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Angel of the Battlefield, Clara Barton

By Betsy Hill Williams. Used with permission, courtesy of the Church of the Larger Fellowship and uu&me!

Teach participants these sounds and actions. Invite them to listen for your cues to act them out during the story.

1. Gallop a gallop a gallop (slapping hands on legs)

2. Clippity Clop, Clippity Clop (slapping hands on floor)

3. Taking care of you (patting your neighbor on the shoulder)

4. ABCs and 123s (just repeating the words)

"Hang on tight to the mane!" Clara heard her brother call as she galloped bareback across the field. (Gallop a gallop a gallop) Clara was only five years old, but already her older brothers and sisters had taught her to do more than most five-year-olds did—especially in 1826! She was the baby of the family, and she loved learning to read, spell, and do arithmetic. Clara lived with her family on a farm in North Oxford, Massachusetts.

Every Sunday, Clara's family drove five miles in a horse and carriage to the Universalist church. (Clippity Clop, Clippity Clop) Clara's father had helped to build that church and Clara never forgot the Universalist teachings she learned there. She learned that God is love, and that all lives are precious gifts that should not be destroyed.

When her family was not with her, Clara was very shy. This worried her parents, so they sent her away to school when she was nine years old. They hoped she would make friends and forget to be shy. But Clara was so homesick she asked to come home.

When Clara was eleven, her brother David fell from the top of their new barn and was badly hurt. The doctor said he might die. "Please," begged Clara, "let me be David's nurse! I'll take very good care of him!" Her parents and the doctor agreed to let Clara try, so she stopped going to school. (Taking care of you) Clara stayed with David day and night. She fed him, gave him his medicine, and changed his bed. This was Clara's first job as a nurse and she did it cheerfully every day for two years!

When she was seventeen, Clara took her first job outside of home. She taught a class of forty participants, from four years old to thirteen years old—all in one room! (ABCs and 123s) Clara heard that some of the boys liked to make trouble for the teacher, so on the first day at recess, she offered to play baseball with them. They were surprised to see that she could throw a ball just as hard as they could, and run just as fast! The boys felt a deep respect for their new teacher, and Clara never had to spank or hit her students with a ruler the way other teachers did in those days.

A few years later, a friend in Bordentown, New Jersey, asked Clara to start a public school. (ABCs and 123s) Some people there didn't like the idea of public schools that were free, but that didn't scare Clara away. It just made her feel even more sure that she wanted to start the public school. She offered to open a school for participants of all ages and teach without any pay for three months. The school board agreed to give her an old building. On the first day, only six students came to class. But Clara was so popular and such a good teacher that soon there were six hundred participants coming! The town built a new, eight-room schoolhouse. Clara wanted to be the principal of the new school, but in those days nobody would hire a woman to do that job. Instead, the townspeople asked Clara to be the "female assistant". Her pay would be only half the amount of money the town would pay a man to be the principal. Clara felt this was unfair so she gave up teaching and moved to Washington, D.C. to find a new career. (Clippity Clop, Clippity Clop)

Clara was living and working in Washington when the Civil War broke out. She saw that the soldiers who were coming home from the war were hungry and they needed clothes and bandages for their wounds. The government was not able to help so many soldiers. Clara saw what they needed, and she used her own money to buy food and clothes for the soldiers. She wrote to the newspapers and asked them to tell people what the soldiers needed. People gave blankets, medicines, and other supplies. (Taking care of you)

Then news came from the battlefields that medicine and food did not get to the soldiers. Wounded soldiers fell to the ground and lay there without food or water. Many died of thirst or cold because there was no one to take them to the army hospitals. There were no women nurses to help them. In those days people thought that women were not strong enough to take care of soldiers or be near a war! Seeing women on the firing line shocked the soldiers.

But Clara knew she must do exactly what most people thought no woman could do. At first the Army laughed at the idea, but Clara kept right on asking until she got permission to go to the front lines of the battle. With a wagon full of supplies pulled by four mules, she came to a battlefield in Virginia at midnight. (Clippity Clop, Clippity Clop) The army doctor who was in charge was very tired and he had completely run out of supplies. Clara went to work cooking and taking care of the wounded right away. (Taking care of you) She even learned to take bullets out of wounded soldiers with a penknife! Later the army surgeon wrote, "If heaven ever sent out a holy angel, she must be the one!" After that, Clara was known as "The Angel of the Battlefield."

For fourteen battles, Clara brought supplies and took care of wounded soldiers from both sides, Confederate (South) and Union (North). (Taking care of you) She nursed anybody who needed help, because she still believed what she learned in her Universalist church when she was a child: that every life was precious. She said, "I have no enemies."

Once, she was kneeling beside an injured man, giving him water, when a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress. It hit the man and killed him instantly. Another time she barely escaped from a battle by jumping onto a horse and then leaping from the horse onto a moving train! (Gallop a gallop a gallop)

When the war ended, eighty thousand men were missing from the Union armies. Every day, Clara would hear from women and children who wanted help to find their loved ones. President Abraham Lincoln asked Clara to come to the White House to help him work on this problem. Two weeks later, President Lincoln was shot and killed. Clara was working by herself again. With money President Lincoln gave her, and some of her own money, Clara set up an office. She asked prisoners and others who had been in the war about what had happened to the missing people. She wrote down what they told her and kept the information to help find the missing soldiers.

Soon the money ran out and Clara needed to raise more. Since there was no TV or radio in those days, people would buy tickets to hear speeches about what was happening in the country. Clara began to give lectures about what she had seen during the war. It was hard for Clara to speak in front of hundreds of people. She was still shy. "I would rather stand on the battlefield, than speak at a public meeting," she once said. But large crowds came to hear her wherever she went, and she was able to make enough money to keep her office going. After two years of public speaking, she lost her voice and had to quit.

Clara's doctor suggested she go to Europe to rest. In Geneva, Switzerland, Clara learned about a new organization called the International Red Cross. This organization was started to help soldiers in battle no matter whose side they were on. (Taking care of you) Clara went back to the United States and talked to the American lawmakers and asked them to join this organization. She wanted them to sign the Geneva Treaty. This treaty was a promise by all the countries who signed it. The promise meant that during a war, doctors and nurses could take care of the sick and wounded soldiers no matter what country they were from. It was not easy, but she finally convinced the lawmakers. In 1882, the United States became a member of the International Association of the Red Cross.

But Clara didn't stop there. She had an idea. Why should the Red Cross only help people during wars? Why not use the Red Cross to help people in all kinds of disasters like forest fires, floods, and earthquakes? She explained her idea to other countries, and many foreign leaders gave her medals for her work. Clara was president of the American Red Cross for twenty-three years and a Red Cross worker until she was eighty-three!

The next time you take Red Cross swimming lessons, learn Red Cross first aid, or read about the Red Cross coming to the rescue in a disaster, remember Clara. She was a shy but very brave young Universalist girl who grew up to start the American Red Cross!

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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