The shy child of a militiaman, Clara Barton (1821- 1912) became a successful teacher and opened the first free school in New Jersey, but office politics drove her to the Civil War front. By 1862, Barton was providing food and medical care to Union soldiers at major battles including Antietam and Fredericksburg. Dubbed the “Angel of the Battlefield,” she served as a nurse until war’s end, and then ran the Office of Missing Soldiers. Barton was introduced to the Red Cross in Switzerland in 1869; she gained support for a branch in war-weary America by extending humanitarian aid to civilians in flood, famine, and other natural disasters. Under Barton’s command, the American Red Cross would offer aid across continents— to Spanish refugees, to Cuban invalids, to children orphaned in Texas hurricanes. When she met Susan B. Anthony in 1867, Barton was already long-sympathetic to the feminist cause; she spoke at the first national women’s suffrage convention in 1869, and, at a gathering of 400 in Maryland, praised her suffragist friends:
“[T]he hands of the grateful, loving womanhood of the world struggle for a place to scatter roses in the paths which erstwhile were flint and thorns; and an admiring world of women and men alike breathe in tones of respect, gratitude and love the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Miss Anthony, I am glad to stand beside you while I tell these women from the other side of the world who has brought them here. This, ladies of Europe, is your great prototype—this the woman who has trodden the trackless fields of the pioneer till the thorns are buried in roses; this, the woman who has lived to hear the hisses turn to dulcet strains of music; the woman who has dared to plead for every good cause under heaven, who opened her door to the fleeing slave and claimed the outcast for a brother; the woman beloved of her own country and honored in all countries.”
—From Welcome Speech to the First International Woman Suffrage Conference, ca. February 15, 1902.
-Jen Hawkins, The American Feminist: First Wave Feminists