Clara Barton School, Bordentown, New Jersey Source: Clara Barton’s School, Bordentown, New Jersey 1921 Courtesy, Penny Colman collection.
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Clara Barton School today Photo courtesy: Penny Colman
Click on image to enlarge. Historical Marker honoring Clara Barton Photo courtesy: Penny Colman
Clara Barton (1821-1912) was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, where she taught school as a young woman. In the fall of 1851, she visited friends in Hightstown and was asked to teach in the Cedar Swamp school there. Realizing there were few free public schools in New Jersey, Barton became interested in encouraging the development of free schools throughout the state. In 1852 she traveled to Bordentown where she received the reluctant approval of the town school committee to open a free public school where she would teach. School attendance grew under her direction to include 600 by the end of the first year.
Her school was so successful, that the town voted to build a new brick school to better accommodate the students. When the new school opened in 1853, however, a male educator from outside the town was hired as principal instead of Barton and paid more than twice her salary. Discouraged, Barton left teaching in 1854 and moved to Washington, DC. Barton later worked as a nurse in the Civil War and engaged in relief efforts during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1881 she founded the American Red Cross which became her major life work.
In 1921, the school children of New Jersey raised the money to restore her school in her honor. The plaque on the building reads: “In this building, from 1852 until 1854, Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, taught school. In 1853 she established one of the first free public schools in New Jersey. The building was restored by the school children of the state and dedicated on June 11, 1921.”
For more information on Barton’s life, see Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton, Professional Angel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).