Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Clara Barton 1821 ~ 1912


Clara Barton

By Mrs. John A. Logan

One of the greatest, if not the greatest woman of the nineteenth century, is Clara Barton, who, in a Christmas greeting to her legion of friends, writes: "I would tell you that all is well with me ; that, although the unerring records affirm that on Christmas Day of 1821, eighty-four years ago, I commenced this earthy life, still, by the blessing of God, I am strong and well, knowing neither illness nor fatigue, disability nor despondency."

Miss Barton is the daughter of Stephen Barton, of North Oxford, Mass., a man highly esteemed in the community in which he dwelt. In early youth he had served as a soldier under General Wayne, the "Mad Anthony" of the early days of the Republic. His boyish years had witnessed the evacuation of Detroit by the British in 1796, and his military training may have contributed to the sterling uprightness of his character and his inflexible will.

His daughter Clara was the youngest, by seven years, in a family of two brothers and three sisters. She was early taught that the primeval benediction, miscalled a curse, which requires mankind to earn their bread, was really a blessing. Besides domestic duties and a very thorough public school training, she learned the general rules of business by acting as clerk and bookkeeper for her eldest brother. Next, she betook herself to the district school, the stepping-stone for all aspiring women in New England. She taught for several years in various places in Massachusetts and New Jersey. One example will show her character as a teacher. She went to Bordentown, New Jersey, in 1853, where there was not and never had been a public school Three or four unsuccessful attempts had been made to establish one, and the idea had been abandoned as un-adapted to that locality. The brightest boys in the town ran untaught in the streets. She offered to teach a free school for three months at her own expense, to convince the citizens that it could be done. They laughed at her idea as visionary. Six weeks of waiting and debating induced the authorities to fit up an unoccupied building at a little distance from the town. She commenced with six out-cast boys, and in five weeks the house would not hold the number that came. The commissioners, at her instance, erected a large brick building, and early in the winter of 1853-4 she organized the city free school, with a roll of six hundred pupils. But the severe labor and the great amount of loud speaking required in the newly plastered rooms destroyed her health and for a time destroyed her voice, the prime agent of instruction. Being unable to teach, she left New Jersey about the first of March, 1854, seeking rest, quiet and a milder climate, and went as far as Washington.

A brief summary of her career will show that an ever-ruling Providence had destined her for a higher and nobler work for mankind than the routine duties, noble as they are, of a teacher in the public schools.

While in Washington, a friend and distant relative, then in Congress, voluntarily obtained for her an appointment in the Patent Office. There she continued until the fall of 1857, She was employed at first as a copyist and afterwards in the more responsible work of abridging original papers and preparing records for publication, and the large circle of friends made while so employed was not without its influence in determining her military career.

Thus it happened that at the beginning of the Civil War she was in Washington. When news came that the troops, on their way to the Capital, under Mr. Lincoln's first call for volunteers in 1861, had been fired upon, and that wounded men were lying in Baltimore, she volunteered, with others, to go and care for them. Unconsciously she had entered upon what proved to be her life work, for Clara Barton is to the American battlefield what Florence Nightingale was to the English in Crimea. From April, 1861, to the close of the war, Miss Barton was, by authority of President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, to be found in the hospitals or wherever soldiers were in need of attention, and soon she was recognized as a woman of great ability and discretion, and could pass in and out at will, where others met with constant hindrances and "red tape." So many of her pupils had volunteered in the first years of the war that at the second battle of Bull Run she found seven of them, each of whom had lost an arm or a leg.

She met the wounded from Virginia, she was present at the battles of Cedar Mountain, second Bull Run, Falmouth, Charleston, Fort Wagner, Spottsylvania, Deep Bottom, Antietam and Fredericksburg, and was for eight months at the siege of Charleston, at Fort Wagner, in front of Petersburg and at the Wilderness. She was also at the hospitals near Richmond and on Morris Island Neither were her labors over when the war ended. A friend desiring that the world should know her actual connection with the government during this period of strife, as well as throughout her administration as head of the Red Cross, has induced Miss Barton to tell the story in her own inimitable way, and this is what she says:

"When in the four years of this work the military authorities unquestioningly provided me transportation, teams, men and an open way to every field in the service, it had something to do with the government.

"When, at its close, the President, over his own signature, "A. Lincoln,' informed all the people of the United States that I would, voluntarily, search for the records of eighty thousand missing men, of whom the government nor army had any record, and asked the people to write me, it had something to do with the government."

