Clarissa Harlowe Barton was a humanitarian who drew inspiration for her strong will and determination from the Civil War battlefields. Clara Barton is best known as being the founder of the American Red Cross and prior to this significant achievement, as a nurse who tended to countless wounded soldiers on Civil War battlefields. .
She was born on December 25, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Clara was the youngest of five children. Her father, Stephen Barton, was a farmer and state legislator who served in the Revolution. His experiences and stories made war and military affairs quite familiar to her. Clara's mother, Sarah, was a strong woman with a firm temper. She was a very involved lady who taught Clara how to cook, sew, and weave, while being a firm supporter of women's rights. Both parents were extremely proud of their daughter.
Clara was a very small, shy child. Her reputation of being well educated and well read helped her gain respect at a young age. Growing up, Clara was a tomboy. She played ball, rode horses, and entertained herself with toy soldiers instead of dolls. Although bashful at even a young age, she soon became an outgoing and reliable young woman. When Clara was eleven, her older brother, David was injured in an accident and for two years, she sat by his side day and night. Clara would use these lessons in nurturing later in life. .
At the age of fifteen, she began teaching at nearby schools. This helped her to come out of her shell and become more self-assured over time. Clara was a hard worker who received little or no pay and eventually earned a reputation for discipline and scholarship. When she was in her late twenties, she attended the Liberal Institute in New York to further her education. Years later, she opened a free school in Bordentown, NJ. The school's student body grew from less than ten to more than 600 in the first year. Eventually Barton resigned from Bordentown because town officials and school board members refused to appoint her to a higher paying position because she was a woman.