On this day in 1881, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross.

happy birthday Did you know that Clara Barton founded the Red Cross on May 21, 1881? That means the Red Cross is a strapping 133 years young. When Clara was only 10, her brother David fell off the roof of the family barn. At first, he seemed fine, but the next day he developed a headache and fever. The doctor diagnosed “too much blood” and prescribed the application of leeches to help draw out the extra blood. Clara took over as her brother’s nurse and spent two years at his bedside applying leeches (though David did not get any better until he tried an innovative “steam therapy” several years later). As a girl, Clara was shy and had a stutter, and her worried mother asked a phrenologist (phrenologists, who were fairly common in the 1800s, examined the bumps on a person’s skull as a way to determine their personality traits) to help her. The phrenologist said that she was shy and retiring and that the solution to her problem was to become a schoolteacher. Barton did not want to teach but she began teaching in 1839 at the age of 18. She overcame her shyness, became a sought-after teacher, and believed in the value of her work. She once said, “I may sometimes be wiling to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.” Several men proposed to Barton, but she remained single her whole life, at one point telling her nephew that on the whole she felt that she had been more useful to the world by being free from matrimonial ties. In 1854, she gave up teaching and took a job in the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C. She worked hard, got promoted, and within a year was making a salary equal to the men in the office (which angered the men). She left Washington for three years when the administration changed, but she returned in the early 1860s and resumed her job in the Patent Office. By 1861, war was breaking out, and when supporters of the Confederacy attacked Union soldiers in Washington, D.C., Clara helped nurse wounded soldiers in the same way she had nursed her brother when they were young. clara bartonDuring one of the first major engagements of the war, the Battle of Bull Run, the Union suffered a staggering defeat and as Clara read reports of the battle she realized that the Union Army had not seriously considered or provided for wounded soldiers. She began to ride along in ambulances, providing supplies and comfort to wounded soldiers on the frontlines. After the war, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she learned about the International Red Cross and its mission to be a neutral organization that helped wounded soldiers. When Barton returned to the United States, she pressed for the creation of a national branch of the Red Cross. But many people thought there would never again be a war as monumental and devastating as the Civil War and didn’t see the need for the Red Cross. Barton finally convinced the Arthur administration that the Red Cross could be used in other crises. The American Red Cross was officially incorporated on this day, with Barton as its president.

Clara Barton said, “I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.” And she said, “The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me.” She also said, “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business, and nobody’s business is my business.”

Fun Fact Friday: American Red Cross & The Spanish-American War


Did you know that in 1898, the Spanish-American War was the first time the American Red Cross took part of a war? Since then, the Red Cross has also provided services for other wars such as both World Wars and Vietnam War.  Here are some fun and interesting facts about what the Red Cross did for the Spanish-American War:

  • The Red Cross provided aid such as nursing care, medical supplies, and more for the American soldiers.
  • Clara Barton, founder of American Red Cross, went to hospitals to enlist nurses to work at the medical camps in Florida and Cuba. She was 76 years old when this happened. Can you believe it?
  • The Red Cross did not forget about the families back at home. The Red Cross assisted the inquiries from families.
  • All of the dedication and help paid off. In 1900, the Red Cross received the first charter from the U.S. Congress.

The Red Cross continues to have a strong partnership with the American military. The services for the American military and their families will also continue to be provided with compassion and dedication. Learn more about our history by visiting http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history

April 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Clara Barton’s death!

April 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Clara Barton’s death and the 151st anniversary of the American Civil War. Before she became the “angel of the battlefield,” Clara Barton was a teacher and an advocate for public education.  After her experiences helping the sick and wounded during the Civil War, Clara combined her teaching skills with her passion for humanitarianism and became the advocate and champion that we celebrate her as today.

While many of her contributions as the founder of the American Red Cross are well known, not so well known is the lasting impact of her work following the Civil War to locate missing soldiers, collaborate with representatives from the newly formed international Red Cross in Europe, and to speak out publicly and advocate through government channels with three US presidents and administrations to adopt the first Geneva Convention.

Students in classrooms around the country learn about Clara Barton yet these significant dates provide opportunities to highlight the significance of her contributions in the early years when the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross and modern international humanitarian law (IHL) were just beginning to develop — examples of the importance of humanitarian law that are as relevant today as there were so many years ago.

A series of upcoming events and resources are available to support educational efforts or lessons about Clara Barton’s legacy and contributions to the Red Cross:

The C-SPAN3 American History Channel’s American Artifacts will feature a program on Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office on April 15th at 8:00am, 7:00pm and 10:00pm, EST.  (Check local listings for exact times for Part 1 and Part 2.) A preview of the show is available on YouTube:

The Clara Barton National Historic Site will host a series of events from Miss Barton’s life, work and legacy: www.nps.gov/clba.

Angel of the Battlefield: Clara Barton 150 years ago at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg: Clara Barton’s response during this historic battle 150 years ago this year (September 17, 1862) is featured in a dramatization for students and teachers in a lesson on “Humanitarian Acts: What Can Bystanders Do?” in the American Red Cross free online educational resources for teachers and students: The American Civil War: A Humanitarian Perspective, inspired by the Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) curriculum.  These lessons can help educators connect American history to IHL and principles, connecting lessons of the past with issues of the present.

Here are some additional resources for your students.

Additional resources:

Book: Angel of the Battlefield by Ann Hood

Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross

Clara Barton National Historic Site (photo gallery also included)

Antietam National Battlefield: Clara Barton at Antietam

Andersonville National Historic Site: Monument to Clara Barton

Clara Barton Chronology: 1861-1869

Clara Barton Chronology: 1870-1912

Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office (GSA)

National Museum of Civil War Medicine: Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office

The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention: What It Is, By Clara Barton, 1878,

“What Would Clara Barton Wear?”

Clara Barton American Civil War Images

Donor still giving at the age of 105!

Sherry Holmes with Margaret Walters.
By Sharon Nevins Holmes, Ph.D

The American Red Cross is thankful for our long term donors and at the age of 105 Miss Margaret Walters is still giving. Miss Walters has been a loyal supporter of Red Cross because she believes we are an organization that is there when the need arises.  The American Red Cross is proud to honor Miss Walters with her Clara Barton Society pin and certificate. While visiting Margaret and her sister Lois, who is 103, I tried to find out their secret to longevity, let’s just say, it must be their giving nature! Both women are quite remarkable and we are proud to honor them as part of our Red Cross family.


First Person Singular: American Red Cross President Gail McGovern

By Robin Rose Parker, Published: May 4 

Rebecca Drobis/ - Gail McGovern, 59, of Washington is president and chief executive of the American Red Cross.

The very first report that I had to write was in fourth grade, and I really wanted to write about a woman. The only women I could find to write about were Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale or Clara Barton. And so I actually wrote my very first report about the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton. So I kind of feel like there was some weird connection. In my office I have an original photograph that Clara Barton sat for, and I come in in the morning, I look at her and I think to myself, I want you to be proud of me.

The most amazing part of the job is the outpouring of generosity when people need help. It’s restored my faith in the human race. I see how generous Americans are — with their time, with their hard-earned dollars; they literally donate blood to us. I get letters from kids with donations; I got a note from a young boy, with a crumpled-up dollar bill, telling me it was from the tooth fairy and could I give it to the people of Haiti? I’ve just been so privileged to see this side of our country.

During Hurricane Ike [in 2008], I was in an emergency response vehicle. I didn’t tell people that I was the president and CEO of the American Red Cross. I just put on a T-shirt, threw on a pair of khaki pants and for about 2 1 / 2 hours, I was on that vehicle just dishing out chili. Right after that was over, I had to catch a flight back to Washington, D.C., and because I didn’t want to leave the volunteers, I didn’t have time to stop by the hotel room, and quite frankly I stunk. I smelled like chili and onions and body odor. My hair was plastered down to my head. I caught a glimpse of myself in the airport ladies’ room, and even my makeup had just sort of run down my face, so I looked sort of like a raccoon. I got on that plane, and I was in the last seat, center seat, and so I had to walk by all of these people, smelling to high heavens. All I could think of was, Oh, my God, they’re gonna evacuate the plane! I’m walking down this aisle thinking people are going to start gagging, and instead people were reaching out and touching my sweaty arm and saying thank you, ’cause I still had the Red Cross T-shirt on. They were saying, “Thank you for helping our city. Thank you. Thank you.” This followed me, literally, all the way home. The cab driver commented. The doorman at my condominium turned to me and said, “Mrs. McGovern, thank you for serving our country.” I have never been so proud to be part of an organization in my entire life.