Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 21 (1881) Clara Barton forms American Red Cross to "compass & shelter the relief of the nation"

Clara Barton circa 1904


On this day in 1881, at the age of 60, Clara Barton founded the American chapter of the Red Cross. She funded it primarily with her own money, most of which she earned while working in the US Patent Office, where she received a salary on par with her male colleagues.  "I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing," Ms. Barton said, "but if paid at all, I shall never do a man's work for less than a man's pay."  

Ms. Barton spent the Civil War assisting wounded soldiers.  When she visited Switzerland in 1869 ("in search of a much needed rest" according to her colleague Walter Phillips), she was introduced to a wider field of service through the Red Cross in Geneva. Ms. Barton eventually convinced the US to sign the Geneva Treaty, and created the American Red Cross on this day in 1881.  

When she stepped down from President in May 1904, she reflected on the organization she created in her letter of resignation, reprinted in The Evening Star

"Although its growth may seem to have been slow, it is to be remembered that it is not a shrub or plant to shoot up in the summer and wither in the frost. The Red Cross is a part of us, it has come to stay and, like the sturdy oak, its spreading branches shall yet compass and shelter the relief of the nation." 

Image from the Library of Congress.

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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.