Clarissa Harlowe Barton, aka Clara Barton, was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, on Christmas Day in 1821. When she was just a few years old, she attended school and excelled in her English studies. In fact, Barton was always an intelligent child, and at just 17-years-old, she received her first teacher’s certificate.

Before that, when she was 10-years-old, her brother, David, fell from the roof of a barn and received major surgery. After the incident, Barton designated herself the “nurse” to take care of her brother during his recovery, thus kick-starting her interest in the field. Still, she took an active interest in becoming a teacher.

The pursuance of the occupation came as a suggestion by Barton’s parents who hoped to help their daughter overcome her shyness. Eventually, Clara Barton opened a free public school in Bordentown in 1852. This was the first free school in New Jersey. She worked as the school’s principal until she was replaced by a male who was elected by the school board.

A few years later, Barton moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a clerk in the United States Patent Office, marking the first time a woman had received a significant clerkship in a federal government agency with pay equivalent to a man’s pay.

Women's History NJ: Clara BartonBefore long, the nation became divided by the Civil War, and Barton looked for any way she could to aid the Union Army. At the start of the war, she collected and distributed supplies for the soldiers, but in 1862, she decided to take on much greater responsibilities when she served as an independent nurse. She was beloved by the soldiers and received the nickname “The Angel of the Battlefield.”

The Civil War ended in 1865, and Barton began work for the War Department before traveling to Europe in 1868. During her visit abroad, she briefly worked with a relief organization, the International Red Cross. When Barton returned back home a few years later, she pushed for an American branch to be instated. After years of dedicated work, the American Red Cross was founded in 1881. Barton served as the organization’s first president, but never took a salary for her work with the organization.

In 1904, Clara Barton resigned from the American Red Cross. She remained active in her community and even published a book, The Story of My Childhood, in 1907. Five years later, at the age of 90, Barton died in her home in Glen Echo, Maryland. Her work in the Garden State, as well as her work with the American Red Cross, paved the way for others like her who strive to make a difference in people’s lives every day.