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In 1833, when Clara Barton was eleven, her brother David fell off the roof of the barn on her family’s farm. He didn’t break any bones, but he did get very sick. Clara decided to take care of him. She cleaned his wounds, changed his bandages, and brought him his meals. For two years she almost never left his side.
By the time David recovered, Clara was very good at nursing. Everything she’d done to help her brother seemed to come naturally to her. So when dozens of children in her Massachusetts town came down with smallpox, Clara nursed them, too. She knew that she might get smallpox, but that didn’t stop her. The children needed her help.
Over the course of her long, busy life, Clara Barton never stopped helping and healing people. She started schools for poor children, nursed wounded soldiers during the Civil War, and fought long and hard to bring the Red Cross to the United States. Under her leadership, the Red Cross won fame for its treatment of disaster victims and set new standards for public service. Barton also transformed the nursing profession, strengthened the women’s movement, and inspired volunteer organizations all over the world. Once a shy small-town girl, Clara Barton became a true force for change. She was a woman to be reckoned with.
Six Mothers and Fathers
Clarissa Harlow Barton, born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, on Christmas Day of 1821, was her parents’ fifth child. She was the baby of the family, and her two sisters and two brothers were much older than she was. In Clara’s household, everybody, not just her parents, told her what to do. It was almost like having six parents instead of two.
But Clara was lucky—five of the six were interested in taking good care of her and making sure she learned the important things in life. Her father, Captain Stephen Barton, taught her about military history. Once an army officer in the Northwest Indian War of 1785–1795, he liked to sit by the fire and talk about his adventures. Clara would spend hours acting out different battles with him, which they both enjoyed very much.