National blood crisis may put patients at risk

By American Red Cross Biomedical Communications

The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in more than a decade. Dangerously low blood supply levels are posing a concerning risk to patient care and forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available.

Blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments, and donors of all blood types – especially type O − are urged to make an appointment now to give in the weeks ahead.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals. At times, as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met.

Pandemic challenges

The Red Cross continues to confront relentless challenges due to COVID-19, including about a 10% overall decline in the number of people donating blood as well as ongoing blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations. Additionally, the pandemic has contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives at schools and colleges.

“Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply,” said Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to give blood or platelets in the days and weeks ahead to ensure no patient is forced to wait for critical care.”

The Red Cross urges donors to support patient care by making an appointment to give blood or platelets now or in the weeks ahead. To schedule an appointment, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

The Red Cross and the NFL are partnering this January, during National Blood Donor Month, to urge individuals to give blood or platelets and help tackle the national blood shortage. Those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma in January will automatically be entered for a chance to win a getaway to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. As an extra thank-you from the Red Cross, those who come to donate will also be automatically entered to win a home theater package and a $500 e-gift card. Terms apply; visit for more information.

In addition, those who come out to donate blood or platelets in January will also receive a voucher for a free Medium Hot Coffee and a free Classic Donut, redeemable at participating Dunkin’ restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area, while supplies last.**

Jessica Weissman (left), field marketing manager, Dunkin’ Brands, presents an oversized voucher for a free medium Hot Coffee and Classic Donut to Guy Triano (center), CEO, Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region, and Helen Munizza (right), regional donor services executive, Red Cross Penn Jersey Blood Services Region. Photo by Alana Mauger

Volunteers needed

In addition to blood donors, the Red Cross also needs the help of volunteers to support critical blood collections across the country. Blood drive volunteers play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists – another volunteer opportunity − provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in communities across the country. To volunteer to support Red Cross blood collections, visit

Winter is here! Stay safe at home and on the go

By Maria Marabito and Alana Mauger

Snow is on its way, which means icy roads, frigid temperatures and an increased risk of heating-related home fires. Stay safe with these important tips from the American Red Cross.

On the Go

  • Cold weather can be unpredictable. Listen to local area radio, NOAA radio or TV stations for the latest information and updates so you can make responsible choices if going out into a storm.
  • Your car, just like your home, should have an emergency kit. The Red Cross has many online resources to guide you. Pack seasonal essentials like windshield scrapers, a small broom, sand, a flashlight, extra hats, socks and mittens (pro tip: mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves). Also, make sure you have an emergency blanket or sleeping bag in case your car breaks down in a snowstorm or deep-freeze situation. And if that happens, you’ll be glad that you packed extra food, like nuts and canned fruit, and bottles of water.
  • Use the buddy system. Be sure to bring your cell phone and make sure it’s fully charged. Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. Plan to travel during daylight and, if possible, take another person with you.
  • Employ common-sense defensive driving practices. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely, as sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways, and never use cruise control when driving in winter weather. Don’t pass snow plows, and remember that ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways.
  • If you get stranded, stay in your vehicle and wait for help; Don’t leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards, as you can quickly become disoriented and confused in blowing snow. Display a trouble sign, like a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna.  To stay warm, run the engine for about 10 minutes each hour or five minutes every half hour. Running the engine for only short periods reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and conserves fuel. Remember to keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and slightly open a downwind window for ventilation.

At Home

  • Keep fire prevention in mind. If you’re keeping cozy with a space heater or fireplace, make sure that any combustible materials, such as furniture or curtains, are at least three feet away. In fact, any heat producer, such as a stove and radiator, should be three feet from anything that could catch on fire. Never leave your portable heaters and fireplaces unattended while on. Don’t forget to test your smoke detectors monthly (do it now; we’ll wait), and make sure everyone in your household knows your emergency escape plan.
  • In the case of a power outage, use flashlights instead of candles. Prepare for inclement weather by making an inventory of your flashlights, making sure that every room has one and every person knows where they are, and having an extra stash of batteries.
  • Don’t forget your pets! Bring your pets indoors with you during extremely cold weather. Make sure you have supplies to clean up after them, since the weather might prevent them from doing their business outside. Shelter animals like horses or livestock as best you can against wind, snow, rain and ice.
  • Protect yourself from the elements. If you must be outside, wear layered clothing, mittens or gloves and a hat, and cover your mouth to protect your lungs from severely cold air. Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Be kind to yourself if you must shovel snow. Stretch before you start and take frequent breaks to avoid overexertion. Remember to bend with your knees and lift with your legs to avoid a back injury.
  • Check on relatives, neighbors, and friends who are elderly or live alone.

