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Founder Clara Barton

Learn About the Remarkable Woman Who Led the American Red Cross
for Our First 23 Years

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known as Clara, is one of the most honored women in American history. Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. She founded the American Red Cross in 1881, at age 60, and led it for the next 23 years. Her understanding of the ways she could provide help to people in distress guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service. Her intense devotion to serving others resulted in enough achievements to fill several ordinary lifetimes.
Highlights of an Extraordinary Life

Clara Barton was working in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, DC when the Civil War began. Like many women, she helped collect bandages and other much-needed supplies, but she soon realized that she could best support the troops by going in person to the battlefields. Throughout many major battles of the war, she nursed, comforted and cooked for the wounded, earning the nickname the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

When her service to the Union soldiers was complete, Barton traveled to Europe. There, she became aware of the Geneva, Switzerland-based Red Cross, which called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis.



Upon her return home, Barton was determined that the United States should participate in the global Red Cross network. Working with influential friends and contacts such as Frederick Douglass, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881. Barton served as president of the organization until 1904, when she resigned at age 83.

Clara Barton died on April 12, 1912, at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland. Her legacy to the nation—service to humanity—is reflected in the services provided daily by the employees and volunteers of the American Red Cross.

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