The Clara Barton Museum Blog

Highlighting Barton’s Work

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Clara Barton is an American Icon because of some extraordinary achievements made during her lifetime.  They were the result of hard work, but primarily born from determination and perseverance.  We can separate her work into several areas from her overall role as a pioneering American woman, primarily:

International Relief Organizer
Champion of Human Rights

As a Humanitarian, Barton believed in public service and fulfilling the needs of victims of war and natural disasters.  While her focus evolved through the American Civil War, she recognized the needs of other victims while participating in the Franco-Prussian War and reacted to the requests for assistance after man-made and natural disasters.  Once she realized her calling in organizing and delivering aid to those in need, her expansion from military to civilian based work became obvious.  Barton used the expansion to convince the U.S. government that a disaster relief organization was in America’s best interests.  Thousands of relief organizations exist due to her international leadership in promoting relief activities.

As an Educator, Barton believed that people could best help themselves through a good education.  She championed education through a long teaching career, and her establishment of the first public school in Bordentown, NJ.  After establishing the American Red Cross, she lobbied within the organization for first aid education.  After its rejection and her resignation from the ARC, she established a non-profit organization, the National First Aid Association of America, to meet the need.  Later absorbed by the ARC, it is a requirement for many public servants and volunteers across the United States today.

As an International Relief Organizer, Barton assisted in saving lives through the support of the military medical system during the American Civil War, the International Red Cross (IRC) during the Franco-Prussian War, and her participation as American diplomat in several Geneva Conventions in the late nineteenth century.  She introduced and lobbied for what became known as the “American Amendment” of the Geneva Convention expanding the IRC’s mission to include non-military disasters.  Barton herself traveled to war-torn countries to provide relief to starving and/or homeless refugees, ignoring societal norms of prejudice aimed at minority groups.  She believed that refugees should not be given free aid beyond temporary food and shelter, but given the means to help themselves.  Barton accomplished this in Europe by developing a clothing manufacture through skillless refugee women that ultimately stimulated their economy, taught the refugees a trade, and clothed needy families.

As a Champion of Human Rights, Barton ensured the inclusion of all victims of social injustice when delivering aid to the needy.  She believed in, as she said, “a hand up not a hand out.”  During the American Civil War, she often advocated for the fair and equal treatment of the wounded, without regard to creed or race.  During one incident, she went so far as to abandon the field to return to Washington, wake and report the circumstances to her friend and patron, Senator Henry Wilson, and inspire him to immediate action!  On several occasions during the War, she cheerfully worked around established protocol to assist those in dire straits, significantly improving victims chances of survival and quality of life.

Barton also advocated for equal citizenship regardless or race or gender.  She felt that anyone who contributed to society should have a voice in government.  Not only a life-long women’s suffragist, she championed suffrage for African-American men and made that a priority, alienating some friends. 

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