Red Cross responding to spike in fires over past two weeks; families encouraged to test smoke alarms, practice escape plans

By Dave Skutnik

Following a recent spike of home fires in the Philadelphia area, including Wednesday’s tragic fire in Fairmount, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region encourages everyone to teach their families about fire safety and offers free resources to help.

In just the past two weeks, local Red Cross volunteers helped more than 100 people affected by two dozen home fires in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. For residents affected by the recent fires, the Red Cross has provided emergency financial assistance, food, relief items like toiletries, emotional support and has connected people to available recovery assistance.

“It’s heartbreaking for anyone to experience a home fire, but it’s gut-wrenching when lives are lost,” said Guy Triano, Regional CEO for the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “We want to help ensure families and children are prepared. Please talk to everyone in your household about home fire safety and practice your escape plan together until everyone can get out in two minutes or less.”


Below are some key ways to prepare your family:

  • Practice your escape plan: Take time to discuss fire safety with your family. Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke alarm and teach them what to do when they hear it when you practice your escape plan.
  • Install and test smoke alarms: Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas. Test them monthly and replace alarm batteries as needed.


Most of us don’t realize we have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late, according to a 2020 Red Cross survey. That’s why the Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through its Home Fire Campaign. As part of the program, the Red Cross offers free smoke alarm installations in Southeastern Pennsylvania. If you need alarms, you can visit our Home Fire Safety web page or call 215-299-4029.

For free home fire safety resources, including an escape plan, visit or download the free Red Cross Emergency app (search “American Red Cross” in app stores or go to Children can also learn what to do during a home fire and other emergencies with free resources at

Parents can enable the Pedro’s Fire Challenge skill on Alexa-enabled devices to have “Pedro the Penguin,” a Red Cross youth program character, guide children through engaging activities and games to earn virtual fire safety badges. The Red Cross created the skill to help children learn core home fire and preparedness skills, such as identifying smoke alarm locations, crawling under smoke in a fire and ways to cope after a fire. Learn more in this video.

National Blood Donor Month: Judy Harris is a sickle cell champion

By Kay Bennett

Blood Donor Judy Harris. Submitted photo.

If you’ve never donated blood to the American Red Cross and are curious what it’s like, just ask Judy Harris. She’ll tell you all about how easy and seamless it is. And she should know—she has been giving blood regularly for more than 20 years.

Harris’s noble tradition began when her former employer partnered with the Red Cross to bring bloodmobiles to the company site. She had no qualms about the blood donation process—she was just happy to help. “I want to help save somebody’s life.” she says. “I do want to help somebody with sickle cell disease. I would want somebody to do it for me if I needed it.”

That first donation, 20-plus years ago, was all it took: Just knowing she’d be helping someone in need inspired Harris to roll up her sleeve on the regular. And every time she gives blood, she walks out with a huge reward—a feeling of satisfaction and well-being that simply can’t be bought. 

The veteran donor describes the process as simple. First, you’ll get a brief physical during which a Red Cross staffer checks your blood and temperature to make sure you can donate at that time. Then you’ll be shown to a comfortable seating area where the blood is collected. 

Harris has witnessed firsthand how blood transfusions can save lives. Her friend’s late brother had sickle cell disease, and also the same blood type as she has. While Harris doesn’t know if he ever received her blood, she directs her donations to go to sickle cell patients. (Yes, you can do that!) That’s because there’s a shortage of available blood from African American donors—and sickle cell patients, most of whom are African American, often benefit the most when they receive transfusions from a donor of their ethnicity.

Always in the back of Harris’s mind are these questions: What if I needed a blood transfusion myself? What if someone in my family needed one? She views blood donation as a civic duty to help other people, and she feels blessed that she’s healthy enough to do so. 

