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Clara Barton

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Educator Clara Barton (1821-1912), was an advocate of publicly funded schools and established Bordentown’s first public school in 1852. She also was the first president of the American Red Cross.

During her first teaching job in Hightstown, Barton realized the great need for free public schools in New Jersey. She traveled to Bordentown to secure permission from officials to build a school/ Her endeavors were so successful that her school attendance grew to 600 students by the end of the first year. The town soon voted to build a new brick school that would better accommodate the growing number of interested school children. When the building opened in 1853, a male educator was immediately hired as the school principal and paid more than twice Barton’s salary. Consequently, a disheartened Barton moved to Washington, D.C. where she trained as a nurse. She later joined relief efforts during the Franco-Prussian War.

As a lifelong admirer of the Swiss-inspired global Red Cross, Barton decided to introduce the organization to the United States once she returned from the war. In 1881, a 60-year-old Barton became the first president of the American Red Cross. In this role, she directed all activities, managed funds, and took over most of the field relief work. Barton received over 25 decorations of honor for her service both at home and abroad. The Clara Barton School in Bordentown was restored in 1923.


Pfanz, Donald C. Clara Barton’s Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2018.

Spinner, Stephanie. Who Was Clara Barton?. New York: Penguin Workshop: 2014.

Henle, Ellen L. “Clara Barton, Soldier or Pacifist?” Civil War History 24, no. 2 (1978): 152-160.

Hughes, James. “Those Who Passed Through: Clara Barton.” New York History 85, no. 1 (2004): 65-70.

Krensky, Stephen. 2011. Clara Barton. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/662405771

Dunn, Joeming W., and Rod Espinosa. 2009. Clara Barton. Edina, Minn: Magic Wagon. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/767671236

Barton, Clara. 1898. Clara Barton for Woman Suffrage. [Boston]: [Woman’s Journal]. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/866988733 

Questions to Explore

How did Barton’s experience of being disregarded in school help her at the American Red Cross? How did Barton secure her position as the first president of the American Red Cross?

Compare and contrast the steps Barton took in reforming free public schools versus the steps she took in establishing the American Red Cross.

Additional Resources

Pace, Mildred Mastin. Clara Barton. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1941.

Oates, Stephen B. A Woman of Valor : Clara Barton and the Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Rose, Mary Catherine., and E. Harper Johnson. Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy. Champaign, Ill: Garrard Press, 1960.