Celebrating the American Red Cross Founder!

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red_crossMay 21, 1881 is a day in history that set the course for humanitarian aid in the U.S. as we know it. On this day, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross (ARC) which has played an important role in world throughout its lifetime.

Clara was a take-charge and principled woman. She started out as a teacher when not many women were. But the journey to forming the U.S. chapter of the Red Cross started when she was a records clerk in Washington D.C. during the Civil War. As the first waves of wounded men came pouring in, Clara saw their need. She saw that soldiers had nothing and were often hungry and exhausted. She took it upon herself to collect supplies, clothing, and food to distribute to the wounded and sick. She even pushed on to get government permission to go to the battlefields. Throughout the Civil War, Clara aided doctors in the fields by bringing them supplies and she became known as the Angel of the Battlefield.

In search of rest after the chaos of war, Clara went to Europe where she experienced the work of the Red Cross based in Switzerland. Its founder, Henry Dunant, was also the one to initiate what would later become the Geneva Convention, an international agreement to treat all sick and wounded in war, regardless of nationality. Eventually Clara would lobby for the U.S. to adopt this treaty as well. She read a book by Dunant during her time abroad, and the wheels began turning. She even went to the battlefield with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war, where she used red ribbon to make an emblem symbolizing her affiliation with the aid efforts, for her protection. Clara even left a mark on the city of Strasbourg, which was destroyed in the war, by bringing supplies and helping start new clothes-making facilities.

Upon her return from Europe, Clara dove into efforts to get the U.S. to adopt the Geneva Convention. She implored the president at the time, President Hayes, to sign it, but he rejected it. Armed with vigorous persistence, Clara was able to convince President Arthur (two presidents later) to sign.

Clara’s accomplishments are certainly admirable and have left a mark on our nation. After establishing the ARC, she even argued to the International Red Cross that their care should extend beyond help during wartime to also including natural disaster relief. Clara led the ARC for twenty years, time which boasts great humanitarian works.

The American Red Cross has had an enormous impact on medicine and disaster relief since its formation throughout our nation’s history. So it is an important, but little recognized, day in history known as National American Red Cross Founder’s Day, that we celebrate what Clara Barton did for our nation and countless lives. What she did has inspired many nurses who dedicate their lives to helping others every day.

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