Heroes of Progress in America - Charles Morris

Clara Barton,
the Red Cross Evangel of Mercy

The famous Red Cross Society, founded in Europe in 1864 as a result of the Geneva Conference in 1863, did not make its way to America until 1881, its establishment in this country being due to the efforts of the noble-hearted Clara Barton, who was appointed its president. Most of us are familiar with the beneficent purpose of this society, to ameliorate the sufferings arising from war; but most may not know that twenty years before its founding in America Clara Barton was carrying out its ends and aims with an unselfish devotion which has rarely been equaled. If any woman in our land has earned a crown of glory by works of mercy and beneficence, none could be more deserving of it than this bearer of relief to the afflicted, the story of whose life we are about to tell.

The daughter of a soldier who fought under Anthony Wayne against the Indians of the West, Clara Barton was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, December 25, 1821. She was educated in an academy at Clinton, New York, became a teacher, and quickly showed her progressive spirit and ability by founding at Borden-town, New jersey, at her own risk, the first free school ever opened in that State. Beginning with six pupils, she had six hundred by the end of her first year, and had obtained the money to erect a new schoolhouse, at a cost of four thousand dollars.

Her life as a teacher ended in 1854, when failing health obliged her to give up the absorbing duties of her school. Soon afterwards she obtained a position as clerk in the Patent Office at Washington, holding it till the outbreak of the Civil War, when the demands of the wounded and suffering appealed so strongly to her warm heart that she resigned her position and offered her services as a volunteer nurse. It was the first step in a long life given to this cause.

Clara Barton's Home


Seeking the hospital, the camp, the battle-field itself, she devoted herself unflinchingly to the distressing work she had undertaken, nobly facing the terrible scenes into which it brought her, and when the army began its Peninsular campaign in 1862 she went with it to the field, where she pursued her chosen work in a quiet, self-contained, and most efficient way, never flinching from the most arduous duties or the most harrowing scenes. Her earnest solicitation brought her supplies in abundance from the charitable, and all the resources of military trains and camp equipage were placed at her service, her noble and valuable work of aid to the suffering being everywhere acknowledged.

She was present on many of the battle-fields of Virginia, was eight months engaged in hospital duty on Morris Island during the siege of Charleston, was afterwards busied in the Wilderness campaign, and in 1864 was put in charge of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James, her devotion to duty not ceasing until the war ended.

The close of the war brought her new work to do. At the request of President Lincoln she took up _the arduous duty of searching for the 80,000 men marked on the army muster rolls as missing. In this service she went to the prison at Andersonville, aided the prisoners there upon their release, and continued the work of identifying the dead until gravestones had been erected over the bodies of I2,920 men, and tablets marked "unknown "placed over four hundred more. This labor took four years of her life, during part of which she gave a series of lectures upon "Incidents of the War," in which she told to hundreds of thousands of interested listeners the facts of her thrilling experience.

It was while in Switzerland in 1869, whither she had gone for rest after her many years of hard work, that she first heard of the Red Cross Society. Every power in Europe had joined in the treaty which gave the members of this beneficent association immunity on the battle-field, and licensed them to care for the wounded of every creed and race, whether friends or foes. It was a work of mercy that appealed strongly to her sympathetic soul, and she promptly joined the society, entering quickly upon its duties, and devoting herself to them with the warmest zeal during the Franco-Prussian War.

After the capitulation of Strassburg, she accompanied the German troops in their entry into its streets, and there found the most urgent need for this mission of benevolence. There were many thousands of homeless and starving people within the walls, and her heart was rent with sorrow at the suffering visible on every hand. Systematic and energetic work was needed here, and Miss Barton earnestly undertook the task of seeking to relieve the distress that surrounded her. Food was supplied for the hungry, materials for thousands of garments were procured, and she set the hungry and half-clad women at work in making these into articles of wear, seeing that they were paid for their labor and thus enabled to obtain food.

Her work at Strassburg was quickly followed by similar work at Paris, where the outbreak of the Commune had caused wide-spread suffering and distress. Entering that terror-haunted city courageously on foot, she began her work with an earnestness that quickly won her recognition and protection among the warring elements, food and clothing being supplied her which she distributed with the judicious care born of long experience. The story is told that on one occasion a hungry mob, fiercely demanding food, had overcome the police in front of her dwelling. Opening the door, she spoke earnestly to the infuriated throng. Recognizing her as the bringer of relief to their families, their mood changed.

"Mon Dieu, it is an angel!" they exclaimed. Then they quietly dispersed, their wild fury tamed by the voice of this giver of food to them and theirs.