The editor cannot resist the temptation to insert Mr. Lincoln's letter:

"To the friends of missing prisoners: Miss Clara Barton has kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please address her at Annapolis, Md., giving name, regiment and company of any missing prisoner. A. Lincoln."

This brought the heartbroken correspondence of the friends of all missing soldiers to her, and placed on the records of the government the names of twenty thousand men who, otherwise, had no record of death, and today their descendants enjoy the proud heritage of an ancestor who died honorably in the service of his country, and not the possible suspicion of his being a deserter.

"When, in the search, I learned the true condition of the dead at Andersonville, and informed the authorities that, through the death records of Dorence Atwater, the graves of the thirteen thousand buried there could be identified, and was requested by the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to take an expedition to Andersonville to mark the graves and enclose a cemetery, and did so, it had something to do with the government.

"Without this there could have been no cemetery of Andersonville, which the government now so worthily owns as a gift from our active women of the Woman's Relief Corps auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic.

"And when, in this long search for the missing men of the army, carried on at my own cost until I had invested the greater part of my own moderate means and the brave thirty-seventh Congress stepped into the breach and, unsolicited, voted remuneration and aid in the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, and sent it to me with thanks, it had something to do with the government.

"When a few years later, weary and weak from the war-sacked fields of Europe, I brought the germs of the thrice-rejected Red Cross of Geneva, and with personal solicitations from the 'International Committee' sought its adoption, I had very little to do with the government, for it steadily declined to have anything to do with me, or with the cause I brought to it.

"It had been 'officially declined" books of the State Department were produced to show this 'we wanted no more war,' neither 'Entangling Alliances.'

"Then followed five years of toil, cost and explanations with the people as well as the government to show that the Red Cross could mean neither war nor entangling alliances; and when at length one martyred President promised and a successor made his promise good, and Congress again acted and the treaty was signed, proclaimed and took its place among the foremost treaties of the country, and we became thence-forth and forever a Red Cross nation, it surely had something to do with the government.

"But this treaty covered only the relief of suffering from war, and realizing the far greater needs we might have in the calamities of civil life, I personally addressed the governments through the 'International Committee of Geneva,' asking their permission for the American Red Cross to act in our national calamities, as in war. This request was gravely considered in the congress of Berne, and was granted by the powers as the American Amendment to the International Treaty of Geneva. Inasmuch as it became a law, under which all nations act to-day, it might be said not only to have had something to do with the government but with all governments.

"Later on, when another martyred President requested and opened the way for me to take the Red Cross to the starving reconcentrados of Cuba; and a little later, when war desolated its fields, to take ship, join the fleet, and seek an entrance for humanity, and the highest admiral in the service bade it go alone with its cargo of food to the starving of the stricken city, and Santiago lay at our feet, it might be said it had something to do with the government.

"During the twenty or more years of such efforts was mingled the relief of nearly an equal number of fields of disaster, none of which were unserved, and for which relief, not one dollar in all the twenty years was drawn from the treasury of the United States; the munificence of the people through their awakened charities was equal to all needs."

The fields of disaster were the Michigan forest fires of 1881; Mississippi River floods and cyclone of 1882-3; Ohio and Mississippi River floods of 1884, especially disastrous, requiring relief for thousands of people; Texas famine, 1885; Charleston earthquake catastrophe, 1886; the Mt Vernon, Illinois, cyclone, 1888, which swept away almost the entire town, leaving the people destitute and homeless; Florida yellow-fever, 1888; Johnstown disaster, where Miss Barton personally distributed $250,000.00 and spent months laboring in the field for and with the stricken people in 1889; Russian famine, 1892; Pomeroy, Iowa, cyclone, 1893; South Carolina Islands hurricane and tidal wave of 1893-4; Armenia massacres, 1896; Cuban reconcentrados relief, 1889-1900, where Miss Barton and her staff spent months among these absolutely destitute and suffering people before the declaration of war, saving thousands of lives, establishing orphan asylums and hospitals, a work which claimed the highest commendation from Senator Proctor, of Vermont, on the floor of the Senate, after he had visited the island to know positively the conditions; Spanish-American War.

Miss Barton having in 1908 preceded the army and the navy by many weeks on the chartered steamer "State of Texas" loaded with medical, surgical, sanitary and other supplies, was prepared to save many lives before the government had anything ready. Galveston storm and tidal wave 1909, requiring unprecedented strength and courage, patience and expenditure of money.

Miss Barton modestly omits to speak of the innumerable appeals made to her for aid in all directions. The United States Marshal at Key West, Florida, in his dilemma of how to provide for the people on board the captured vessels, many of them aliens, Cubans and some American citizens who had no means of support or for transportation, petitioned Miss Barton for relief until provision could be made for them. Her response was immediate. By her direction, for many days, food, medicine, and all their needs were supplied by Miss Barton until after long official delays the proper authorities finally assumed the responsibilities they should have taken in the beginning.

Miss Barton reached Havana, February 9, 1898. February 14th she was the guest of honor of Captain Sigsbee on board the ''Maine" the captain paying her the compliment of reviewing the men. With characteristic thoughtfulness, she placed the Red Cross at the service of Captain Sigsbee, should any of his brave men be sick or need relief. On the night of the 15th of February, the unspeakable calamity of the destruction of the ''Maine" occurred. In the early morning of the 16th, Miss Barton and her nurses visited the Spanish Hospital, San Ambrosia, , where the brave marines were dying in great numbers. Miss Barton had gone to Cuba to carry out her mission as President of the Red Cross. She was in no way assisted by the government but used her own money. The citizens of Davenport, Iowa, wired her twelve hundred dollars to be used for the reconcentrados. This sum she diverted from its intended purpose and used for the relief of the victims of this unprecedented catastrophe. The official reports of officers of the navy and Secretary of War gratefully thank Miss Barton and the Red Cross workers for their timely service and supplies in the absence of any provision of the government for war or for such a disaster as that of the "Maine."

Miss Barton represented the United States at the International Congress, at Geneva, in 1884; at Carlsruhe, Germany, 1887. At Rome, Italy, in 1890, she was appointed but would not leave her work in Russia at the time of the Russian famine, but did attend the Congress at Vienna, Austria, in 1900.

Miss Barton was decorated with the Iron Cross of Prussia, by Emperor William I and Empress Augusta, in 1871; with the Gold Cross of Remembrance, by the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Baden, in 1870; with the medal of International Committee of the Red Cross of Geneva, Switzerland, 1882; with the Red Cross, by Queen of Servia, 1884; with the silver medal by Empress Augusta, of Germany, 1884; with the flag voted by Congress of Berne, Switzerland, 1884; with jewels by the Grand Duchess of Baden, 1884-87; with the diploma of honor from German War Veterans, 1885; with jewels by the Queen of Prussia, 1887; with the diploma of honor from Red Cross of Austria, 1888; with diploma and decoration by the Sultan of Turkey, 1896; with diploma and decoration by the Prince of Armenia, 1896; with diploma and decoration by Spain, 1899; with vote of thanks by the Cortez of Spain, 1899; with vote of thanks by the Portuguese Red Cross, 1900; with resolutions of the Central Relief Committee of Galveston, Texas, 1900; with vote of thanks from the legislature of the state of Texas, 1901; and with the decoration of the Order of the Red Cross by the Czar of Russia, 1902.

Press notices, eulogies, enrolled and engrossed resolutions innumerable, and every other conceivable tribute has been paid her by her own countrymen, who are and were her compatriots and who revere her as the most self-sacrificing, loyal, upright, honorable, patriotic, courageous woman of her time, and as a woman who has known no creed, political or religious, that is not founded upon the Golden Rule and universal humanity to mankind; whose moral courage has been equal for all emergencies, but who is at the same time as guileless and as loving and as tender as a child. Her masterful mind has ever instantly grasped the most subtle schemes of designing persons, but she has turned the other cheek to the cruel thrusts of the envious and ambitious. Her only fault has ever been lack of resentment and self-assertion when injuries have been inflicted. Her motto has been, "Father forgive them; they know not what they do."

Time moves, and at last Clara Barton reached her Gethsemane, and she proved her greatness in the hour of her bitterest trial. She let her detractors have their way, bowed her head and slipped away without a murmur into retirement, unrewarded and uncared for by a great government in whose service she has given the best of her life and her all. And who shall say she is not the greatest woman of the Nineteenth century? Is there another with such a record of noble achievements for humanity? No other woman has appeared, bearing the banner of the Red Cross, and personally ministering to the suffering on the field of disaster, though many calamities have occurred since Clara Barton was driven from the work to which she was divinely called.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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