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Famous People of the Finger Lakes
Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Born in Oxford, Massachusetts in 1821, Barton trained as a teacher. When the Civil War broke out, she began collecting donations of supplies for the soldiers, sometimes buying them with her own money. With apparently little or no training in nursing, she volunteered to nurse soldiers on the battlefield. While tending a wounded soldier at Antietam, a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed the soldier.
During the last year of the war, she was appointed superintendent of nurses and organized hospitals and their staffs. After the war, she worked (still without pay) to locate missing soldiers and was successful at locating over 22,000. Eventually, the government paid her $15,000 for her services.
In 1866 she joined the lecture circuit and shared billing with the likes of Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Between 1867 and 1868 she delivered 300 lectures. The strain of this pace took its toll on her health, and she went to Switzerland to recuperate. There she learned about the Croix Rouge (Red Cross). She stayed in Europe, helping with the relief efforts during the Franco-Prussian War.
Returning to the United States in 1873, she suffered from a nervous condition that caused migraines and periods of blindness. She moved to Dansville, New York in 1876 to take the cure in Dansville's curative spring. She recovered within a year and bought a home in the town, which she kept until 1886. With the support of the local townspeople, she founded the first chapter of the American Red Cross in 1881 and a year later convinced Congress that the United States should become a member of the International Red Cross. Barton became the first president of the American Red Cross, and remained so for the next 23 years.
Besides the 57-member chapter in Dansville, chapters also sprung up in Rochester and Syracuse. These chapters were immediately called into action when a forest fire in eastern Michigan left 5,000 people homeless. The Red Cross collected $300 to provide to fire victims for relief.
Barton eventually left Dansville as her organization expanded, moving to an estate in Glen Echo, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., which she used as her headquarters and where she spent the last 15 years of her life. The Glen Echo estate is a national historic site operated by the National Park Service and is open to the public.
Clara Barton died in 1912 in Washington, D.C.
The American Red Cross's Chapter House is located at 57 Elizabeth Street in Dansville.