Clarissa Harlowe Barton Clara, as she wished to be called is one of the most honored women in American history for being a true pioneer as well as an outstanding humanitarian. As pioneer, she began teaching school at a time when most teachers were men. She was among the first women to gain employment in the federal government. As a pioneer and humanitarian, she risked her life when she was nearly 40 years old to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. Then, at age 60, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led it for the next 23 years. Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service. Her intense devotion to the aim of serving others resulted in enough achievements to fill several ordinary lifetimes.
Civil War Service
Clara Barton was working as a recording clerk in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. when the first units of federal troops poured into the city in 1861. The war had just begun, the troops were newly recruited, and residents in the capital were alarmed and confused. Barton perceived an immediate need in all this chaos for providing personal assistance to the men in uniform, some of whom were already wounded, many hungry, and some without bedding or any clothing except what they had on their backs. She started by taking supplies to the young men of the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry who had been attacked in Baltimore, Maryland, by southern sympathizers and were temporarily housed in the unfinished Capitol building. Barton quickly discovered that many were “her boys,” as she put it; she had grown up with some of them and some she had even taught. Like a few other women, Barton provided clothing and assorted foods and supplies to the sick and wounded soldiers on behalf of such organizations as the U.S. Sanitary.