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Setting the Stage

The Civil War was a turning point in the life of Clara Barton (1821-1912), a former school teacher and patent office clerk. At age 40, Barton began offering assistance to Civil War soldiers, first by garnering supplies and then by ministering to the needs of the wounded. As the shells burst over the battlefields, she cradled the sick in her arms and closed the eyes of the dying. She jostled from battlefield to battlefield by wagon and railroad car, slept in tents or not at all, and tried in a small way to provide comfort and ease. After the war, Barton continued to offer her services, both in the United States and abroad. These experiences prompted her to lobby for the establishment of the Red Cross in America. Barton's several years of dedication to this cause were rewarded when the American Red Cross was officially established in 1882. Barton became its first president, serving until 1904.




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