Champion of International Humanitarian Law
Barton's life and work paralleled the development of international humanitarian law and its spread throughout the world. She was an important pioneer in its development. During the Civil War, in the spring of 1862, the Union and Confederate armies reached an agreement on the Winchester Accord. This accord regarded doctors as noncombatants, and established that they could not be held as prisoners of war but would be released in due time and allowed to return to their respective armies. Barton, who worked closely with many of these doctors, surely saw the value of this accord, especially since it allowed the surgeons to remain with the wounded without the concern of being captured. This practice led directly to the soldiers receiving better care than they would have otherwise.
After the Civil War, while in Geneva, Switzerland on the advice of her doctor, Barton was introduced to the Treaty of Geneva due to her fame from the Civil War. She saw the need to press the United States into falling in line with the European countries in guaranteeing humanitarian rights in times of war. This treaty went beyond protecting the doctors and included additional protections for the wounded themselves and for the civilian non-combatants who cared for them. Her lobbying led to the US ratification of the treaty. In later years she led important efforts to implement humanitarian law and international relief work.
Between her birth in 1821 and her death in 1912, Barton experience firsthand -- and led important efforts to ensure -- the rise of international humanitarian law, and the idea that there should be standards of decency even during wars. The groundwork established by Barton and her contemporaries still reverberates today with countries seeking to lessen the horrors of war and natural disasters to the greatest extent possible.