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Robert McNamara

Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross

By November 4, 2012

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The staggering devastation from Hurricane Sandy, and the valiant efforts of people to bring aid to the afflicted, is a reminder of Clara Barton, who pioneered disaster relief in the 1800s and founded the American Red Cross.

Barton was a determined woman who first broke barriers by becoming a federal government clerk at a time when most women did not work outside the home. During the Civil War she served heroically as a volunteer nurse. She tended to wounded Union soldiers so close to the action at Antietam that a Confederate bullet pierced the sleeve of her dress.

Following the Civil War, Barton traveled to Europe to recover her own health, and she came into contact with people from the International Red Cross. When she returned home she founded the American Red Cross.

In the late 19th century Barton regularly visited disaster zones, such as the valley left devastated by the Johnstown Flood, to organize relief efforts. Even when elderly, she would turn up with supplies to help survivors of floods, earthquakes, and fires.

When Clara Barton died at the age of 91, an obituary in the New York Times noted that she had become "a household word, associated in the public mind with goodness and mercy."

More: Biography of Clara Barton

Photograph: Clara Barton/Library of Congress

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