Harris strongly encourages everyone to donate. You never know who you might help or even befriend in the process. She sometimes sees familiar faces at blood drives, and bonding with fellow donors is always a collateral benefit. Being a donor feels like being a part of a community. “Everyone is there for the same reason—to save a life.”

Learn how you can donate blood today.

January is National Blood Donor Month, a time to celebrate the lifesaving impact of blood and platelet donors. Observed each January since 1969, it coincides with one of the most difficult times to maintain a sufficient blood supply for patients.

Find joy in your New Year’s resolutions

By Randy Miller, RN-BC, Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteer

Happy new year! As a mental health professional—and also as someone who sometimes struggles with motivation—I understand how difficult it can be to make a calendar-based resolution. Yes, the new year provides the perfect excuse to spark personal change. It’s an  opportunity for personal growth and a new beginning. But there can be pitfalls, especially if you don’t consider what brings about individual change.

Psychologists often refer to “stages of change” (also called transtheoretical model) to understand the process of making lasting transformations. Are you ready to make a change? Are there any barriers to change? How likely are you to return to the old behavior? These are all elements of this model. Real change occurs gradually, and it’s most successful when you plan small, attainable steps. It’s not realistic to seek perfection every day, because relapses to old behaviors can be common. Don’t beat yourself up. If you have a bad day in working toward your goal, it’s natural to feel discouraged. Being kind to yourself can help tremendously as you seek to make changes.

Once you’re truly ready to make a change and understand your barriers to change, it’s time to identify some steps and activities that can help you achieve your goal. Losing weight and eating better are two common new year’s resolutions. In addition to the usual tactics, like controlling portions and eliminating unhealthy snacks, try to think of daily fun activities that bring you joy as you focus on transforming your body. These can be simple things—like dancing or stretching while listening to your favorite music, scheduling walks with a friend or neighbor, or finding new recipes that are healthy and satisfying to cook for yourself and or family.

Some people just don’t feel inspired to make new year’s resolutions. If you’re one of them, know that you’re not alone! Instead, consider what you can add to your life in small ways to create a greater sense of well-being. It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, try keeping a gratitude journal. Or, each night before you go to bed, say something to yourself that brings you peace and comfort.

Whether you opt for resolutions or not, the key is to think about and prioritize what brings you joy and purpose. Many studies show that being of service to others adds to your own happiness and feelings of self-worth. As a Red Cross volunteer, I see this every day in myself, and also in other volunteers I’ve come to know and admire.

Finally, be aware that it’s not always easy to focus on self-care and personal growth, especially during this challenging, long-term pandemic. If you experience a setback, don’t be discouraged. Pick yourself up. Love yourself. Tomorrow is a new day. I wish everyone a joyful and fulfilling 2022!

Resolve to become a Red Cross volunteer in 2022

By Dave Skutnik

As we near the end of 2021 and begin to think about our New Year’s resolutions, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region asks that you consider making a meaningful choice by becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Locally, more than 1,700 people volunteer with the Red Cross. These local volunteers are part of the almost 300,000 people across the country whose support enables the Red Cross to respond to an average of more than 60,000 disasters every year. They help train more than 4.6 million people in Red Cross lifesaving skills; help provide nearly 550,000 services to military members, veterans and their families; and to reconnect almost 9,000 families separated by war or disaster around the world. In addition, as many as 2.5 million volunteer donors give blood and platelets every year.

“Our Red Cross volunteers support their community and neighbors in need each and every day,” said Guy Triano, Regional CEO for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania. “In the last year, local Red Cross volunteers helped provide food, shelter, comfort and hope to some 5,000 people affected by home fires and other disasters in Southeastern Pennsylvania alone.”

Some volunteers also provided more than 2,600 support service for military members, veterans and their families. Red Cross volunteers also helped staff more than 6,400 blood drives in Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2021.

Here are a couple of positions we really need help filling:

  • Blood Donor Ambassadors – Greet and register blood donors, monitor reception and hospitality/snack areas
  • Blood Transport Volunteers – Deliver blood and related products from our Philadelphia lab to community hospitals

Training is free, but the hope you provide is priceless. Resolve to make a difference by turning tragedy into hope in 2022. There will also be a free virtual information session on Tuesday, January 11 at 12 p.m. You can RSVP here, or visit to get your application started now.


