Clara Barton

Founder of the American
Red Cross

1821-1912

Clara Barton is one of the most honoured women in American history. She began teaching at a time when the vast majority of teachers were men. Moreover, she was among the first women to gain employment in the federal government.

Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support soldiers in the field during the American Civil War. In 1865 Barton decided to begin a project to find missing soldiers. With President Lincoln's approval, she set up the Bureau of Records in Washington and traced around 20,000 men.

In 1869 she went to Geneva to improve her deteriorating health. While there she met with some officials of the recently organised International Red Cross. They urged her to seek US agreement to the Geneva Convention, a treaty that permitted medical personnel to be treated as neutral parties in a time of war. As a result of this, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881, starting a whole new career at the age of 60 and led it for the next 23 years, staying true to her major cause. In 1897, responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the Hamidian Massacres, Barton sailed to Constantinople and after long negotiations with Abdul Hamid II, opened the first American International Red Cross headquarters in the heart of Turkey.

Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them guided her throughout her whole life. By the force of her personal example, she opened up paths to the new field of volunteer service. Her intense devotion to serving others resulted in achievements that would be enough to fill several ordinary lifetimes.