7 Remarkable Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Clara Barton

compiled by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

Celebrate both Red Cross Month and Women’s History Month with these notable tales from the extraordinary life of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross and one of the most honored women in American history.


Clara Barton earned the moniker “Angel of the Battlefield” during the Civil War

Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield by Allison Lassieur & Brian Bascle – Capstone Press

Following the battle of Cedar Mountain in northern Virginia in August 1862, Barton appeared at a field hospital at midnight with a wagon-load of supplies drawn by a four-mule team. The surgeon on duty, overwhelmed by the human disaster surrounding him, wrote later, “I thought that night if heaven ever sent out a[n] . . . angel, she must be one—her assistance was so timely.” Thereafter she was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”


Barton was almost killed during the Antietam Campaign in September of 1862

While attending to a wounded soldier during the battle, a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress. The bullet missed her but struck and killed the injured soldier. She also dug a bullet out of the cheek of another soldier using only her pocketknife.


She helped to identify more than 22,000 missing soldiers following the war

In February 1865, President Lincoln appointed Barton to attend to correspondence to help reunite soldiers with their families. She established the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army. Along with her assistants, they received and answered more than 63,000 letters and identified over 22,000 missing men. Years later, Red Cross established a tracing service, one of the organization’s most valued activities today.


Barton fought for the ratification of the Geneva Convention in the U.S.

When Clara Barton visited Europe in 1869, she was introduced to a wider field of service through the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. Henry Dunant, founder of the global Red Cross network, called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime without respect to nationality and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis. The first treaty embodying Dunant’s idea was negotiated in Geneva in 1864. Later, Barton would fight hard and successfully for the ratification of the Geneva Convention by the United States.


To protect herself on the battlefield, Barton fashioned a cross of red ribbon

During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, though not yet allied to the Red Cross, Barton went to the war zone with volunteers of the International Red Cross. To protect herself with the newly accepted international symbol of the Red Cross, she fashioned a cross out of red ribbon she was wearing.


Barton headed up the first American Red Cross response in 1881

The Red Cross flag flew officially for the first time in this country in 1881 when Barton issued a public appeal for funds and clothing to aid victims of a devastating forest fire in Michigan. The “Thumb Fire” of 1881, burned more than a million acres in less than a day, forcing 14,000 people from their homes, of which 2,000 were destroyed.


Her home is now a National Historic Site

The National Park Service manages what is now the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, Maryland. The site, along the bank of the Potomac River just north of Washington D.C., is open daily for tours.


While Proud of Our History, We are Focused on the Future

Barton’s legacy to the nation—service to humanity—is reflected in the services provided daily by the employees and volunteers of the American Red Cross throughout the nation and in troubled spots around the world.

Today, the Red Cross is preparing to meet the next crisis head on. Now that you’ve learned about our history, please consider joining our efforts. You can become a volunteer, make an appointment to donate blood or make a financial donation to support our humanitarian programs.

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