Clara Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on 25th December, 1821. The daughter of a farmer, Barton began work as a schoolteacher at the age of fifteen.
In 1850 Barton moved to New York where she attended the Clinton Liberal Institute. Two years later she moved to Bordentown, New Jersey, where she established a free school. The school was very popular and grew rapidly. This upset the local men in the town and they tried to insist that the school should be run by a man. Barton refused and moved to Washington where she found work as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office. In doing so, Barton became one of the first women to join the civil service.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War, Barton became a strong supporter of the Union cause. After hearing about the heavy casualties at Bull Run, Barton advertised in newspapers for medical supplies for the wounded. The response was so good that she was able to set up an agency distributing goods to soldiers. This involved the hiring of mules and wagons to take the supplies to the battlefields.
In July, 1862, Barton went to the front-line where she worked as an unpaid nurse for the Army of the Potomac. Barton continued as a freelance nurse until June, 1864, when she was employed as superintendent of nurses for the Army of the James. The following year President Abraham Lincoln appointed her as head of the Bureau of Records, a unit that attempted to search for missing soldiers.
After the war Barton toured Europe and when the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, she organized the distribution of supplies to the French Army. During this period she became associated with the International Red Cross and after her return to the United States in 1873, Barton campaign to persuade the USA to sign the Geneva Convention. This was an agreement which established rules for the care of the sick and wounded in war.
In 1877 Barton organized the American National Committee, which three years later became the American Red Cross. The USA signed the Geneva Convention in 1884 and Congress agreed to support Barton's efforts to distribute relief during floods, earthquakes, famines, cyclones and other peacetime disasters.
The author of the History of the Red Cross (1882), Barton served as president of the American Red Cross between 1882 and 1904. Other books by Barton include The Red Cross in Peace and War (1899) and The Story of My Childhood (1907).
Clara Barton died in Glen Echo, Maryland, on 12th April, 1912.