Facts & Observations by Jonathan Sprout
Clara Barton lived her life in almost constant service to others. She is best known as the founder of The American Red Cross.
When the Civil War erupted, she learned that much suffering at the front was caused by scarcity of supplies. Single-handedly, she organized supply depots and later served as a nurse. She was sometimes called the "angel of the battlefield."
Throughout her much of her life she helped people in need by rushing to various hurricane, flood, famine, sickness and war emergencies. She was a woman of great courage and perseverance.
In the mid-1990’s, I visited the Clara Barton Schoolhouse at 142 Crosswicks Street in Bordentown, NJ. It’s a tiny one-room building on the corner, just down the street from Clara Barton Elementary School, where they keep the key to the schoolhouse.
In a similar small schoolhouse outside of Hightstown, NJ (my hometown) a fascinating series of events took place that indicate how skilled Miss Barton was at bringing out the best in people.
Hart Bodine was a big bully. He evidently towered over the five foot tall young Miss Barton, and he was to be one of her students. As I understand it, on the first day of school when Hart began to act up, Miss Barton asked him to go outside alone with her and gather together the whips that had been used by previous teachers to discipline the children. She then told him to break the whips into tiny pieces, took him tenderly by the hand and assured him she would never need those whips, for Hart was one of her big boys and she could depend on him to help her keep order in the school. Hart responded by breaking down in a flood of tears.
Hart’s mother later wrote: “From that time on Hart was a model of obedience in the schoolroom.” In her unpublished autobiography, Barton wrote that “His pledge was kept. Oh how long and well it was kept. In school he was ever at my hand, to do the smallest bidding, never leaving the (school)house until I left at night, and the first to greet me in the morning.”
Years later, when Barton was one of the North’s most famous nurses, she heard that Hart was fighting in the Civil War, stationed in Virginia. She brought him and his mates some jams, jellies and clothing. Hart eventually had a daughter. She was named Clara Barton Bodine.
[Thank you Dr. David G. Martin, Grace Norton Rogers and Maurice P. Shuman, Jr. for your booklet titled Clara Barton And Hightstown, published by Longstreet House, Hightstown, NJ, New Booklet #123, 1994]
On 3/1/07 I was contacted by none other than Clara Barton Bodine’s Great Grandson, John Hart Reese, who grew up in Hightstown, NJ. Mr. Reese has Hart’s military papers and his officer’s Cavalry Sword. He writes, “He was in Company A 6 Regiment of NJ Volunteers. They were involved in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. What a small world when Clara Barton ran into him in a field hospital. I think he was shot twice and lived – very lucky for that period! We still have his crutch he made when he was wounded. He was a carpenter by trade and I have his tools and toolbox.”
There’s another great Clara Barton story that sends chills down my spine every time I remember it.
In 1867, after the Civil War was over, Miss Barton was travelling from town to town, talking to eager audiences about her fascinating experiences in the war. Apparently, people adored her and would often hang on her every word.
In a certain town west of the Mississippi River, she was speaking, as she always did, about the surgeons’ gratitude for the supplies she brought them. She spoke of a doctor too overcome during the battle of Antietam to express his thanks. Suddenly, there in the lecture hall, a man sprang to his feet and ran to the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he exclaimed, “if I have never acknowledged that favor, I will do it now. I am that surgeon.”
[Thank you Elizabeth Brown Pryor for your book Clara Barton, Professional Angel, 1987, University of Pennsylvania Press]
Then there’s the story of Julian Hubbell who, having heard about Clara Barton and all the good things she was doing, approached her, asking how he could help. She said what she really needed was doctors. So he went away, studied for years, and eventually became a doctor so that he could return to Miss Barton and offer her the kind of help she needed. In this way, he devoted his life to Clara Barton and the American Red Cross.
What I find so striking about Clara Barton was her self-motivation. To my knowledge, no one ever told her to go out and help people. She did this on her own in the same way that any of us can do things for others.
Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony first met in November, 1867 while changing trains in Cleveland, OH. It was the beginning of a long and productive relationship.
I visited the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, MD and highly recommend a visit. There’s nothing like being just where your hero lived, hearing the stories of her life and having visual images to attach to the thoughts you have about who she was and what her life was like.
Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD where Clara Barton first served the wounded and weary soldiers of the Union Army