The need for volunteers is constant and continues to evolve as the Red Cross navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The safety of everyone is our top priority and our guidelines reflect the latest CDC safety recommendations. COVID-19 vaccination is required for in-person volunteer roles. When considering volunteer opportunities, review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult your health care provider and follow local guidance.

National Download Day: The Red Cross has an app for that!

By Divya Kumar

It’s National Download Day, and the American Red Cross offers many apps that you can download for FREE!

The Emergency app is a good place to start. Here, you can monitor over 35 severe weather and emergency alerts to help keep you and your family safe. There are also specific apps for Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Earthquakes for those who live in areas prone to these types of disasters. Be sure to turn on alerts in your settings to get notifications!

The Red Cross First Aid and Pet First Aid apps are great in a pinch if you, your pet, or someone near you is experiencing a health crisis. In the Pet First Aid app, you can toggle between Cat and Dog and prepare for and treat common health scares, like choking. I have cats, and this app has helped me get a baseline of their health stats so that I know when their temperature is too high or their heart is beating too quickly. It has helped me prepare for things like blood sugar emergencies, burns, car accidents, allergic reactions, and much more! Pro tip: The fastest thing you can do (besides downloading the app, of course) searching for “emergency veterinarian near <your zip code>” in your browser.

For First Aid, you can check out life-threatening events like allergies, asthma, bleeding, choking, concussion and head injuries, CPR, diabetic emergencies, heart attacks, heat stroke, hypothermia, poisoning, seizures, and more! You can also learn how to respond to less threatening situations, like broken bones and burns, to help you decide on the next best steps.

The Red Cross Swim app is great for learning about water safety. Did you know that even if you are a good swimmer, drowning is still very much a possibility? In fact, drowning is a leading cause of death among children. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line, or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs, at the beach or in oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, bathtubs, and even buckets.

With the Blood Donor app, you can schedule an appointment to donate blood or platelets, track your donations, and even find out at what hospital and city your donations were used. There’s also a lot of great information to help you prepare to donate blood and recover afterward.

Lastly, the Hero Care app is an all-in-one resource for caring for vets, whether that be you as a vet, or if you are a caregiver. One of the best features in this app is thee Hero Care Resource Directory, which is great for finding resources and support for food, housing, transit, money, and much more.

Once you download the apps of your choice, be sure to spread the word! Happy Download Day from us to you!

Clara Barton: The Rest of Her Story, Part 2

By Bill Thawley

The second part of Clara Barton’s story begins in 1854 with her arrival in Washington, D.C., to work in the U.S. Patent Office. As a recording clerk, she earned $1,400 a year. But the following year, the Pierce Administration demoted her to copyist and reduced her salary to 10 cents per 100 words copied. Very few women worked for the federal government at the time, and the few who did were simply not paid the same as men. Barton demanded equal pay and was rejected. Eventually the Buchanan Administration eliminated her position.

She left D.C and moved to her home in Massachusetts, living with relatives and friends during this time. She also taught school in the Worcester area. But in 1860 she returned to Washington to serve as a copyist in the Lincoln Administration. This move foreshadowed her future role in the Civil War.

When the 6th Massachusetts Infantry arrived in Baltimore in 1861, the men had to change trains and march to the next station to get to Washington. They were among the first regiments to arrive at the start of the war. As they marched, they were attacked by a large crowd; many were injured. But Barton was on hand to meet them when they finally got to Washington. She recognized many of them, as they were from the area where she taught in Massachusetts.

Barton immediately sought to help the soldiers. She appealed to friends and family members in her home state for donations. She later located the soldiers and began to source supplies to help feed and care for them. She left the patent office and helped the soldiers from her home. Her appeals for help were eventually quite successful. The city really had not been prepared.

After the battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Barton continued to tend to wounded soldiers as they arrived back in Washington. She eventually established a distribution agency to provide supplies and medicines for the soldiers. Her appeals for funds and supplies continued to yield donations and she rented warehouses to store the supplies.

In March 1862 Barton’s father passed away. He’d been a captain in the War of 1812, and he encouraged her from his deathbed to continue in her endeavors to support the soldiers. Later that year, she gained permission to bring supplies to battlefields.

