Education played a prominent role in Barton's life, and her first calling was to be a teacher. After completing her own education, she taught school in her hometown of North Oxford, Massachusetts, for 11 years. In 1852, while in Bordentown, New Jersey, she saw the need for a free school for the poor children of the town. The local school board was skeptical of her ability to teach what they considered to be incorrigible students, but she succeeded. Too well, perhaps, because after two years the school grew so much that she was supplanted from her position and replaced with a white principal with a male principal.
Barton understood that public support for the Red Cross would be difficult unless she educated people on the subject, so she spent a good deal of time traveling the country and lecturing about humanitarian relief efforts in times of peace and war. Many of her speeches for based on her experiences in the Civil War, but they often went beyond this narrative to enlighten the citizens about what they themselves could do to advance the principles of humanitarianism.
Teaching first aid became one of Barton passions later in life. In 1905, a year after resigning as president of the American Red Cross, she formed the National First Aid Association of America. This new society was designed to teach the public how to assist in times of personal injury and localized emergencies, venues that did not apply to the work done by the Red Cross at the time. This mission was later added to the scope of the American Red Cross.