Miss Barton returned to America in 1873. She brought with her, as tokens of appreciation of her work, the Golden Cross of Baden, presented her by the Grand Duke, and the Iron Cross of Germany, presented by the Emperor, both of them in recognition of her invaluable services. In her native land, in which she was at that time the only member of the Red Cross, she earnestly applied to Congress to join in the international European treaty establishing this society, an effort in which she did not succeed until 1881.

As president of the American branch of the society, she proposed an amendment which vastly widened its scope. There was at that time no probability that the services of the Red Cross members would for years be called for by wars in America, and the duties of the society had been restricted to this purpose. Her proposal was that its scope should be widened so as to embrace all cases suffering from fire, flood, famine, pestilence, or disasters of any kind calling for relief.

Her amendment, which also embraced protection to Red Cross agents under duties of any nature, was agreed to by a conference of the society held at Berne in 1882, but was not adopted by any of the nations of Europe. Had the work of the society been confined to war, Miss Barton would have found little call for her services at home, but its new and broader scope brought her no end of duties, of the most diversified kind. The Michigan forest fires and the Mississippi Valley floods of 1882 and 1883 called for active relief work, which was conducted under her supervision. In 1884 there came the Louisiana cyclone. Later there was the Charleston earthquake, the drought in Texas, and that frightful disaster, the Johnstown flood. When the news of this terrible affliction reached her she hurried to the ground on the first train, and remained there for five months, having under her a force of fifty men and women, and vast sums of money being placed at her disposal, for use in giving relief to the suffering and destitute. Later the dreadful cyclone on the Sea Islands of South Carolina called for similar devoted services.

During part of this period Miss Barton held the position of superintendent of the Reformatory School for Women at Sherborn, Massachusetts, which was placed under her care in 1883. As evidence of the kind of work she did there, and the respect and admiration felt for her by the inmates, we may give the following incident told by a lady visitor to the institution. While she was being taken by the superintendent through the wards, a girl convict raised herself on her cot and gazed fixedly at Miss Barton.

"Well, what is it?" the latter kindly asked.

"Nothing. I heard you coming and just wanted to look at you."

It was a pathetic demonstration of the warmth of their feeling towards her.

In 1883 Miss Barton, at the request of a committee of Congress, prepared a volume entitled "History of the Red Cross Association." This was supplemented at a later date by a work similar in character, "History of the Red Cross in Peace and War."

In 1884 she attended the International Peace Congress at Geneva, as a deputy from the United States, and on two occasions subsequently was appointed by the United States Government to international conferences in Europe to discuss questions of relief in war.

Though the nations of Europe had riot accepted the American widening of the purposes of the Red Cross Society, Miss Barton volunteered her services there on two critical occasions unwarlike in character. During the famine in Russia in 1891-92 the American Red Cross Society took active part, under the auspices of its noble president in the work of relief. Food and clothing were obtained in quantities and widely distributed among the sufferers.

Again in January, 1896, moved by the frightful massacres in Armenia, she made an appeal for aid to the charitable of this country, and in February reached Constantinople; attended by five assistants. Here an appeal was made to the Sultan for permission to proceed to Armenia and relieve the distress there as far as could be done. A reluctant assent was given, with the demand that Miss Barton and her assistants should place the crescent above the cross on the badges worn by them. This being complied with, a gratifying change was visible, the government giving prompt and courteous assistance, while the messengers made their way without delay to the scene of trouble and rendered timely and important service to the destitute and injured sufferers.

Miss Barton's services during this mission of mercy were recognized by Guy de Lusignan, Prince of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia, through the decoration of the Order of Melusine, which he conferred upon her. In addition to this and the crosses of honor bestowed upon her at the close of the Franco-Prussian War, she received at intervals other valuable tokens of appreciation, including a handsome jewel from the Duchess of Baden, a medal and jewel from the Empress of Germany, a decoration of gems from the Queen of Servia, and a brooch and pendant of diamonds as a tribute of gratitude from the people of Johnstown.

In 1898 Miss Barton, at the request of President McKinley, proceeded to Cuba as a bearer of relief to the suffering and starving reconcentradoas  of that country, and in the war that succeeded she did valuable field work among the sick and wounded of the army in Cuba. In 1900 another demand for relief came from the sufferers at Galveston, where a vast ocean storm had inundated and ruined the city. Miss Barton, with her accustomed promptness, hastened to the scene of suffering, but the strain proved too much for her, now nearly in her eightieth year, and she broke down and was forced, for the first time in her long life of arduous work, to desist from active labors.

History does not contain many records of devotion to humanity and self-sacrifice in women surpassing that of Clara Barton, and she amply earned the high regard in which she was held. She was one of the few American women who won a European reputation, her name being known and revered from Paris and Strassburg to Russia and Armenia. In her own land she nobly earned her crown of fame.