A woman with a passion to care for others, born in Oxford, Massachusetts, Clarissa "Clara" Barton (1821–1912) was a U.S. Patent Office clerk when the Civil War began.
Horrified at the lack of supplies and care for the injured soldiers, she quickly volunteered to help and rallied other women to the relief efforts.
"I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them," she said. Soldiers called her the "Angel of the Battlefield."
"The conflict is one thing I've been waiting for. I'm well and strong and young-- Young enough to go to the front. If I can't be a soldier, I'll help soldiers," she said.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln sent Barton on a three-year mission to search for missing prisoners. In 1870, she worked behind German lines to help care for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War.
"The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me," she observed.
Barton learned that European relief agencies far surpassed those in the U.S. She campaigned diligently and finally on this day in 1881, the American National Red Cross was established and Barton was elected its president. An endowment from John D. Rockefeller created a national headquarters in Washington, DC, located one block from the White House.
"From the storm lashed decks of the Mayflower to the present hour; women have stood like a rock for the welfare and the glory of the history of the country, and one might well add...unwritten, unrewarded, and almost unrecognized," Barton once said.
Whose business is it?