Top of page

Collection Clara Barton Papers

About this Collection

The papers of nurse, educator, philanthropist, and lecturer Clara Barton (1821-1912) consist of 62,000 items (81,608 images), most of which were digitized from 123 reels of previously produced microfilm. Spanning the years 1805-1958, with the bulk dating from 1861 to 1912, the collection contains correspondence, diaries and journals, reports, addresses, legal and financial papers, organizational records, lectures, writings, scrapbooks, biographical material, printed matter, memorabilia, and other papers.  They relate primarily to Barton's work providing relief services during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, her founding in 1881 and subsequent leadership of the American National Red Cross, and her establishment in 1905 of the National First Aid Association of America. In addition to her roles as "Angel of the Battlefield" and Red Cross founder, the papers also reflect to a lesser degree Barton's work as a teacher in Massachusetts and later at one of the first public schools in New Jersey, as a government clerk and one of the first female federal employees, as the director of a woman's prison, and as an advocate for women's suffrage and other progressive causes.

The collection includes both Barton's personal papers and official records of the American Red Cross (formerly the American Association of the Red Cross) retained by her during her tenure as president from 1881 to 1904. The records of the American Red Cross are contained principally in a series of Letterbooks and in a Red Cross File, which document not only her role as founder but her unrelenting efforts to sustain the organization for many years. Since Barton's life was so closely linked to the organization's development and operation, some mingling of material exists, and records relating to Red Cross activities can be found throughout the collection.

Barton's diaries and journals provide insight into her private views and reflections, including her struggle with depression, whereas material in the Subject File, Family Papers, and General Correspondence series relates to her interest in women's rights and other reform issues. A Speeches and Writings File contains lecture notes, drafts, and proofs not only of her own lectures and writings but also those of others. Barton's career as a humanitarian and relief organizer is further documented, mostly through contemporary newspaper accounts, in a series of scrapbooks. Decorations and medallions bestowed upon Barton by foreign governments and by public and private organizations are included in a Miscellany series.

Few items are included for the period prior to 1861. Sporadic diary entries cast light on these early years, as do letters in the Family Papers from members of Barton's immediate family and from Martha Elvira Stone and Bernard B. Vassall. Letters to Barton from Lucien Burleigh, a school instructor from Barton's formative years, are contained in the General Correspondence series.

Barton's operation of Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the U.S. Army, organized to locate and identify Union soldiers whose fate or whereabouts was unknown, is documented in both the Subject File as well as in her lectures contained in the Speeches and Writings File. While regaining her health in Europe, Barton organized and managed relief activities for civilians during the Franco-Prussian War in her first cooperative effort with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Subject File contains information on this effort.

Correspondents in the collection include Barton's family members, local chapters of the American Red Cross, Alvey A. Adee, Susan B. Anthony, Louis Appia, Dorence Atwater, Harriet N. Austin, E. Florence Barker, Stephen E. Barton, William Eleazar Barton, Henry W. Bellows, Mabel T. Boardman, Samuel W. Briggs, Lucy Hall Brown, Lucien Burleigh, Mary Weeks Burnett, Benjamin F. Butler, Henry Dunant, Edmund Dwight, Frances Dana Gage, Joseph Gardner, Minna Kupfer Golay, Lucy M. Graves, Leonora B. Halsted, John Hitz, Mary Seymour Howell, Julian B. Hubbell, International Committee of the Red Cross, Samuel M. Jarvis, George Kennan, Mrs. John A. Logan (Mary S.), Louise, Grand Duchess of Baden, Antoinette Margot, William McKinley, Gustave Moynier, Ellen Spencer Mussey, Richard Olney, Walter P. Phillips, George H. Pullman, Joseph Sheldon, Adolphus S. Solomons, F. R. Southmayd, Sara J. Spencer, Edwin McMasters Stanton, Elvira Stone, Harriet Taylor Upton, Bernard B. Vassall, Charlotte Fowler Wells, Mary Isabelle (Kensel) Wells, Roscoe Green Wells, Frances Elizabeth Willard, Mary Bannister Willard, and Henry Wilson.

