Clara Barton taught school and worked as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office. When she 40 years old, the outbreak of the Civil War launched her on her life’s work. She began to assemble and distribute supplies to the Union soliders. Knowing that nurses were urgently needed at the battlefield, she “broke the shackles and went into the field.”
At Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Fairfax Court House, Fredrickburg, Antietam, and the Wilderness, she assisted the surgeons in stitching up wounds and in bloody amputations. Her life long timidity disappeared. She was calm and resourceful, always turning up with food and medical supplies just when they were needed most. Clara Barton gained national acclaim as “the angel of the battlefield,” but she was also “everybody’s old maid aunt,” fussing over the men she called “my boys.”
After the war she coordinated a national effort to locate soldiers who were missing in action. Barton threw herself into relief work in Europe and was impressed with the International Red Cross. She then lobbied for United States ratification of the Red Cross Treaty. She was the founder of the American Red Cross and served for many years as its president.