About our Founder

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was a pioneering nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She worked as a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, and as a teacher and patent clerk. Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work at a time when relatively few women worked outside the home. She had a relationship with John J. Elwell, but never married.

Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Her full name was Clarissa Harlowe Barton. Barton’s father was Captain Stephen Barton, a member of the local militia and a selectman. Barton’s mother was Sarah Stone Barton. When she was three years old, Clara Barton was sent to school with her brother Stephen, where she excelled in reading and spelling. At school, she became close friends with Nancy Fitts; she is the only known friend Clara Barton had as a child due to her extreme timidity.

When she was ten years old, she assigned herself the task of nursing her brother David back to health after he fell from the roof of a barn and received a severe injury. She learned how to distribute the prescribed medication to her brother, as well as how to place leeches on his body to bleed him (a standard treatment at this time.) She continued to care for David long after doctors had given up, and he made a full recovery.

Her parents tried to help cure her of this shyness by sending her to Col. Stones High School, but their strategy turned out to be a disaster. Clara became more timid and depressed and would not eat. She was removed from the school and brought back home to regain her health.

Upon her return, her family relocated in order to help a family member: a paternal cousin of Clara’s had died and left his wife with four children and a farm. The house that the Barton family was to live in needed to be painted and repaired. Clara was persistent in offering assistance, much to the gratitude of her family. After the work was done, Clara was at a loss because she had nothing else to help with, in order to not feel like a burden to her family.

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