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Clara Barton was born in Oxford, Mass., in 1821, the fifth and youngest child of a middle-class family that educated the children at home. At age 15 she began an 18 year teaching career. Barton was 39 and working in the Washington Patent Office when the Civil War broke out. She began organizing relief programs for the many Union troops stationed in the city, which led to her aiding the wounded from the 1st Battle of Bull Run.

In 1862 she received permission from Surgeon General William Hammond to travel with the army for the purpose of distributing comforts for the sick and wounded, and nursing them. Barton, however, described her job as "staunching blood and feeding fainting men" and her post as "the open field between the bullet and the hospital." For the next three years Barton earned a national reputation as the angel of the battlefield for her work in caring for Union wounded. At President Abraham Lincoln's request, Barton led the search at the end of the war for the many missing soldiers, traveling to Andersonville, Ga., to identify the graves of Union prisoners.

Clara Barton worked to establish the American Red Cross finally achieving her goal in 1881. Appointed president of the organization (a position held for 23 years), she succeeded in having the United States adopt the Geneva Agreement on the treatment of prisoners and wounded.

Barton was so close to the front lines at the Battle of Sharpsburg that a bullet passed through her clothes and killed the wounded soldier she was tending.