Women's Activism NYC

Clarissa Harlowe Barton

1821 - 1912

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Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known as Clara, is one of the most honored women in United States history. She was born December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. After an early career in teaching, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. Patent Office. She was one of the first women to work for the federal government. Guided by an intense devotion to helping others, she forged a bold path of service to help those in need. Clara was still living in Washington when the American Civil War began in 1861. During that time, she bravely provided nursing care and supplies to soldiers, and she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” When the war ended, Clara found new ways to help the military. With permission from President Lincoln, she opened the Office of Missing Soldiers, helping to reconnect more than 20,000 soldiers with their families. During a trip to Switzerland in 1869, Clara learned about the Red Cross movement, a European humanitarian effort to provide neutral aid to those injured in combat. Inspired by that cause, Clara volunteered with the International Committee of the Red Cross, providing civilian relief during the Franco-Prussian War. This experience, along with her work during the Civil War, inspired Clara to bring the Red Cross movement to America. On May 21, 1881, Clara founded the American Red Cross and, by 1882, the U.S. ratified the Geneva Conventions — laws that, to this day, protect the war-wounded and civilians in conflict zones. This later resulted in a U.S. congressional charter officially recognizing Red Cross services. After a lifetime of service, Clara died at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912. As founder of the American Red Cross, Clara is considered a visionary whose humanitarian spirit helped change the world. To this day, Clara’s legacy lives on, reflected in the spirit of Red Cross volunteers and employees.

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