After the Battle of Antietam, Maryland, Barton showed up with a wagonload of supplies and met Dr. James Dunn of Connaught, Pennsylvania. If heaven ever sent out an angel, Dr. Dunn thought, Clara Barton would be the one. He was so impressed that he wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, calling her “the Angel of the Battlefield.” The letter was printed in many newspapers in the North, and the name stuck. Throughout 1862 and 1863 she followed the Army of the Potomac and cared for the wounded. In April 1863 she met and befriended Colonel John J. Elwell, a physician and attorney from Ohio. They exchanged letters for many years; she kept a photo of him on her desk.

During this period, Barton did nonstop nursing and helped feed soldiers at the sites of several Civil War skirmishes. She also stayed dedicated to the cause of equal rights for women and African Americans and trained many formerly enslaved people to be nurses. After a brief hiatus in D.C. to rest and collect supplies, Barton was placed in charge of diet and nursing for a Union Army corps hospital that served the wounded from the almost daily fighting outside Petersburg, Virginia.

In early 1865, Barton again returned home, this time to care for her dying brother. Later that year she received approval from President Lincoln to address the problem of the large numbers of missing soldiers. The creation of the “Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Soldiers of the United States Army” ushered in her four-year search for missing men. At Andersonville, Georgia, where a prisoner of war camp held Union soldiers during the final 14 months of the Civil War, she assisted in the marking of 13,000 graves.

For three years after the war’s end, Barton gave many lectures to support the Office of Correspondence. She shared podiums with such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Frederick Douglass. She also met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; those friendships aligned Barton with the suffrage movement. Douglass and Barton remained friends for years, and he would later sign the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross.

In 1869 Barton closed the Office of Correspondence; it had received more than 63,000 letters and identified 22,000 missing men. Fast-forward to the 1990s: The building that housed this office was slated to be torn down—but in a lucky twist of fate, an inspector just happened to find the office, exactly as it’d been left in 1869. The treasure trove of letters, clothing, and more is now housed in a downtown D.C. location run by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

In September 1869, Barton traveled to Europe on the advice of her doctor. There she met Dr. Louis Appia and for the first time learned of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). From 1870 to 1871 she did relief work in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War, after which she suffered from “nervous exhaustion” and temporarily lost her eyesight. She traveled to England in an attempt to recuperate, and then returned to the U.S. in 1873.

The ICRC had asked Barton to establish a Red Cross in her country, and she proceeded to petition President Rutherford Hayes to do just that. The prevailing wisdom among leaders at the time was that there would never again be a crisis like the Civil War—and hence an American Red Cross would be unnecessary. Finally in 1881 she convinced President Chester Arthur that the Red Cross would be valuable in disasters other than war. With federal funding, Barton established the first office of the American Red Cross in her apartment in Washington. The date was May 21, 1881, and this year is the 140th anniversary of the American Red Cross.

In Barton’s own words, “You must never so much as think whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.” She was a remarkable woman ahead of her time. She was a champion for the equal rights of women and embraced the humanitarian principles of diversity, inclusion, and equal rights. She advocated for the expansion of rights for African Americans. She was one of the first women to work for the federal government, and vowed that she would never do a man’s work for less pay.

Many of Clara Barton’s life experiences reflect what the Red Cross does today: nursing, education, training, reconnection, logistics, and equal opportunity. The organization’s mission statement says it all: “The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and generosity of donors.” This mission embodies the very causes that Barton fought for during the Civil War and continued in her years as president of the American Red Cross.

Donate blood now to help patients avoid delays in care

By American Red Cross Biomedical Communications

As holiday celebrations continue, concern is rising for the nation’s blood supply, which has now dipped to concerning levels and could force hospitals to hold off on essential blood transfusions for patients.

Historically low blood supply levels not seen in more than a decade persist for the American Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood.The ongoing decline comes at a time of year when donations typically fall. Holiday get-togethers, school breaks and winter weather often lead to lower donor turnout, potentially further compounding the situation.

Potential donors are urged to schedule an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). If there is not an immediate opportunity available to donate, donors are asked to make an appointment in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and then maintain a sufficient blood supply.

