Author: Rachel Fernandes
Born on Christmas day, 1821, Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton was a shy younger sister to 4 siblings. At eighteen, she started working as a teacher, one of the few careers accessible to women at that time. Later, she established her own free school which rose to such excellence that town leaders insisted that a male principal should run the school. Frustrated, Clara left both the town and her teaching career behind, moving to Washington, DC to become the first woman to hold a post as a recording clerk at the US Patent Office.
When the Civil War erupted, she was among the first to care for wounded soldiers as a volunteer at the Washington Infirmary. She played a crucial role in organizing the collection and transport of supplies, soon becoming known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”. She was given permission to go through the battle lines distributing supplies, searching for those missing, and nursing wounded soldiers. Barton continued her work for the remainder of the Civil War and in June 1864, she was appointed superintendent of nurses for the Army of the James.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln appointed her General Correspondent for the Friends of Paroled Prisoners. This role called her to respond to concerned friends and family of missing troops by locating them on the jail records, parole rolls, or casualty lists at the Annapolis, Maryland, camps. To help with this massive effort, Barton founded the Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States and issued Missing Men Rolls that were posted around the country. Barton and her staff received over 63,000 requests for help. They were able to locate over 22,000 men, a proportion of them being still alive.
The Missing Soldiers Office found 13,000 of the 22,000 troops missing in one location: Andersonville Prison. Dorence Atwater, another soldier, was instrumental in locating these men. Andersonville was where Atwater was imprisoned. As a prisoner, he oversaw the burying of dead men and kept a record of their names and grave places for the Confederate authorities. Atwater kept a duplicate list for himself in private. He intended to publish the list when the conflict ended. He eventually went to Barton for help. They not only made public the list of 13,000 individuals who died in Andersonville, but they also made certain that each of the 13,000 men's graves was marked.
The Franco-German War broke out while Barton was taking a break in Europe, and she once again provided relief goods to war victims. She became involved with the International Red Cross in Europe, and upon her return to the United States in 1873, she pushed fiercely and successfully for that country to sign the Geneva Convention. The agreement attempted to permit the treatment of the sick and injured in combat, the correct identification and burial of those dead in battle, and the right treatment of prisoners of war.
Upon returning to the US, she founded the American Red Cross, a culmination of her efforts. She was the organization's first president until 1904 and for the rest of her life, worked tirelessly to serve others, continuing to volunteer in various places. Her philanthropic legacy is lived out through Red Cross workers today.
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clarabartonwcbbrady.jpg