Clara Barton was the humanitarian rock star of the 19th century. A compassionate, hard-working, visionary woman, she was a pioneer in serving members of the military and their families.
Until last night, I knew way too little about her. Like many third graders who have studied her for book reports, I knew that Barton founded the American Red Cross and cared for wounded soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War. But while watching History Detectives on PBS, I learned that Barton was a pioneer in serving members of the military and their families during times of conflict.
Historians explained the depth of Barton’s commitment: She assisted battlefield doctors in the most gruesome conditions, bravely helping with amputations when no one else could stomach it. Single handedly, she began collecting supplies like socks and bandages for soldiers—one of her first relief efforts. She watched in horror as thousands of soldiers were buried in unmarked graves, and their families were simply left to wonder. Inspired to help, Barton began administering a list of missing soldiers, which helped families locate their loved ones or find closure. She received more than 150 letters each day from families of missing soldiers, or those who had answers.
The History Detectives episode centers on one of these letters and a single soldier and his fate. Today, local volunteers in Chicagoland educate members of the military and their spouses and parents about Red Cross services during deployment. Today, if a soldier’s family needs to alert her about a death, birth or other important news, they make a single call to the American Red Cross.
Has the Red Cross ever helped your family? We’d love to hear about it in the comments! Or, tell us which famous lady you did book reports on as a kid 🙂
-Kristin Claes is a writer for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. She also doesn’t have cable, so finding something worth watching on PBS made her day.