce Fraser Friend of the Social Studies Award. In 2018-19 Carolyn served as project coordinator for the 17th Connecticut Flagpole preservation and rededication projectr on Barlow’s Knoll at Gettysburg National Military Park. This project was honored with a 2019 Award of Merit from CHLO for preservation.  She is currently working on a manuscript of unpublished first hand experiences by members of the 17th Connecticut Regiment at Gettysburg.  The book, “We Fought At Gettysburg” will be completed and available from Gettysburg Publishing in the fall of 2020.


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