Clara Barton Stone: The Red Cross's Angel of Peace

Clara Barton Stone: The Red Cross's Angel of Peace

The Christmas baby, given the grown-up name of Clarissa (Clara) Harlowe Barton, was born December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts, more than two hundred years ago. Her father was Captain Stephen Barton, an Indian Wars veteran, leader of his town, and owner of a farm. Her father inspired in his daughter both a strong patriotism and a broad interest in helping others. Her mother, Sarah Stone Barton, was a firm believer in women's rights and that all people should be treated equally. The Barton family demonstrated their faith in God by their actions.

Young Years

Clara grew up the youngest of five children. She had two older sisters, Sally and Dorothea, as well as two older brothers, Stephen and David. They taught their very shy sister how to read and write while she was still young and Clara excelled in school. Growing up on a farm, she learned about hard work as she milked cows, chopped wood, and cared for sick animals. She developed into a fine horsewoman, and loved to write.
When Clara was eleven years old, her brother David fell off the roof of a barn and sustained a near-fatal head injury. Clara spent the next two years taking care of him, and was pleased to discover that she had the natural skills of an excellent nurse. Clara continued to care for him long after the doctors had given up hope and, after many months, David made a full recovery.


At the young age of seventeen, Clara began to work as a schoolteacher of summer school. She had no training, but was an effective instructor. Soon other schools invited her to teach during the winter as well, but offered to pay her less than the men teachers were making. Clara refused to do a man's work for less than a man's pay. It was not long before she was earning the full wage, which she received during the next twelve years.
Eventually Clara earned a degree in education, graduating in 1851 from New York's Clinton Liberal Institute. At first she went to work at a private school, but then decided to open a free public school for all children. She worked diligently and by 1854 the school had six hundred students.


Clara moved to Washington D.C. in 1855 and went to work for the patent office. At one point, she and the other female employees were fired because of their gender and replaced with male employees. Clara worked to be reinstated, fighting for the rights of women to be treated equally in the work place. President Lincoln became her ally. She was in Washington DC when the first soldiers began arriving at the start of the Civil War.
She began helping both the well and the injured, since they had no supplies, food, nothing with which to bind their wounds. She soon organized a way to get needed supplies to the soldiers on the front lines. Throughout the Civil War, Clara traveled from battle to battle, doing what she could to nurse the soldiers back to health. Her courage took her to the front lines, where soldiers were comforted by her supplies, nursing, and presence. They called her the "Angel of the Battlefield."
After the Civil War, Clara opened a "Missing Persons" office in her own small home, enlisting friends to help locate soldiers who were missing in action. Barton and her assistants wrote 41,855 replies to inquiries and helped locate more than 22,000 missing men and buried another 33,000.

The American Red Cross

In 1869, while traveling overseas, Clara learned of the new Swiss-inspired organization, called the International Red Cross. After working for the Red Cross in France, she wanted to bring the organization to America. It took four years of lobbying, but the American Red Cross was founded at last on May 21, 1881. She also campaigned for ratification of the Geneva Convention protecting the war-injured, which the United States ratified in 1882.

Barton led the Red Cross for 23 years, during which time it conducted the first domestic and overseas disaster relief efforts, aided the United States military during the Spanish-American War, and campaigned successfully for the inclusion of peacetime relief work as part of the global Red Cross network; the so-called “American Amendment.”
Before World War I, the Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses came forward to combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. It then introduced its first aid, water safety, and public health nursing programs. The Second World War called upon the Red Cross to provide extensive services once again to the U.S. military, Allies, and civilian war victims. At the military’s request, the Red Cross initiated a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.
Today, the Red Cross continues to help people recover from disasters: floods, droughts, hurricanes, volcano eruptions, fires, earthquakes, and war. It provides emotional care and support, continues to feed, shelter, reunite families, and care for others, just like Clara envisioned. Today the Red Cross's civilian blood donation program supplies 40% of the nation's hospitals with much needed blood products.
This month, we celebrate Clara Barton, whose actions addressed the hurting world in ways that brought peace, reconciliation, and shalom.

-Karen O'Dell Bullock

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