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Lowell Stories: Women's History

Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Clara Barton Photograph c 1902. See note below.


From the National Park Service, Museum Management Program 

"Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and remained at its helm until 1904. During this time, the organization was responsible for 18 peacetime relief efforts and relief work during the Spanish-American War. Under Barton's leadership, the American Red Cross assisted survivors of many disasters, including the Johnstown Flood, the Sea Islands, South Carolina and Galveston, Texas hurricanes, and provided famine relief in Russia, Turkey and Armenia. Many local chapters of the American Red Cross were established throughout the United States during her tenure.

In 1884, American Red Cross disaster relief work was so successful that the International Red Cross modified its mission from providing war relief only to include peacetime and disaster assistance. In this way, Barton and the American Red Cross were honored with the addition of the "American Amendment" to the Treaty of Geneva. Many Red Cross programs conducted worldwide today evolved from those introduced under Barton’s leadership of the American Red Cross."

Interaction with General Benjamin Butler

  “Clara Barton (North Oxford, MA) and Benjamin F. Butler (Lowell, MA) relationship began during the Civil War in the summer of 1864. Barton wanted to follow the troops into Virginia, but had difficulty obtaining permission to do so. She contacted her friend, Henry Wilson (Massachusetts Senator), who gave her a letter of introduction to Butler, who was then the Commander of the Army of the James. Although, she later claimed that Butler named her Superintendent of Nurses for the Army of the James, Butler stated that he offered her a job at a Corps Hospital at Point of Rocks, Virginia. In any event, Barton worked at Point Rocks for about three months.”
Much later in 1882, Clare Barton accepted Governor of Massachusetts, Benjamin F. Butler’s invitation to revise the state prison system and serve as Superintendent of the Women’s Reformatory Prison in Sherborne, MA.”


About the photograph: Taken in St. Petersburg, Russia when Barton attended the seventh Red Cross International Conference. She is wearing two neck chains, one with a Red Cross medal; probably a German Official Red Cross Field Badge, given to her by Lousia, Grand Duchess of Baden. The other, an amethyst pansy brooch, was also given to her by the Duchess. A second circular Red Cross pin with an attached ribbon is pinned to the left lace lapel, the Silver Cross of Imperial Russia, given to Clara Barton by Czar Nicholas & Dowager Empress Dagmar. Miss Barton noted the occasion in her diary, “Tuesday, June 3, 1902 St. Petersburg. … Went to lunch and the court chamberlain came and delivered to me the Decoration of the Emperor and the letter accompanying it. This was at the lunch in the Conference building (Hall of Nobles).” Paper. H 28.0, W 24.0 cm Clara Barton National Historic Site, CLBA 36 
Learn more about Clara Barton and the American Red Cross at Virtual Museum exhibit at Clara Barton National Historic Site. National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior.