Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Great American Heroes - The Angel of the Battlefield

Clara Barton, also known as the Angel of the Battlefield, was born on Christmas day in 1821, in Oxford Massachusetts. Her father was a farmer and her mother, a stay-at-home mom. Clara was the youngest of five siblings, all of whom helped with her education. When she was eleven, Clara's brother David fell from a rafter of the family's unfinished barn. He became her first patient. She stayed by his side for quite some time and even administered him his medicines.

At age seventeen, Clara became a teacher. Six years later, she founded her own school. After ten years of teaching Clara began to feel restless and wanted to change the course of her career. She attended the Liberal Institute in New York where she turned her focus to writing and languages. A year later, she accepted a teaching position in New Jersey. Soon after that she opened a free school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Under Barton's guidance the attendance grew to six hundred students, but instead of being offered the job as head of the school, the board appointed a man. Aggravated, she left New Jersey and found a job as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington D.C. At the onset of the Civil War Barton recalled her father's final advice to her, before he died, to serve her country with all she had. She began to work as a volunteer, gathering supplies for the soldiers.

In 1862, despite previous refusals, Barton was granted permission to deliver supplies directly to the front lines and to help the wounded. She eventually earned herself the nickname "The Angel of the Battlefield." She was given the rank of superintendent of Union nurses in 1864. Subsequent to the war, President Lincoln bestowed on her the ability to begin a letter writing operation to search for missing soldiers through the Office of Correspondence.

In 1869, Barton, under orders of her doctor, traveled to Europe for rest. There, she learned of the Red Cross, as sketched out in the Treaty of Geneva which twelve nations had signed, but the United States had not. The treaty provided relief for sick and wounded soldiers. She was further educated about the treaty while traveling with volunteers in the Franco-Prussian War. Upon her return to the U.S., Barton began a crusade to get the U.S. to sign the treaty. She also developed the idea of the Red Cross to include providing relief for any great national disaster. The United States signed the Geneva Agreement in 1882. Clara Barton was the president of the American National Red Cross for twenty-two years. Under her leadership, the Red Cross's work included helping out victims and workers in the floods of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in 1882 and 1884, the Texas famine of 1886, the Florida yellow fever epidemic in 1887, an earthquake in Illinois in 1888, and the 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania disaster/flood. The first time the Red Cross assisted in wartime was during the Spanish-American War in 1898. She retired as President of the Red Cross at the age of eighty-three and died in 1912, at the age of ninety. Her wartime heroics are certainly not forgotten, though.

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