Clara Barton National Historic Site

Location: Glen Echo, Virginia

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton’s history began with the Civil War.  When soldiers began to arrive in Washington D.C. in response to the call from President Lincoln at the beginning of the war, the volunteers found Washington D.C. not to be ready for them.  Working as a clerk in the US Patent Office at the time, Clara Barton organized the Ladies Aid Society to collect bandages, clothes, and food for the new soldiers.  In 1862, she received permission to work on the front lines and she worked in the field hospitals at several battles including Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  In 1864 she was appointed as “lady in charge” of the hospitals in the front of General Butler’s Army of the James during the siege of Petersburg and Richmond.  Following the war she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers to find Union soldiers that were “missing in action”.  Clara Barton and her assistants located the remains of over 21,000 missing soldiers at many of the major battlefields and Andersonville prison camp.  She achieved fame for lecturing about the war and became involved with the women sufferage movement after meeting Susan B. Anthony and the civil rights movement after meeting Stephen Douglas.  In 1869 she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland and learned about the Red Cross and began the long process of establishing the American Red Cross, which required the recognition of Congress of the International Committee for the Red Cross which finally occurred in 1881.  Clara Barton was the first President of the American Red Cross which she ran until 1904, at the age of 83.  Her home in Glen Echo was also the main offices of the Red Cross until it moved to Washington D.C. Originally planned as a Chautauqua community in 1904 for cultural events to attract wealthy visitors from Washington D.C., the Baltzley brothers offered to build a home for Clara Barton according to her specifications.  Clara Barton accepted the offer, specifying a large house patterned after the Red Cross facilities during the Johnstown flood in 1889.  She used her home as offices, storage, and housing for the Red Cross leading to many unique architectural features.  The NPS provides guided tours of the home.



1) The house also functions as the Visitor Center for the National Historic Site.  While we were there they were getting ready for major renovations, so all the furniture was already in storage.  They did put up some pictures of what the rooms look like with all the furnishings, but it was strange seeing an empty house.


2) There are a number of interesting features to the house.  The most interesting was the way they used the home as a supply base for the Red Cross.  For instance, the wood paneling in the main hall actually hide large closets with shelves to hold supplies from bandages to medicines to blankets.  From here they could load trucks to quickly respond to any disaster.


3) The brothers promised to build her home and they did, however, they did not finish any of the interior including the walls.  Putting up wall paper would have been expensive and Clara Barton refused to use money donated to the Red Cross for this purpose.  However, bandages made out of linen was cheap and she had a lot of free labor available.  Therefore, they finished the walls by nailing linen on all the walls, which is an interesting effect.


4) The upper floors were used for storage and bedrooms for the volunteers and the center room was especially interesting.  It is directly over the center of the house which is open up through the second floor.  This room is reached by a short staircase along the balcony on the second floor and contains the flag pole over the house.  A very strange room.


5) Our Ranger guide gave a number of interesting stories about Clara Barton and the Red Cross.  We found out that Clara Barton was initially a school teacher for 12 years.  While in Bordenton, New Jersey she convinced the school board to pay for the tuition of the students instead of paying her a salary in order to build attendance.  This was essentially the first free public school in America, however, when attendance grew to 603 students they hired a male to head the school instead of Clara Barton.

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