Clara Barton (1821- ), American philanthropist, was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821. She was educated at the Clinton Liberal Institute (then in Clinton, New York). Ill-health compelled her to give up the profession of teaching, which she had taken up when she was only sixteen years old, and from 1854 to 1857 she was a clerk in the Patent Office at Washington. During the Civil War she distributed large quantities of supplies for the relief of wounded soldiers; and at its close she organized at Washington a bureau of records to aid in the search of missing men for whom inquiries were made. In connexion with this work, which was continued for about four years, she identified and marked the graves of more than twelve thousand soldiers in the National Cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia. In 1869 she went for her health to Switzerland. Upon her arrival at Geneva she was visited by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who sought her co-operation in the work of their society. The United States had declined to become a party to the treaty of Geneva on the basis of which the Red Cross Society was founded, but upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War Miss Barton went with members of this society to the seat of hostilities and assisted them in organizing their military hospitals.
In 1871 she superintended the distribution of relief to the poor in Strassburg, and in 1872 performed a like service in Paris. For her services she was decorated with the Iron Cross by the German emperor. In 1873 she returned to the United States, where she at once began her efforts to effect the organization of the United States branch of the Red Cross and to bring her country into the treaty of Geneva, which efforts were successful in 1881-1882. She was the first president of the American Red Cross, holding the position until 1904: and represented the United States at the International conference held at Geneva, 1884; Karlsruhe, 1887; Rome, 1892; Vienna, 1897; and St Petersburg, 1903. She was the author of the American amendment to the constitution of the Red Cross which provides that the society shall distribute relief not only in war but in times of such other calamities as famines, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, and pestilence, and in accordance with this amended constitution, she conducted the society's relief for sufferers from the yellow fever in Florida (1887), the flood at Johnstown, Pennsylvania (1889), the famine in Russia (1891), the hurricane along the coast of South Carolina (1893), the massacre in Armenia (1896), the Spanish-American War in Cuba (1898), the hurricane at Galveston, Texas (1900), and several other calamities.
Upon her retirement from the Red Cross she incorporated and became president of "The National First Aid of America" for "first aid to the injured." She wrote An Official History of the Red Cross (1882), The Red Cross in Peace and War (1898), A Story of the Red Cross (1904), and Story of my Childhood (1907).