American humanitarian and founder of the American Red Cross.
Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821, and educated at home, chiefly by her two brothers and two sisters. She was a teacher at first and the founder of various free schools in New Jersey. In 1854 she became a clerk in the Patent Office, Washington, D.C., but resigned at the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865) to work as a volunteer, distributing supplies to wounded soldiers.
After the war she supervised a systematic search for missing soldiers. Barton eventually received a Congressional appropriation to run what was known as the Missing Soldiers Office and became the first woman to head a government bureau. Barton tracked down information on nearly 22,000 soldiers before the office was closed in 1868.
Between 1869 and 1873 Barton lived in Europe, where she helped establish hospitals during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and was honored with Germany's Iron Cross for outstanding military service. Through Barton's efforts the American Red Cross Society was formed in 1881; she served as the first president of the organization until 1904. In 1884 she represented the United States at the Red Cross Conference and at the International Peace Convention in Geneva. She was responsible for the introduction at this convention of the "American amendment," which established that the Red Cross was to serve victims of peacetime disasters as well as victims of war.
She superintended relief work in the yellow-fever pestilence in Florida (1887); in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood (1889); in the Russian famine (1891); among the Armenians (1896); in the Spanish-American War (1898); and in the South African War (1899-1902). The last work that she personally directed was the relief of victims of the flood at Galveston, Texas, in 1900. She died in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912. She wrote several books on the Red Cross and Story of My Childhood (1907).