Founder’s vision paved way for volunteers to support those in need today

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

December 25, 2020- Clara Barton is one of my all-time heroes.

Born 199 years ago today, Clara shook off her 19th century “woman’s place” and founded a movement that continues to move hundreds of thousands of people to action.

“We are all in Clara Barton’s debt for her vision to found the American Red Cross,” said Gail McGovern, president of the American Red Cross. “We still follow her example today whenever we deliver comfort and care to the victims of disaster, support our men and women in the armed forces, and donate our blood to help save lives. Clara saw the urgent needs of others, and she created a way for generations of humanitarians to help meet those needs.”

Circa 1865. Matthew Brady portrait of Clara Barton.

Clara Barton was 60 years young when she established the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881.

By then, she had been a trailblazer many times over: Founder of the first free school in New Jersey, first paid female employee of the U.S. Patent Office, “Angel of the Battlefield” for supplying critical supplies for the Union soldiers wounded during the Civil War, and head of the postwar Office of Missing Soldiers. On a trip to Europe to “relax” after a decade of war, she directed relief for civilians on both sides of the Franco-Prussian War under the auspices of the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross.

In the 1880s, Clara and her fledgling organization began helping survivors of floods and famines, storms and outbreaks of disease. In 1897, at the age of 76, she sailed to Turkey to direct American relief for civilians suffering a humanitarian crisis. The next year, she worked in hospitals in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

This woman’s energy and commitment to help ease suffering set the standard the Red Cross continues to follow. During fiscal year 2020 alone, 2,800 Red Cross volunteers from Northern Ohio responded to disasters here and across the country, using new procedures to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Regionally, the Northern Ohio Red Cross:

  • Responded to nearly 1,200 local disasters and distributed more than $1 million in aid to meet immediate disaster-related needs
  • Taught nearly 61,500 people potentially lifesaving CPR, AED, first aid, aquatics and babysitting skills
  • Collected more than 168,700 units of blood that were converted into some 506,000 life-supporting blood products for patients in more than 80 medical facilities across Northern Ohio
  • Presented community preparedness education, most of it virtually, to more than 10,500 individuals, and disaster preparedness education to 4,441 youngsters in grades 3 through 5
  • Handled nearly 5,500 urgent contacts between armed forces members and their families, and briefed some 5,400 deploying men and women, and their families, about Red Cross emergency services

“None of this would be possible without the generosity of our thousands of volunteers and donors,” said Gail Wernick, volunteer services officer for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. “ Hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors over the years are indebted to Clara for her founding example.”

1902. Blockley Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Clara Barton with graduating class of nurses at Blockley Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miss Barton spoke to the graduating class.

So this is my birthday salute to Clara Barton. And my thanks to generations of Red Cross heroes of every age, gender, race and creed who have given selflessly of their time, their talents and their treasure to help humanity. If you’d like to follow in Clara’s footsteps in the new year, find the volunteer spot that fits you at redcross.org/volunteertoday. To financially support the work of the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/donate.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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