Clara Barton and the Red Cross
AT the outbreak of the Civil War, a young woman who was a clerk in the Patent Office, at Washington, gave up her position, and volunteered to nurse soldiers without pay. She knew that the sick, wounded, and dying men would need the comfort that only a woman's hand can give. Her name was Clara Barton. She did not go to hospitals, where it was safe for her to be, but she went on the battlefields, where the awful carnage of death was around her.
Inspired by her example, other women undertook the same work, some going to the hospitals, and others following the armies, but all nursing the sick, comforting the dying, and keeping their last messages for the loved ones at home.
After the war, Clara Barton went to Europe. In 1859, one hot day in summer, there was fought the great battle of Solferino, at the end of which more than thirty-five thousand men lay dead and wounded on the field of battle. There was no aid for them. For hours and even days they lay where they had fallen. A Swiss, by the name of Henri Dunant, visited the battlefield, and was so overcome by its horrors that he wrote circular letters, and delivered lectures, calling upon all nations to form some sort of a society to relieve the distress of the wounded.
"If nations will go to war, then there should be some means to help those who suffer by it. I call upon all nations to send representatives to Geneva, Switzerland, in order to establish a society for this purpose," said he.
The conference met, and formed an organization, which had for its purpose the care of the sick and wounded on the battlefield and in hospitals. The society adopted a badge, or flag, which was a red cross on a white ground. This was done in compliment to the Swiss Republic, whose flag was a white cross on a red ground. The organization soon became known as The Red Cross Society. Many nations signed an agreement to respect the principals of this Society.
When Clara Barton, who was in Switzerland, recovering her health, heard of this society, she was filled with joy and hope. It was the kind of work she most loved, and she resolved to give her whole life to the Red Cross.
At the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, Clara Barton saw her opportunity for service. After the siege of Strasburg, there were twenty thousand people without homes and employment, and starvation threatened them all. Clara Barton secured materials for thirty thousand garments, and gave them out to the poor women of the city to be made up. She paid good wages for the work. Everywhere she went, the soldiers and people lent a helping hand.
After the war, the city of Paris was in the hands of lawless men of the lowest character. The Army of the Republic besieged the city, and the most dreadful scenes of conflict occurred. There was fighting on the streets, and many innocent persons were killed. In the midst of these horrors, Clara Barton entered the city on foot, and began her work of helping the sick and wounded.
One day, a great crowd surged through the streets of Paris, crying for bread. The soldiers were powerless before such a mob. Clara Barton raised her head as if to speak to them. The crowd stopped, and she spoke in calm and hopeful words. In the end, they cried out, "It is an angel that speaks to us," and quietly went back to their homes.
When the war was over, there were removed from Paris ten thousand wounded men, who otherwise would have suffered and perhaps died through lack of care. All this was done by the Red Cross Society, working under the direction of Clara Barton.
She now returned to America, to found a similar society in this country. It was not until 1882 that the United States signed the treaty of Geneva, and joined the family of nations in this great work. The American plan, however, went further in its purpose than relief in times of war. It included relief for the distressed at any time, and to meet any calamity, such as earthquake, flood, fire, and pestilence. Clara Barton was the first President of the American Red Cross.
A great fire swept through the forests of Michigan. For many days, it raged in unchecked fury. Homes, farms, woods, were swept away, and thou-sands of people were left homeless and penniless. The Red Cross Society was there promptly with its offers of relief. The call for aid went forth, and supplies poured in from every direction, until eighty thousand dollars in money, food, and clothing were available for the suffering people of Michigan.
Then came floods along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, fearful cyclones in the West, an earthquake in South Carolina, and a long and terrible drought in Texas. To them all the Red Cross went, with Clara Barton as its inspiration.
In 1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was swept away by a flood, caused by the breaking of a dam. Nearly five thousand lives were lost, and twelve million dollars worth of property was destroyed. It was a most dreadful calamity. Hardly had the news reached the country, before Clara Barton and the Red Cross were in Johnstown, organizing relief for the severely stricken people. For five months she stayed amid those scenes of desolation and woe.
"The first to come and the last to go," said one of the newspapers, "she has indeed been an elder sister to us—nursing, tending, caring for the stricken ones through a season of distress such as no other people may ever know."
When the war with Spain occurred, Clara Barton was seventy years old, but she went to Cuba, and did heroic work there. At the time of the Galveston flood, she was eighty years old, but she went to that stricken community, and for many days labored to relieve the sufferings of the people.
The American Red Cross has grown into a very large and useful society, and has many thousands of members. It has contributed a great deal of money to a suffering world. For the victims in the Japanese famine, it contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars. For those rendered homeless by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, in 1905, it gave twelve thousand dollars. For the sufferers in the great California earthquake, in 1906, it gave more than three million dollars. Wherever humanity has a need, wherever it raises a cry for help, the Red Cross holds out its hand in relief and comfort.
In the recent World War, the American Red Cross sent its workers into the home camps, and overseas, to be with the soldiers in time of need. Whatever the men desired in the way of comfort and help, which the Government could not supply, the Red Cross was ready and willing to give. Its doctors, nurses, and directors numbered many thousands. What they did for the wounded and the dying will be the subject of many an inspiring story for years to come.