Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Clara Barton



She lightened the burden of life to others.

George Eliot.

CLARA BARTON is a slender little woman with soft brown eyes, thin gray hair, 'a large but firm mouth, and small, delicate hands which ac- company her rapid, earnest speech with frequent gestures and add greatly to the charm and liveliness of her conversation. She is rather below the medium height, but carries something queenly in her manner. Her dress is always simple, her favorite color being green. One of her sisters is credited with once having said: '' When Clara goes to town to bu* - brown dress, a brown dress I know she will get, for Clara alwayi does as she says. But one way or another, that dress always manages to turn green before she can get home."

Says a writer who has known her well, '' I believe I have never looked upon a happier face than that of Clara Barton." Yet it is certain she has never sought her own happiness.


She was born in 1830 in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. She came of good old Puritan stock, her ancestor, Marmaduke Barton, having come over to New England a few years after the settlement of Plymouth. The name Barton meant '' defender of the town."

Her father's name was Stephen Barton. He was a man of strong character and great influence in his town and had been in his youth a soldier under " Mad Anthony " Wayne in the Indian wars in the West.

As a child, Clara was full of spirits and bubbling over with girlish fun and frolic. She seems to have liked boyish sports and was a fine horse-back rider. She can not remember that she ever had a doll. She preferred cats and dogs for pets, especially if they were sick or otherwise unfortunate.

She did, however, have one kind of inanimate playmates—a set of wooden soldiers, made for her by one of her brothers. With these she and her father would often fight over again the Indian wars of his young days. None of the biographers whom I have consulted "have mentioned that the real purpose of these battles was to provide wounded soldiers for nursing. But when I state that some of the wooden men were put to bed after each engagement and rolled up in bandages and fed on peppermint and gruel, I am certain no one will be so discourteous as to ask for my authority. Surely, one should have wit enough to find out a few things without a book.

The precocious little maiden began to go to school at the age of three years, riding to the school-house on the shoulder of her brother Stephen, the teacher of the school. At nine years old she was sent away from home to school. She lived for two years in the family of her teacher, a man so kind and noble that she can not speak of him to this day with dry eyes.

When she was eleven years old a great care fell upon her and her studies were interrupted for some time. This was caused by a mo t unhappy accident to one of her brothers. He fell from the roof of a building on which he was at work and was so badly hurt that he was unable to leave his bed for two years. During all that time, Clara was his tender nurse and devoted companion. He wanted her always by his side and she would give up the care of him to no one else.

I have called this event an unhappy accident, and so it certainly seemed to be. But it is more than probable that the experience it brought to Clara Barton was one great cause of her becoming a nurse in later years and saving the lives of so many soldiers in our Civil War. Perhaps, after all, there are no unhappy accidents, or any accidents at all if we understood.

The Bartons were poor, and it was not long before the helpful youngest daughter went out into the world to help lighten the family burdens and provide means to continue her education. At fifteen she began teaching in the schools near her home and we are told that the committeemen were always glad to secure her as a teacher. After a little she studied for some time in Clinton, New York, and then resumed her teacher's tasks. When she was about twenty- three she opened a free school for girls in Bordentown, New Jersey, beginning with six pupils. She received very little encouragement at first. The prominent men of the town laughed at her plans and hopes. Several men had tried to carry on a school in the town and had been driven out by unruly pupils. What could a young girl do? Miss Barton soon proved what a girl could do. She taught her six pupils just as faithfully as she would have taught a large school. Other children began to be attracted. The school committee were convinced of her ability. They followed her advice and built a large school-house, and before the year was gone she had organized a graded school of six hundred interested pupils. Her success was complete.

Her work in Bordentown was very trying and she at length went to Washington to seek rest and visit relatives. There a friend obtained for her a position as clerk in the Patent Office. She was the first woman employed in the office, and the men resented her presence and tried to make the place so disagreeable for her that she would have to leave. The gentlemanly clerks stood up in rows along the long corridor through which she had to pass, and amused themselves by staring and whistling as she went by. But Miss Barton did not appear to see them. She walked past as calmly as if they v sre decorations on the wall. They tried other ways to push her out, but the superintendent of the office dismissed some of the men and appointed women in their places. She had scored another success in the interest of right and justice.

When Mr. Buchanan became President, Miss Barton was dismissed from her office for no reason except that she belonged to the wrong political party, but she was soon needed to straighten out some tangled records and was recalled by the same administration.

She was in Washington when the Civil War broke out. When the Sixth Massachusetts regiment arrived after being fired upon in Baltimore, bringing with them forty sick and wounded soldiers, Miss Barton met them at the station and set about seeing what could be done for them. It was Saturday night and they had no supplies. She went to the markets and bought food, hiring five strong negroes to carry the baskets of provisions to the starving men. She went herself and saw it properly distributed, attending to the comfort of the men in ways that no one else thought of.

Soon after this the soldiers began to arrive in large numbers and the hospitals were filled to overflowing. Miss Barton resigned her position in the Patent Office and gave her entire time to looking after the soldiers, especially the sick ones. She had been having a good salary and it was a great pleasure to her that she had a little money of her own to spend on articles v/hich were not otherwise provided. When people began to send clothing, fruits, jellies and medicines for the soldiers, many sent them directly to Miss Barton, feeling sure that in her care they would be wisely and honestly used. She would often have tons of such supplies on hand and had to engage warehouses for their reception.

In 1861 she was called home to the deathbed of her father. She told him how she was pained by the sufferings of the soldiers and how she wanted to go with the army to the front where the fighting was going on and the misery was greatest. His reply was, "Go, if you feel it your duty to go ! I know what soldiers are, and I know that every true soldier will respect you and your errand."

