Clara Barton was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, on December 25, 1821. Barton's first nursing experience was in 1832, when she nursed her older brother back to health after he fell from a barn roof. She received a teaching certificate on May 5, 1839, and then taught at District School Number Nine in Massachusetts. In 1853, Barton moved to Bordentown, New Jersey, to work at a private school. She soon realized the need for free education in the area, and opened the first free public school in New Jersey. In 1854, Judge Charles Mason offered Barton a job as a clerk at the Patent Office in Washington, DC, and she worked there until the start of the war.
In April 1861, Barton encouraged civilians to donate supplies such as bandages, salves, canned food, and clothing for wounded Union soldiers that were brought to Washington DC. Soon after the war started, Barton realized that there was a lack of medical supplies, food, and water at the front lines, and as a result, numerous soldiers were dying. Therefore, Barton begun [sic] gathering supplies and taking them directly to the battlefield, where they were most needed.
On August 9, 1862, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, in Culpeper, Virginia, she distributed bandages and dressings to surgeons and handed out supplies, such as coffee and crackers, to wounded solders. On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, in Sharpsburg, Maryland, Barton provided surgeons with medical supplies and brought water to thirsty soldiers at the Samuel Poffenberger Farm. In addition, she performed minor surgery when she removed a bullet from a soldier's cheek with a pocket knife.
"I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them." -- Clara Barton
"She was perhaps the most perfect incarnation of mercy the modern world has known." -- Detroit Free Press, upon her death in 1912
Barton attended to soldiers on the battlefield in December 1862, at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and in 1863, at Morris Island, South Carolina. Barton was known to treat wounded soldiers from both sides equally. In 1864, General Benjamin F. Butler appointed Barton as a supervisor of nurses for the Army of the James. On March 11, 1865, President Lincoln allowed Barton to establish a list of missing Union Soldiers to help gather information on them for their inquiring families. Later that year, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, granted permission for Barton to travel to Andersonville, Georgia, with former prisoner Dorrence Atwater, to identify unmarked graves at the prison camp. She successfully identified all but 400 of the nearly 13,000 graves, helping in the establishment of the National Cemetery near the former camp.
In Europe in 1864, the Committee of the International Red Cross was established as a result of the treaty proposed at the Geneva Convention. The treaty dealt with the treatment of wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, and civilians during war time. Barton learned of the organization while in Europe after the war, and pushed to get the United States to sign the treaty. In 1881, she established the American Association of the Red Cross and was elected president.
Barton assisted soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War and in the Spanish-American War. Her organization also provided relief for civilians in natural disasters such as the 1888 yellow fever epidemic on Jacksonville, Florida, and the 1889 flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In 1892, Barton traveled as far as Russia to organize relief for victims of famine and draught. She resigned as president of the American Red Cross in 1904. Barton died in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912, and was buried in North Oxford, Massachusetts.