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11 Hardcore Facts About Clara Barton, The Founder Of The American Red Cross

Updated April 12, 2019 24.4k views11 items

Clara Barton was born in 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Among many undisputed Clara Barton facts are the ones of her early brightness - she could read at age three and was taught mathematics and many other subjects by her schoolteacher older sisters. This, combined with the empathy for others taught to her by her father, led Barton to grow up to become the kind of hardcore woman who blazed trails for women in the generations that followed. 

Many a Clara Barton biography shares stories about her willingness to be on the battlefield, her work for the suffrage movement, and most importantly, her dedication to the Red Cross. These hardcore facts about Clara Barton also include things she accomplished in her life after the war and her need to share her life's story. Hold onto your hat (even if you aren't wearing one), and get ready to read about a tough woman who heard the word "no" and ignored it. 

  • Photo: Kurz & Allison / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During The Civil War, They Called Her "The Angel Of The Battlefield"

    Clara Barton refused to stay away from the battlefields during the US Civil War. Many of the other nurses and doctors, as well as the volunteers from the Soldiers' Aid Societies, stayed at dedicated hospitals and infirmaries, mostly out of harm's way. Not Barton. They couldn't make her get out of the fields. Many of the stories told about her bravery involve her tending to wounded soldiers while bullets whizzed over her head.

    One such tale took place at Antietam. She was so focused on the soldier that she was helping that she didn't notice that a bullet had pierced the puffy sleeve of her blouse (thankfully missing her arm) and hit and killed the soldier. She earned the moniker "The Angel of the Battlefield" for her unparalleled feats of medical heroism during the war.

  • Photo: Charles E. Smith / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Opened The First Ever Free School In New Jersey

    Clara Barton began working as a schoolteacher in her hometown of Oxford, Massachusetts at the ripe young age of 18. At the time, teaching was one of the few acceptable career choices for women, and she enjoyed the job but refused to harshly discipline her students, even though corporal punishment was popular in most schools.

    Later on, she moved to New Jersey and worked at a subscription school. Public schooling wasn't supported by taxpayers or mandated by the government prior to the mid-1800s, so the only children who could go to school in some states were those whose parents could afford to pay the fees and could go without the manual labor provided by their children.

    While teaching in Bordentown, New Jersey, Barton noticed quite a few children standing outside on the street corners - their parents couldn't afford the fee for school, so they couldn't attend. In response to this, Barton told the city that she would start a free school for them as long as the local government provided her with a building. They did, and her school became the first free school in the state. However, her success was short-lived. The people running Bordentown noticed how successful her school was, so they built a new structure to house it and then hired a man - not Barton - to run it. 

  • She Began Nursing Others When She Was 11 Years Old

    In 1832, tragedy struck. Clara Barton's older brother, David, was severely injured when he fell from the rafters of a barn on the family property. He nearly died and spent the next two years convalescing. Barton, only 11 at the time of the accident, felt an overwhelming need to care for him. She stayed at his bedside, carefully tackling his medical needs, which included applying leeches (this was a time before antibiotics, when the medical community believed that bloodletting cured many ailments) and applying clean bandages on a regular basis.

    A doctor checked in on him regularly, bringing new medications and experimental treatments, all of which Barton was present for. It was quite a strain on her, but David eventually recovered. 

  • She Was The First Female Clerk In The US Patent Office

    After her stint as a teacher, Clara Barton moved to Washington, D.C. where she became the first woman to work as a clerk in the US Patent Office. She also earned the same amount of money as her male co-workers, an amazing feat. She faced some harassment and other issues from her male coworkers but persevered.

    However, Barton's work in D.C. did not last long. A new President was elected - James Buchanan - and he fired many people who voiced their support for his opponent, the incumbent, Franklin Pierce. Several years later, when Abraham Lincoln became President, Barton returned to the patent office but not as a clerk. Later on, when the Civil War broke out, she found a new cause: nursing wounded soldiers.