In thanks, all who come out toto give through Jan. 2 will receive an exclusive Red Cross long-sleeved T-shirt, while supplies last.

Those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma in January will automatically be entered for a chance to win a getaway to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. As an extra thank-you from the Red Cross, those who come to donate in January will also be automatically entered to win a home theater package and a $500 e-gift card. Terms apply; visit for more information.

Blood drive safety 

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including face masks for donors and staff, regardless of vaccination status – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive. 

Clara Barton: The Rest of Her Story, Part 1

By Bill Thawley

Bonnie Goldman, co-president of the Bordentown Historical Society in New Jersey, portrays Clara Barton at reenactments. The society maintains the Clara Barton School House. Photo by Bill Thawley

Clara Barton, one of the great heroines of 19th-century nursing, has left an enduring legacy in the United States as founder of the Red Cross. She played a pivotal role in U.S. history, especially during the Civil War. Many events during her lifetime shaped her ambition, will, and commitment to human rights, culminating in the creation of the Red Cross. So here’s the rest of her story. This part will take us up to the mid-1850s.

Exterior of the Clara Barton School House in Bordentown, New Jersey. Photo by Bill Thawley

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day in 1821 on her parents’ farm in North Oxford, Massachusetts. The youngest of five children, she was named after the title character of Samuel Richardson’s novel Clarissa. Her father, a farmer and horse breeder, had been a soldier in the War of 1812 and was a leader in progessive thought in the community. Her parents also founded a local church; they may have been abolitionists, but their positions on women’s rights differed.

As a child, Barton excelled in school. She was painfully timid but also tough, keeping up with her male cousins as they played together. Her devotion to caring for others began at a very young age: At 10 years old, she took on the mission of nursing her brother David back to health after he’d sustained a head injury from a fall. In the process, she learned much about the medications of the day. She kept caring for her brother long after doctors had given up on him. He made a full recovery.

This banner hangs outside the current Clara Barton Elementary School in Bordentown, New Jersey. Photo by Bill Thawley

Barton applied herself to her studies and received her teaching certificate at age 17. At that point, she embarked on a campaign to promote the value of free public education for children living in impoverished communities. She was easily approachable and earned the children’s respect. They adored her, sought her guidance, and considered her a big sister.

Barton’s teaching methods melted away some of the fears and anxieties that had compromised her health when she was younger. Although she taught mostly without wages, in 1840 she demanded the same pay that her male counterpart was earning, and she received it.

In 1850 Barton decided to further her education at the prestigious Clinton Liberal Institute in upstate New York. This was one of the only coeducational academies in the country at the time. But her success there was cut short when her mother passed away in July 1851. Her friends Mary and Charlie Norton invited her to stay at their farm in Hightstown, New Jersey, as they thought this would clear her mind.

The Nortons soon discovered that the Cedar Swamp School in Cedarville had a vacancy for a teacher. Barton accepted the position, with the thought that Mary Norton could serve as her assistant. She rarely stayed at her desk and rapidly gained the respect and confidence of her students. Within a month, the school’s attendance grew from 39 to 60 students. But this was not a free school; parents paid for their children’s education. This didn’t sit well with Barton, whose home state of Massachusetts had free public education. It was one of her motivations for leaving the school and traveling to Bordentown, about 15 miles south. Her friend Charlie had taken a job teaching there.

Inside the Clara Barton School House. The ladder on the left provides access to the second floor. Photo by Bill Thawley

In 1852 Barton accepted a job teaching at one of the first free public schools in the state of New Jersey. Her assistant, Fannie Child, was another friend of hers. Enrollment swelled from six to 600, and the school became so successful that the school board built a new eight-room schoolhouse. Because of the size of the student body, the board decided that a school principal was needed. A woman, the members felt, was not worthy of the position, so they hired a male principal. Barton had been earning $250 a year; they paid him twice that. Again she demanded equal pay for the same work as a man—and was denied her salary increase.

From our 21st-century perspective, that turn of events now seems fortuitous. That denial was the nation’s benefit: Barton’s departure to Washington, DC, set her life and career on a new trajectory and ultimately, it changed our nation forever.

Plaque at the Clara Barton School House. Photo by Bill Thawley.

Check back Dec. 28 for part 2 of Barton’s story.