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Clara Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Her father, Captain Stephen Barton, was a farmer and miller and provided modestly for his family. He was a veteran of the Revolution and greatly influenced his daughter with stories of the war and the hardships suffered by the soldiers. Clara’s mother, Sarah, supported her husband on issues such as abolition and was an outspoken advocate of women’s rights. Clara was the youngest of the Barton’s five children. Her siblings took much care of their little sister and she returned the favor. It is said Clara’s first nursing experience came at the age of eleven when her brother David was injured in a fall and she cared for him for two years while he recuperated.
Clara’s sisters and brothers were instrumental in her early education, teaching her arithmetic and spelling as a young child. Once in school she excelled in the classroom. Because of her academic achievement, at seventeen Clara began teaching in schools surrounding her North Oxford community. One of her first crusades to aid the underprivileged was the opening of a free school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Under her care school attendance grew from six to six hundred. Unfortunately Clara lost her bid to head the school and resigned, returning to her home in Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, Clara met Charles Mason, commissioner of patents, who, impressed by her skills offered her a position as recording clerk in the U.S. Patent office. She accepted, the first woman to hold such a significant post in the federal government.
Clara resigned her position at the U.S. patent Office in 1861 as the Civil War began. She assisted the Union Army by gathering and distributing supplies for the soldiers. While not immediately accepted by army officials, it soon became clear that Clara was an asset on the battlefield. In 1862 Clara gained permission to accompany supply transports to the frontline. Because of this work she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”. This was because of the following extraordinary efforts:
- Barton worked tirelessly and with compassion throughout the war, whether in the field
- Barton also worked in makeshift hospitals, preparing food, making bandages, comforting and cleaning the wounded and assisting the surgeons in any way she could.
- Clara Barton's care was impartial, at one time acquiring and delivering food and clothing for the sick and wounded at a hospital housing Confederate prisoners.
- She became the superintendent of Union nurses in 1864.
Clara persisted in her relief efforts until the Confederacy surrendered arms at Appomattox Court House in April of 1865.