This undated and untitled manuscript details the life experiences of Clara Barton as a pioneer examining her time briefly as an employee in the Patent Office, her service during the Civil War as well as her work in France, Germany and Switzerland during the Franco-Prussian and with the International Red Cross. It also examines her role as a U.S. representative at the Geneva Convention and her relationship with the Grand Duchess of Baden who gave her an invitation to “participate in the service of volunteer nursing.” The author of this document is not identified.
Paper, H 20.3, W 25.7 cm
Clara Barton National Historic Site, CLBA 34
In 1869, on the advice of her doctor, Miss Barton traveled to Europe for a much needed rest following her Civil War relief and search for missing soldiers. While visiting Geneva, Switzerland, she learned of the International Red Cross, a newly formed war relief organization. The International Red Cross was organized during conferences held in 1863 and established in 1864. Twelve nations originally ratified the Treaty of Geneva. Miss Barton was amazed to learn that the U. S. government had rejected the idea of the war relief organization and had not joined, even as she toiled as a private citizen to supply the needs of the wounded on the American battlefields during the Civil War.
When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Barton worked under the sponsorship of the International Red Cross and the German Red Cross. During this service, Barton befriended Louise, the Grand Duchess of Baden (Germany). Louise was the daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm I and Empress Augusta. She was a noted philanthropist and credited with founding the German Red Cross. Louise advocated women working in disaster relief and supported the establishment of nursing schools. This friendship was a lifelong influence on Barton.
Barton gained knowledge here that was vastly different from her Civil War experience. She had concentrated on relief of wounded soldiers on battlefields. This meant following the U.S. Army, work in temporary areas and move on. Occasionally, for rest or to resupply, she returned to Washington, D.C., where the city's buildings and supply centers were untouched by battle. Dduring the Franco Prussian War, Barton worked with war victims; women, children, the elderly or sick, left behind in cities where the fighting had destroyed homes, factories, stores and all that offered a normal lifestyle. In the foreign surroundings of Strasbourg, Paris, Bescançon and Belfort, Barton labored to restore a sense of community, survival and recovery. She worked among wretched, starving people with whom she was not even able to speak to without the assistance of a translator.
After her first inspection of the burned and wrecked city of Strasbourg, Barton realized over six thousand people were homeless and many ill from starvation, typhoid fever or smallpox. The city was under siege for nearly two months before it fell to the German Army. Barton stated, “I came suddenly into the midst of such an accumulation of woe - want & misery that there was not a moments [sic] time for anything besides attempting to relieve it.”
Barton spent several days distributing soup to survivors in Strasbourg. As she worked, she became aware that a different approach was needed if these people were to recover from their circumstances. Barton developed a plan to restore work and employment in the city; a plan that would begin the recovery process for the local economy as well. She explained to her friend, Grand Duchess Louise, that constantly handing out food would, “make of them permanent beggars and vagrants, thus doing for their morale all that the bombardment had done for their physical condition.” Barton organized the city's women and established sewing workrooms. So successful were the workrooms that, within six months, women were sewing nearly every type of clothing and receiving pay for their work. Clothing needs for city residents were met. Strasbourg seamstresses supplied the clothing needs of the neighboring farming communities, and neighboring farming communities supplied the city with food.
Miss Barton's leadership and accomplishments greatly elevated her position in the community. When she began her relief work, she had been looked upon as a foreigner and was treated with distrust. When she left Strasbourg, at the end of her efforts, the residents honored her with a great party and festivities. She was greeted and cheered by every attending guest. Miss Barton described the event stating, “they did talk, and laugh and cry for joy - and such a time some hundreds of poor women almost beggars I think never had - It was worth going a mile to see.”
When twelve nations originally signed the Treaty of Geneva in 1864, establishing the International Red Cross, the main focus was the relief of the sufferers of war or the victims of warfare. Miss Barton's work during the Franco-Prussian War was unique in its methodology but successful in its application. She brought relief to the innocent victims of war in a manner that not only encouraged survival of individuals but also stimulated the recovery and growth of the community as a whole. This would later become the basic philosophy behind the work of the American Red Cross. But first America needed a Red Cross society and Miss Barton needed to persuade the United States government to accept and ratify the Treaty of Geneva.
As Miss Barton's insight brought a new approach to the relief efforts in Strasbourg, so, too, she brought a new approach to the concept of a Red Cross Society for America. She stated, “War, although the most tragic, is not the only evil that assails humanityThe American Society of the Red Cross asked to have included in its charter the privilege of rendering such aid as it could in great calamities, as fires, floods, cyclones, famines and pestilence.” Clara Barton established the American Red Cross in 1881 and expanded the mission to include peacetime and natural disaster relief. The United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Geneva in 1882.