There seemed to be no place in war for a woman. But she went to the Assistant Quartermaster General and he made a place for her, issuing an order that she should be allowed to go where she pleased. She ordered a wagon to be loaded with such comforts as the sick and wounded would need, and followed General McClellan, reaching the army the day before a battle. When the battle opened she had her mules harnessed and followed the line of artillery with her wagon of supplies. She stopped in a cornfield where the wounded men were brought. Shot and shell flew thick around them. She found a few men and set them to help the wounded. She seemed to have in her wagon everything that every one else had forgotten. When her bread was all gone she found that her medicines were packed in meal and she made gruel of the meal. This was sent in bucketfuls for miles along the lines. When night came on despair came with it, for there were a thousand dying men' on the field of battle and the army supplies included no lights. But Miss Barton had thought of candles and lanterns, and the work of aiding the suffering went on through the night.

She was always at the front. At Fredericksburg she slept in her tent, like the others, though it was in the dead of winter. At one time fifty soldiers were brought to her. who had been wounded several days and had had no care. They were nearly starved and their clothes were frozen stiff. She ordered fires to be built, the snow to be cleared off and the soldiers to be laid on blankets around the fire. Then she ordered the men to pull down the chimney of an old house and heat its bricks to lay around the men. She could make comfort where there was nothing to make it of, for she had a head as well as a heart.

An incident related by General Elwell of Cleveland, Ohio, I will repeat in his own words. It occurred during the retreat of General Pope after the second battle of Bull Run:

"Miss Barton was about stepping on the last car conveying the wounded from the field with the enemy's cavalry in sight, and shot and shell from their guns falling on our disordered ranks, when a soldier told her that there was left behind in the pine bushes, where he had fallen, a wounded young soldier; that he could not live, and that he was calling for his mother.

"She followed her guide to where the boy lay. It was growing dark and raining. She raised him up and quietly soothed him. When he heard her voice he said in his delirium, ' Oh ! my mother has come. Don't leave me to die in these dark woods alone—do stay with me—don't leave me.'

"At that moment an officer cried out to her: 'Come immediately, or you will fall into the hands of the rebels—they are on us.' " 'Well, take this boy.

" 'No,'said the officer, 'there is no transportation for dying men. We have hardly room for the living. Come quick.'

'' ' Then I will stay with this poor boy. We both go, or both stay.'"

Both went. The boy was taken to a hospital in Washington and his mother came before he died. It would be useless to try to speak of her gratitude to Clara Barton.

The story of the weeks she spent in the malarial swamps of Morris Island, off Charleston, under almost constant fire of shot and shell, herself the only woman, is almost too terrible to be told. When some one asked her how she came to go, she answered in a surprised tone, "Why, somebody had to go and take care of the soldiers, so I went."

Thousands of soldiers were buried in unknown graves. After the war was over, mothers and wives all over the country began to write to Clara Barton, asking her to help them find where their soldier boys were buried. Acting under the advice of President Lincoln, she went to Annapolis to look after the matter; when she arrived there she found four bushels of letters waiting for her. She soon returned to Washington, hired some clerks, and established a Bureau of Records of missing men.

In Andersonville, Georgia, where there had been a Confederate prison for Union soldiers, about thirteen thousand men were buried in unmarked graves. Dorrance Atwater, a Union prisoner who had been employed to keep the records, had copied them secretly, sometimes on old scraps of paper, sometimes on rags, and had carefully hidden his copy away. He assisted Miss Barton to identify the graves of all but about four hundred of the soldiers buried there, and she had simple headboards placed at all the graves. She used her own money for all this work, but Congress afterwards restored it to her by making an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars.

In 1869 Miss Barton went for rest to Geneva in Switzerland. But her rest was always to be found in action. The Red Cross Society had already been formed in Geneva, and all the civilized nations in the world except ours had joined it.

The basis of the society was a treaty among the nations of the earth providing for the protection of nurses, surgeons, and all persons engaged in caring for the wounded in battle. The white flag with a red cross was made the sign which should ensure protection. This was the Swiss national flag with the colors reversed. The leaders of the society urged Miss Barton to undertake the work of interesting the United States in this treaty.

But the Franco-Prussian war was just beginning and the Red Cross asked for Miss Barton's help on the battlefields of Europe. She forgot her illness and went to the front to help the sick, the starving and the wounded everywhere, on the one side as much as the other, for it is a principle of the Red Cross Society, as it has always been of Clara Barton's, to aid the enemy's wounded as readily as one's own.

She went to Paris just as the siege was over. On one occasion a starving mob had routed the police, when Miss Barton appeared and spoke to them in her calm, reasonable way. " God! " they said, "it is an angel." And they too became calm and reasonable.

She became an intimate friend of the daughter of the old Emperor William, the Grand Duchess of Baden, an earnest worker in the cause of the Red Cross. It must have been beautiful to see these two women together, the German princess gladly giving up the luxury and leisure of her palatial home for the painful, toilful life in the hospitals, and the gentle American, with her poor, tortured, pain- racked body, forgetting her own suffering in the deeper miseries of others.

After the war Miss Barton returned to America and after a long series of disappointments succeeded in 1882 in establishing an American branch of the Red Cross with an "American amendment" which provides that the society shall act not only in time of war but also in the case of great national calamities, like floods, fires, and earthquakes. This amendment has since been adopted by several European countries.

Miss Barton was made the first President and has fulfilled the duties of the office ever since. It was not long before work was found for the new society. Fires in Michigan and Wisconsin, floods along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the terrible Charleston earthquake, all caused untold suffering and all moved the sympathy and the kind offices of the Society of the Red Cross.

Excerpt from Leaders of the 19th Century by Evelyn Harriet Walker ©1900 The article continues if you want to read more you can go to Google Books and download the book.

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