In addition to the first hints of spring, March ushers in the celebration of Red Cross Month. This annual observation started with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 and has been declared by each president since. Behind one of the most recognized and respected health and humanitarian organizations in the world is the leader who started the movement in the United States, Clara Barton.
An Idea is Born
Born in 1821, Clarissa Harlowe Barton was the youngest child in her large family. Growing up she enjoyed listening to her father’s war stories; and was inspired by his sense of patriotism and humanitarianism. At age eleven, Clara attended to her first patient when her brother, David, suffered a severe accident that left him bedridden for nearly two years.
Clara Barton was a bright student, but struggled with extreme shyness. By contrast, her extreme love of learning made it possible for her to become a teacher. Remarkably, Clara earned her teaching certificate by age 17, and went on to attend the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York where, along with her degree, she earned the admiration of her peers.
Following a series of groundbreaking ventures, Clara became the first woman to achieve a significant clerkship with equal pay to men in the United States government. She worked in the U.S. Patent Office until 1861 when the Civil War began.
What We Lose in the Fire...
With the onset of the Civil War, shy young Clara’s metamorphosis was completed — Clara Barton became a nurse. She was so adept and such an effective leader that by August of 1862, she was attending to wounded soldiers on the front lines.
Clara was nicknamed the "Angel in the Battlefield" because she administered life-saving care to wounded soldiers despite critically dangerous circumstances — including an incident where a bullet missed her, tearing through her sleeve and hitting a person she was treating. Clara was always on the move, traversing the country to provide aid to overwhelmed surgeons and physicians on both sides of the conflict.
... We Find in the Ashes
Clara’s perspective was that education of the general public is the best solution to a crisis. So, in the aftermath of the war, she gained broad recognition all over the country by speaking with people about her wartime experiences.
Clara also traveled overseas and witnessed the effectiveness of aid delivered by the International Red Cross. She knew right away that she wanted the Red Cross to also provide aid in the United States. Leading by example, she journeyed across the U.S. on an inspirational mission to teach the fundamental principles of the Red Cross through volunteerism.
Clara Barton's work with the International Red Cross, the U.S. government, and civilian volunteers eventually resulted in the founding of the American Red Cross on May 21st, 1881.
The American Red Cross Today
Today the American Red Cross continues to build upon their legacy, assisting with an emergency just about every eight minutes. The American Red Cross also manages about 40% of the United States' blood supply, and provides aid for more than sixty thousand disasters every year.
The American Red Cross consists of about 90% volunteers that rush to support people facing devastating scenarios such as home fires, forest fires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Their efforts linger long after medical care has been given, meals have been shared, and roads have been cleared. Financial literacy and aid, mental health support, certifications and training, and accident prevention awareness are just a few examples of the all-encompassing work that occurs each day.
The American Red Cross also places a strong emphasis on supporting American veterans. This includes maintaining a tracking system that helps reunite missing soldiers with their families. The modern tracking system was borne out of the noble work in this area that was also started by Clara Barton with President Abraham Lincoln’s support, The Office of Missing Soldiers (1863-1868).
The Red Cross Flag symbolizes neutrality and helps protect healthcare workers, civilians, humanitarians, and other vulnerable individuals during conflict. Serving as one of the most easily recognizable emblems, it reminds the world that even in the midst of devastation and destruction that hope and help are still ever present.
Even today, as the world navigates the challenges of a global pandemic, the Red Cross continues to help those in need of support and protection. While educators and healthcare workers have always bravely served their communities, March serves as a time of reflection and honor for an organization whose foundation was built upon the tenacity and courage of an individual educator and a nurse. March is National Red Cross Month.
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