I was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Stephen and Sarah Barton, my parents, had 5 kids before me. My father was a farmer and state legislator and had served in the Revolutionary War. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, but us kids usually looked over each other. I was always very shy and quiet. I cared for my brother who suffered an injury from falling off a tree and neighbors who caught smallpox when I was a young girl.
At age 16, I began teaching in nearby schools and moved to Bordentown, New Jersey, for a teaching position in 1850. I then established the first free school in New Jersey since it saddened me that so many students couldn’t afford schooling. I raised enrollment from six students to six hundred. I left New Jersey when town officials said I was not fit for the high paying school administrator position, and a man was
After moving, I suffered several emotional breakdowns. I moved to Washington D.C. to recover and find a job. Once there, I got a job as a copyist in the Patent Office. I was the first woman in the U.S. to work in that job. I left this position after the outbreak of the Civil War. I, like many other American women, was inspired by the work of Florence Nightingale to volunteer to care for sick and wounded soldiers. I used connections with people (developed through my work in the Patent Office) to collect food and medical supplies for the war effort. I used the supplies as a negotiating tool convincing the assistant quartermaster of the Union Army, Col. Daniel H. Rucker, to let my go to the battlefields.
My childhood experiences of taking care of my brother and ill neighbors provided skills I carried with me as I helped the soldiers. I cared for the northern and southern soldiers by feeding them, caring for wounds, and comforting the dying on the battlefield. I worked with the Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission, and Dorothea Dix's professional nurses, although I was never officially with these organizations. I served on the front line from 1862 to 1864.
Near the end of the war I moved back to Washington D.C. There I got President Lincoln's approval to search for missing soldiers. So I began publishing lists of missing men and invited the public to write to me if they knew what had happened to the men. I used money made through public speaking engagements (where I discussed my experiences on the battlefield) to fund my search. Sometimes, I located men who did not want to go back to their old lives and they were angry I had found them. I found over 20,000 men.
In 1868, I suffered a severe emotional and physical breakdown and traveled to Europe to recuperate. After resting and recovering, I volunteered for the Red Cross' efforts in the Franco-Prussian war. I learned about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. I was amazed at how much was accomplished through this organization. I also learned about the Treaty of Geneva that set guidelines for humane treatment of the wounded in wartime and later treatment of prisoners of war. I returned home in 1873 after receiving news of my sister's fatal illness. After my sister's death the following year, I suffered a nervous breakdown, which I was unable to recover on my own this time. I admitted myself to a sanitarium in Dansville, New York, in 1876. After getting out of the sanitarium, at the age of sixty, I began the work for the founding of the American Red Cross.
In May of 1877, with the support of the International Red Cross, I began getting the Treaty of Geneva enacted in America and establishing the American Red Cross. I spent months contacting senators and congressmen. I gave speeches and published a pamphlet titled "The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention: What It Is." I also decided the role of the American Red Cross in times of peace to help victims of natural disasters. By publicizing this, I expanded