Happy Birthday, Clara Barton!

On Christmas Day, while families gathered together and children opened presents, the American Red Cross celebrated the 190th birthday of Clara Barton. Widely known as the founder of the American Red Cross, she was born on December 25, 1821. Barton’s understanding of the needs of those in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to others guided her throughout her life.
Clara Barton, circa 1881, by the Betts Studio, Dansville, New York. Barton established the American Red Cross in 1881.

For the first 20 years in the existence of the Red Cross, with Barton at its head, the organization devoted itself largely to disaster relief. A forest fire in Michigan and flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers were among its first disaster responses. Disasters that sound familiar still in 2011.

Like the holiday season, birthdays also mark the closing of a year and the beginning of a new one. In 2011, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and wildfires became all too common headlines. But Barton’s legacy lives on. It paves the way to each answered cry for help and shines the light of hope for those who struggle to put back the pieces in the wake of devastation.

With a relentless series of disasters this year, the Red Cross responded to more than 100 large-scale events by feeding, sheltering and providing emotional support to those affected across the country. In response to Hurricane Irene alone, the Red Cross provided shelter for more than 25,000 people up and down the East Coast. Even as the number and impact of disasters increases, the Red Cross commitment to providing relief never wavers.

Today, the symbols of the season are all around us. Amid silver bells and ribbon-tied packages, countdowns and clinking glasses, we send cards of holiday cheer and promise to do more in the new year. It is a season of giving and resolution.

For the American Red Cross, a symbol never far from mind is that of Clara Barton. The woman who provided food, clothing and supplies to sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The woman who read to them, wrote letters for them, listened to their heartache, and quietly, prayed with them. The woman who became a symbol of selfless compassion and went on to found an organization committed to providing relief for those in need.

Amid a symbolic season where angels top evergreen trees strung with lights, the Red Cross remembers the birthday of Clara Barton, “Angel of the Battlefield” and founder of the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton, circa 1881, by the Betts Studio, Dansville, New York. Barton established the American Red Cross in 1881.

~Hanna Malak

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