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Clara Barton

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 12/26/2002

Clara Barton Transcript

Clarissa Barton, the woman who became known as Clara, was born December 25, 1821, the youngest by ten years of five children. She was a shy girl and when she was nine years old, to help her overcome her shyness, she was sent to a boarding school, during the week, going by herself by stagecoach every Monday and returning Friday evening.

When she was eleven, her father decided they needed a barn and all the neighbors came to help build it. Her older brother David, a strong young man and a skilled carpenter climbed up to the ridgepole to start the roofing and fell to the ground, hurtling through the tangle of boards and planks, injuring his back and breaking both his legs. He did not walk for two years. He found it difficult to endure being bedridden when all the rest of the family was healthy and active. He refused to take his medicine and insisted on trying to get out of bed, which made him worse. He wouldn’t eat. But then his younger sister, Clara, came to his rescue, and there, in his sick room at the age of 11, she found her life’s work. She donned a white apron and cap and took over his nursing. She kept him company, talked to him about how he would walk and ride horses again. She brought his medicine to him in her own little Christmas goblet which made him laugh and he gladly drank it down. Clara learned how to make custards for him and how to make up an attractive food tray using the fancy china, and she was happier than she had ever been.

Today, she would go on to study nursing, but this wasn’t an option for a young girl in the 1830’s and 40’s. She became a teacher and later a government clerk in Washington D. C. During the Civil War, she began to meet the trains as they brought the wounded in to Washington from the battlefields. Seeing these wounded soldiers reminded Clara how she felt nursing her brother back to health many years earlier and she began going to the Old Infirmary in Washington tending to them, gathering dressings, medicines and food for the hospital until the end of the Civil War. In Switzerland, a society called the Red Cross was organized to aid soldiers and others in time of war or natural disaster. After the Civil War, Barton went to Switzerland to learn more about the Red Cross. When she came home, she campaigned for America to join the Geneva agreement for an International Red Cross, and in 1881, the American Red Cross was incorporated and Barton was made its first president.


Bailey, Carolyn Sherwin. A Candle for Your Cake: Twenty Four Birthday Stories of Famous Men and Women. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1952. p. 239-248.

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