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Clara Barton: Her influence on the development of nursing as a profession

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    Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton, who is a daughter of a farmer and a woman who is a valued member of the community from Massachusetts, was the very first president of the American Red Cross organization.  Being a smart girl she already achieved a lot of things early in her life, at the age of 30 Barton has already taught in several schools. In 1869 she felt the need to take a break, while she was in her trip back to Europe to recuperate, there she discovered about the International Red Cross and Treaty of Geneva which provides assistance for the soldiers who have been damaged in the war. But it was 1873 when she began to join the missions of the Treaty of Geneva and Red Cross, then in 1881 Barton was hailed as the Red Cross’ president and in the following year by striving hard she was able to make the United States to sign the Geneva Agreement. Years later, the American amendment to the Red Cross constitution was written by her (Sahlman, 2007).

    Barton played a great role during the war in Virginia, together with the soldiers she joined in the struggles of war. Normally female nurses were not allowed in camps or hospitals of the army but careless of being killed she still continued to help in curing the soldiers wounded at war.  Barton has served as a nurse for many soldiers in a number of wars and it became the basis for the soldiers to call her the “Angel of the Battlefield”; some of these events where she was involved was the Civil War where she planned and organized the medical care group for wounded troops of the Union in 1861 during the Baltimore Riots. She first serve as advertiser of supplies for the soldiers then she was granted permission to deliver the supplies straight to the war grounds for two years and eventually she got to be the superintendent of all the nurses of the Union. And during the post war period President Abraham Lincoln gave her the duty to lead a campaign that will use letter-writing to look for soldiers who are missing (Lee, 2006).

    During the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871, it was the time where she had observed the volunteers of the International Red Cross working also with wounded soldiers of the war. That became the reason why she felt that the United States needs to have its own branch of the Red Cross. In 1881, with her effort, the American Red Cross was founded; she even modified the original roles of the Red Cross, from giving assistance to the wounded at war only, she added the idea of also giving assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

    During her time as the president of the American Red Cross, the organization have played a role in the 1882 Ohio River floods, 1886 Texas famine, 1887 yellow river famine in Florida, 1888 Illinois earthquake, 1889 Pennsylvania flood and as well as in helping  the victims of the Mississippi. But the very first encounter of the American Red Cross with aiding at war was in the Spanish-American war of 1898 (Lee, 2006).

    During those times of consecutive wars the role or the focus of the nurses was to give proper aid to the people especially the soldiers wounded at war. But because of Barton’s serious commitment to the field of taking care of the ones in need of it, she continued to help people even after war; she constantly responded to the call for medical assistance. Because of this the point of view of the profession of nursing became widened, the word “nurse” shifted its meaning from someone trained to give immediate care to someone who is always ready to give aid whenever and wherever it is needed.

    The nursing profession started way back 1783, a proof of this is James Derham who freed himself from slavery by paying for his freedom with money he earned from nursing. One of the early advocates of nursing was Florence nightingale also known as the “Lady with the Lamp” who committed herself to the profession since 1837, she wrote the “Notes on Hospital” and “Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is not”, she also founded the Nightingale School & Home for nurses which became a great help in the development of nursing. In 1886 the Americans had their first nursing journal, “The Nightingale” and on the same year the Spelman Seminary founded the first nursing program for African-Americans (Dolan, 1983).

    In the next decade, specifically in the year 1897 the American Nurses Association (ANA) was founded and it held its first meeting in the month of February of that year, back then the association was called “Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canda”.  Two years after the first international organization of health care professionals was founded in Geneva, Switzerland and it was called the International Council of Nurses (INC) (Ross-Kerr, 2003).

    In the 1900’s the significant events in the development of nursing included Dame Agnes Gwendoline Hunt who founded orthopedic nursing, in 1901 New Zealand thought of  regulating nurses nationally and adopted the Nurses Registration Act and  in the following year Ellen Dougherty became the first registered nurse in the world, in 1909 the American Red Cross Nursing Service was created, 1916 the Royal College of nursing was founded and Queen Elizabeth II as its patron and most of its constituents are registered nurses (Dolan, 1983).

    During the mid part of the 20th century, developments on the nursing profession doubled its speed, a lot of associations and foundations for and by nurses were founded, and many nursing advocates were also being acknowledged. Nursing as a profession from that time on never stopped in making new developments on its different aspects. But it still held on the beliefs of the early nursing advocates like Carla Barton and Florence Nightingale towards the improvement of the services that the profession can offer the people.


    1. Dolan, J., Fitzpatrick, M.L., Herrmann, E. (1983). Nursing in society: A historical perspective. (15th ed.). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.
    2. Lee, R. A. (07.27.06). Civil War: Clara Barton (1821-1912).   Retrieved March 1, 2007, from
    3. Ross-Kerr, J. C. W., M.J. (2003). Canadian Nursing: Issues and Perspectives (4th ed.). Toronto: Mosby.
    4. Sahlman, R. (2007). Clara Barton
    5. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from

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