Clara Barton

On this date in 1821, American Red Cross founder Clarissa Harlowe Barton (known as Clara) was born in North Oxford, Mass., the youngest of five children. Her parents were members of the Oxford Universalist Church. Barton was deistic and remained a creedless Universalist throughout her life. She was reading by the time she entered school at age 4 and earned her teaching certificate at 17. At 29 she entered the Liberal Institute in Clinton, N.Y., to hone her teaching skills. By the time the Civil War broke out, she was working in the U.S. Patent Office in D.C., where she organized a relief program for soldiers.

When she learned that soldiers were dying from lack of medical supplies after the First Battle of Bull Run, she organized a successful relief drive. The U.S. Surgeon General granted her a pass to travel with Union Army ambulances, which she did for the next three years. After encountering the Red Cross in Europe, she came back to the U.S., lobbied for ratification of the Treaty of Geneva and founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She resigned as its director in 1904. She was a supporter of woman’s suffrage and other liberal reforms.

Barton never married or had children and died of pneumonia at age 90 in 1912.

Freedom From Religion Foundation