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Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity.

David Burton is right to describe his subject as 'a strange cross of saint and sinner ... much loved but often not much Liked'. Clara Barton (1821-1912) was working as a clerk in the US Patent Office on the outbreak of the American Civil War. She abandoned her job and organized a volunteer service to aid the sick and wounded, and became an Angel of Mercy, a Florence Nightingale, at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and at Hilton Head, South Carolina - to name but the most prominent of the battlefields where she served. Near the war's end, Lincoln asked her to head a unit that tried to find missing soldiers and to trace unmarked graves - estimated to number some two hundred thousand. She lectured on her experiences in the years after the war and became a celebrity. Being in Europe when the France-Prussian War broke out in 1870, she learned of a new organization, the International Red Cross, with whose aims she at once identified. An eye-witness to its efforts to alleviate the sufferings of soldiers and civilians on both sides in the France-Prussian War, on her return home she became an active campaigner for the US to sign the Geneva Convention, the enabling act that had created the Red Cross in 1864. It provided for the neutrality of the medical services of the armed forces and for the humane treatment of all prisoners. It was thanks to her efforts that the American Red Cross became a relief organization to respond to disasters of any nature - at home or abroad. She was an activist as well as an organizer: she was in Johnstown after the flood, in Galveston after the tidal wave, and in Cuba during the Spanish-American war. Whenever there was a catastrophe, she had to be there; she was the salt of the earth. David Burton tells her story well. His biography is at once detailed, vivid and fascinating reading.

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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1995
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