Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 41,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg: The Story of My Childhood by Clara Barton. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!
How appropriate that, in a month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, Distributed Proofreaders’ 41,000th title should be the childhood autobiography of the amazing Clara Barton!
Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children. From her brother, David, Clara learned at an early age to ride the semi-wild horses in nearby pastures. She wrote that “in later years, when I found myself suddenly on a strange horse in a trooper’s saddle, flying for life or liberty in front of pursuit, I blessed the baby lessons of the wild gallops among the beautiful colts.”
Her older sisters and brothers taught her reading and mathematics at such an early age so that “no toy equalled my little slate.” And her father, who had served as a non-commissioned officer in the French and Indian Wars, instructed her on military and political affairs, including military etiquette. She wrote, “When later, I, like all the rest of our country people, was suddenly thrust into the mysteries of war, and had to find and take my place and part in it, I found myself far less a stranger to the conditions than most women, or even ordinary men for that matter….”
From that beginning, Clara Barton proceeded to several remarkable achievements. Throughout her long life she held many roles: teacher, patent office clerk, Civil War nurse, American and international relief organizer, founder of the Office of Missing Soldiers to find, identify and bury soldiers killed during that war, founder and then long-term president of the US branch of the Red Cross, and founder of the National First Aid Society. She was also involved with the suffragette movement and was a civil rights activist.
By age 17, Clara had passed her school examinations and began teaching in the Oxford, Massachusetts, schools. She later established a school for her brother’s mill workers’ children and, after attending the Clinton Liberal Institute, established the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Replaced by a male principal at the school she had founded, Clara then moved to Washington, DC. There she became the first woman to work in a federal government clerkship at a man’s salary, when she accepted the role of recording clerk at the U. S. Patent Office. After complaints about women occupying well-paid government positions, her salary was cut and then her job eliminated, but, a few years later, under the Lincoln administration, her position was reinstated.
With the start of the American Civil War, Clara Barton’s life took a new path. When the 6th Massachusetts Infantry was attacked by mobs of southern-sympathizing Baltimoreans and quartered in the U.S. Capitol, Barton personally furnished supplies for their needs. A few months later, she tended to the wounded soldiers returning from the Battle of Bull Run. By 1862, she was passing through battle lines to transport supplies. Thus started her career as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
Throughout the war, Barton worked tirelessly (even through a bout of typhoid) tending wounded and ill soldiers and arranging medical supply shipments. While treating the wounded at the Battle of Antietam, she was nearly killed by a bullet that passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed the wounded man she was attending.
After the war, at the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton directed a four-year search for the large numbers of missing soldiers. Under her guidance, nearly 13,000 Union graves from the Andersonville Prison were located and marked. At the dedication of Andersonville National Cemetery, Clara raised the flag. When the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men was closed in 1869, 63,182 letters had been received and answered and 22,000 missing men had been identified.
Many people identify Clara Barton with the work she did during and immediately following the Civil War. However, that was just the start of her career. She gave lectures across the United States, often sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Mark Twain. She also met and befriended Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thus beginning her association with the suffrage movement. During the Franco-German War, Barton organized relief efforts for war victims.
While in Europe, Clara Barton became associated with the International Red Cross and realized that there was a need for such an organization in the US. By 1877, she began gathering support for organization and, on May 21, 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross. She served as its first president and continued as president for more than 20 years. In that role, she directed operations for the Johnstown Flood, which became the most celebrated relief effort in American Red Cross’s early history. She coordinated civilian relief during the Spanish-American War, established orphanages, supported military hospitals, and provided supplies for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s wounded Rough Riders. As Red Cross President she also directed the relief effort for the Galveston hurricane in 1900 that left 6,000 dead.
Clara Barton made a true difference to the world around her. A tireless, caring person, a consummate organizer, a visionary – she is a true role model to today’s women and men.
This post was contributed by Rick Tonsing, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.