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After her many achievements during and after the Civil War, Clara Barton wrote, "I ought to be satisfied. I believe I am." Coming events were to show, however, that she would never be satisfied except by responding again and again to the call of human need.
The International Red Cross
A more immediate call to action came to her with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Though not yet allied to the Red Cross, she knew the needs of war and went to the war zone with volunteers of the International Red Cross. To protect herself with the internationally accepted symbol, she used a red ribbon she was wearing and made a cross to pin on her coat. She helped to distribute relief supplies to the destitute in the conquered city of Strasbourg. She also opened workrooms where the inhabitants of the city could help themselves by making new clothes, thus anticipating the production of great quantities of clothes and comfort articles by todayís American Red Cross. Later, she distributed relief in many French cities.
Founding and Leading the American Red Cross
Anticipating American acceptance of the treaty, Barton and a group of supporters formed the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. Reincorporated as the American National Red Cross in 1893, the organization was given charters by Congress in 1900 and in 1905.
The American Red Cross, with Barton at its head, devoted itself largely to disaster relief for the first 20 years of its existence. The Red Cross flag was flown officially for the first time in this country in 1881 when Barton was appealing for funds to aid victims of forest fires in Michigan. In 1884 she chartered steamers to take supplies to many sites along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to help flooded families. In 1889 she helped to relieve Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after its great flood. In 1892 she organized assistance for Russians suffering from famine and in 1896 directed disaster relief operations in Turkey and Armenia. Barton introduced the idea of Red Cross disaster relief to many other national societies, and many foreign countries honored her with decorations. She was one of three U.S. delegates to the Third International Red Cross Conference in Geneva in 1884, the only woman delegate present. An amendment to the Geneva Treaty was adopted at the conference that sanctioned peacetime aid by the Red Cross for calamities. This amendment, called the "American Amendment," was a direct result of Barton's work in the United States. Her personality and prestige and her record of response to national and international disasters influenced the proceedings of other International Red Cross Conferences, including the sixth, in Vienna (1897), and the seventh, in St. Petersburg, Russia (1902).
Bartonís most significant act during her closing years as head of the American Red Cross was to take supplies to Cuba on a specially chartered ship during the Spanish-American War. Aid was given to the American forces, to prisoners of war, and to Cuban refugees. This effort was the first step toward the broad programs of service to the armed forces and to civilians during wartime that have become traditional in the American Red Cross. On resigning as president of the organization in 1904, Barton left a foundation of service to humanity for others to build on.
1) How did Barton's actions during the Franco-Prussian War embody the principles of the Geneva Treaty?
2) How did Barton's experiences in Europe influence the beginnings of the American Red Cross?
3) Why might the Geneva Treaty have been considered an "entangling alliance" by some people in the United States?
4) Discuss Barton's unique situation as the only woman delegate to the International Red Cross Convention in 1884. In what way did her earlier relief efforts influence the proceedings of the convention?
Reading 2 was adapted from "Clara Barton, Historic Woman," Washington, D.C., 1961. Courtesy of the American Red Cross. All rights reserved.