10 Lessons Learned from Clara Barton’s Life and Work

By Jean Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and founding dean (retired) at the George Washington University School of Nursing, member of the Red Cross National Nursing Committee, and Linda MacIntyre, PhD, RN, chief nurse of the American Red Cross

Clara Barton at desk in Red Cross headquarters

Clara Barton at desk in Red Cross headquarters

This is the final post in the Clara Barton Study Tour series. There have been many lessons learned during the tour. All of the participants have agreed to take what we learned and reflect on how our lives have been changed by this trip and what we are going to do to use what we learned to further the humanitarian work of Clara and the Red Cross.

For reasons mentioned in previous posts, this tour was very emotional, as well as informative. Here are ten lessons we learned from our investigation into Clara Barton’s career and its continuing implications for ongoing efforts in the U.S. and internationally.

  1. Clara Barton was resilient and a renegade, transforming some of her biggest fears and bouts of depression into constructive humanitarian action.
  2. Clara was a superb logistician, gathering goods and transporting them during the Civil War and during disasters in the U.S. and internationally, such as her relief work in the Franco-Prussian War.
  3. Clara was tenacious. If she did not get what she wanted, she kept at it. When trying to meet with President Lincoln about establishing the Missing Soldiers Office, she kept going back until he met with her.
  4. Clara was visionary, in a very practical way. She saw what could help people in ways others didn’t think about—but she could also operationalize her vision, getting supplies to troops, notifying families about their loved ones, and starting the American Red Cross.
  5. Clara’s life was one of giving, but she also was masterful at public relations. First on the world-historical stage of the Civil War and subsequently as a public speaker, she made herself a household name.
  6. Clara was profoundly influenced by her meeting with Henri Dunant, founder of the international Red Cross. The encounter influenced the development of the American Red Cross, the largest humanitarian organization in the U.S.
  7. We have a lot to learn about creativity, commitment, caring, and persistence through better understanding the history of how we came to be where we are. Too often we operate in the here and now without a deeper understanding of how we got into a particular situation.
  8. The Red Cross worldwide touches hundreds of millions of lives every year, mainly through the work of volunteers. Although there are far more people who want to help others, the vast majority of attention gets focused on the people who create harm.
  9. We must have a global vision. International efforts of 190 national societies of the Red Cross, including the American Red Cross, operate in some of the most dangerous and needy areas of the world and in conditions in which health care workers are sometimes targeted. While continuing to support the work of the American Red Cross, we must also think more broadly and support the work of the Red Cross worldwide.
Sue and Bob Hassmiller. Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross.

Sue and Bob Hassmiller. Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross.

The most important lesson for those on this trip: Bob and Sue Hassmiller, who were prevented by tragedy from coming on this trip at the last minute, represent the best of Clara Barton and the Red Cross by sustaining the work of the Red Cross, touching in a positive way so many people’s lives. Bob’s work will remain an inspiration to us all, and Sue will continue to work to make the world a better place.


2016-11-21T13:00:53+00:00 October 13th, 2016|Clara Barton 2016, Nursing, nursing history, Public health|0 Comments

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