Used with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Place yourself, for a while, in the shoes of a homeschooling mother named Sarah, wife of a horse breeder, raising four children in Massachusetts. The War of 1812 is near its end, and you feel such relief, lately, as your family has somehow survived and the British seem to have given up attacking your area. Finally, all seems right with the world around you.
Imagine yourself as Sarah, if you can. Although you are aging and wearying from the trauma of the war, your youngest is ten years old and you realize with satisfaction your children are rapidly becoming self-sufficient. As you dare relax, life returns to normal.
Then you discover you are expecting another child. When she arrives on Christmas Day, you cannot help but wonder what type of gift this child will be, someday.
Since your family is large and long-established, you have the luxury of allowing the older children to teach the younger. With this multitude of teachers, your daughter receives an exemplary, well-rounded education. Your older children do an excellent job of imparting what you have taught them. To your joy, you find she can spell complicated words at age four. Sometimes you wonder what will become of this baby, though—times such as when the boys put her on one of Dad’s horses and teach her to ride when she is only five. You think horse riding hardly an appropriate activity for a young lady of your day. Her ornery brothers delight in teaching tomboy ways to her, nevertheless. You realize what your older children know, that the exercise is good for their frail, timid sister who does not make friends easily.
This daughter is courageous in other ways, and as she grows, you wisely trust her with ever-growing responsibility. When disaster strikes your family—one of your sons falls from a barn rafter—she is only eleven. Nevertheless, you assign her the task of helping with the nursing chores for her bedfast brother. When his recovery takes two years, you notice with pride your little girl learning perseverance, along with other facets of nursing and medicine, including the “loathsome leeches,” as she puts it.
Still realizing you must find a remedy for her shyness, you arrange a nearby teaching position for her when she is only fifteen, and help her become established. From this beginning, your shy baby girl proves herself a capable teacher, like her older siblings. Continuing in the teaching profession into her thirties, she moves to New Jersey, founding a system of charity schools there. You are amused to observe your concerns about her shyness replaced with concerns for her boldness and her tendency to overwork. Excluded from advancement at her teaching job because she is female, she moves again, to Washington, D.C., and takes a clerking job at the U.S. Patent Office, the first woman ever to hold that position.
The United States Civil War interrupts and draws your daughter’s heart in to the plight of the people caught in this catastrophe. Her compassion will not let her rest until she is in the thick of it—the first woman ever allowed on the battlefield. Using her meticulous observation skills there, she sees one of the main causes of suffering at the front: the lack of simple supplies. This heartbreaking insight inspires her to establish another system, this time of supply depots, vastly improving the delivery of necessities to wounded soldiers. From this, she later branches out as a volunteer nurse, often serving near the line of fire. How her early home training has prepared her for cool-headedness in tending the physically needy and in establishing new systems! Eventually she finds herself in charge of a large district of hospitals, another first for women, who before then have been banned from even entering hospitals.
Once the Civil War ends, your daughter cannot deny another aching need of our country. She invests her concern and coordinating skills into another new system, spending four years organizing and supervising the government search for missing soldiers. Then she travels the country on a lecture tour.
Since she has exhausted herself again, her doctor recommends her moving abroad. When the Franco-Prussian War calls out to her, she finds herself strong enough to contribute some nursing help. This is a definite date with destiny, as your daughter sees new, more effective ways of dealing with disaster than she has ever imagined. However, she instantly imagines their application at home.
Excitedly returning to the United States, she spends the next eight years inaugurating a similar system for our country—an organized method of extending help during war and disaster. Although she faces opposition from those who think another war would never come to the U.S., she finally convinces the President that surely other types of disasters could come, and the country would need her system of help.
Beginning with funds from John D. Rockefeller, she efficiently heads this new body of volunteers for the next twenty-two years, sustaining herself with her life mottoes: “Do not be concerned about what cannot be helped,” and “Control under pressure!” Some of the tragedies of her day with which her organization helps are: the Florida yellow fever epidemic, the Johnstown flood, the Russian famine, the Armenian massacres, and the Spanish-American War. Her last personal act of volunteerism takes place during the flood of Galveston, in 1900. She also spends extensive time writing and lecturing, and retires as the most decorated American woman of her time.
Surely, she followed with all her might, her daddy’s deathbed admonition to “Love God and serve your fellow man.”
Home taught by her brothers and sisters, rising from shy frailty to the right-hand position of mercy in many countries, who is your famous daughter?
Please leave a comment telling us who you think she is and then come back tomorrow for the answer!
Answer: Clarissa (Clara) Harlowe Barton, receiver of the German Iron Crossand the Cross of Imperial Russia, Founder of the American Red Cross, “Angel of the Battlefield”, author of Story of My Childhood, and home scholar.
Another question: How many people do you know whose lives the RedCrosshas touched?