For a fuller overview of the collection consult the Scope and Content Note in the collection finding aid to the Clara Barton Papers, which is available online (PDF and HTML) with links to the digital content on this site.

The collection is arranged in eleven series:

  • Diaries and Journals, 1849-1911
    Consists of diaries, diary notes, and journals kept by Barton containing occasional copies of letters, expense accounts, and addresses, and diaries kept by Barton's associates. Barton's diaries are arranged chronologically. The diaries kept by Barton's associates are arranged alphabetically by name of diarist, and therein chronologically.
  • Family Papers, 1805-1958
    Contains letters sent and received by Barton, including letters exchanged between family members, with miscellaneous items and enclosures. The papers are arranged alphabetically by the name of family member and therein chronologically. This series also includes unpublished genealogies of the Barton and related families compiled by various researchers.
  • Letterbooks, 1876-1911
    Includes copies of outgoing letters and memoranda by Barton and other Red Cross officials, especially for the period 1882-1904. The volumes include letters sent to the International Committee at Geneva and to local Red Cross chapters in the United States, letters and narrative reports from various disaster relief operations, and records of camp service in the states during the Spanish-American War. The material is arranged chronologically. Partial indexes can be found at the front of most volumes.
  • General Correspondence, 1838-1912
    Contains letters exchanged between Barton and her friends and associates. In addition to documenting her relief work, the correspondence also reveals Barton's interest in other progressive movements of the period. The series consists of letters sent and received, telegrams, postcards, and miscellaneous enclosures. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by the name of correspondent and therein chronologically.
  • Subject File, 1861-1952
    Includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes and working papers, printed matter, and miscellaneous items. The subject files are arranged alphabetically by subject and therein chronologically.
  • Red Cross File, 1863-1957
    The Red Cross File that Barton accumulated over the years forms the largest series in the collection and is divided into two subseries: International Committee of the Red Cross and the American National Red Cross.
    • International Committee of the Red Cross, 1863-1919
      Includes files for several International Red Cross conferences which Barton attended as a delegate as well as other correspondence, reports, drafts, notes, printed matter, and miscellaneous items related to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The documents are arranged alphabetically by subject and therein chronologically.
    • American National Red Cross, 1878-1957
      The records of the American Red Cross relate to the organization's foundation and administration, although the bulk of the material relates chiefly to the Red Cross's response to appeals for aid from the victims of natural disasters and war.  The subseries consists of correspondence, memoranda, telegrams, postcards, legal and financial papers, reports, drafts, notes and working papers, printed matter, and miscellaneous items related to the operations of the American National Red Cross. The material is arranged alphabetically by subject and therein chronologically by volume.
  • Speeches and Writings File, 1849-1947
    Contains correspondence, handwritten and typescript drafts, proofs, notes, printed matter, and miscellaneous items relating to articles, books, poetry, and speeches written by Barton and others. The series is arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • Scrapbooks, 1835-1930
    Consists of newspaper clippings that are arranged chronologically.
  • Miscellany, 1856-1957
    Includes correspondence, financial and legal papers, address books, biographical material, cards and invitations, real estate records, memorabilia, notes, and printed matter. The series is arranged alphabetically by type of material. Commemorative medals and decorations are housed at the end of the series.
  • Addition, 1883-1926 (Not filmed; scanned from originals)
    Relates primarily to the last years of Barton's life and to the National First Aid Association of America which she established in 1905 to promote first aid training. Contains correspondence, reports, writings, an illustrated bandage, printed matter, and memorabilia. The series is arranged by type of material or topic and therein chronologically. Memorabilia is housed at the end of the series.
  • Oversize, 1871-1919
    Consists of certificates, accounts, reports, plans, appointments, passports, printed matter, a scrapbook, and an illustrated bandage. The material is arranged and described according to the series, containers, and folders from which the items were removed. These materials are stored in oversize containers in the physical collection but are included as part of the above series in this online edition.