Clara Barton Answers the Call to America’s Largest Flood

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Just before 3 p.m. on May 31, 1889, 14 miles west of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a dam broke, releasing 20-million tons of water into the Conemaugh Valley. In this narrow valley, the water reached 60 feet high as it barreled toward the city at speeds of 40 m.p.h.

By the time it struck Johnstown, the 4 billion gallons of water brought with it everything in its path. Four square miles of downtown were completely obliterated by the crushing flood waters. By the time it was over, 30 acres of human bodies, homes and debris were piled 70 feet high against the stone-arched railroad bridge at the far edge of town. The pressure and amount of the water was later compared to all the water flowing over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes.

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Photo credit: Johnstown Flood Museum

Between the force of the water and the ensuing explosions and fires that broke out, more than 2,200 people died, 1,600 homes were destroyed, and $17 million worth of damage was done (close to $500 million in today’s valuation.)

From War Relief to Disaster ReliefClara B

In Washington, D.C., Clara Barton got word of the event.  Prior to this time, she had provided relief to the Civil War soldiers, but was lobbying for the American Red Cross to provided relief for peacetime disasters as well.  Five days after the flood, Clara and five Red Cross workers arrived in Johnstown. Within days, she had assembled a team of 50 doctors, nurses and relief workers.Johnstown Flood

Setting up headquarters in the city, she immediately began organizing donations that began arriving from all around the world.  Food, clean water and supplies were passed out immediately to survivors as they tried to create shelters however they could.

 

“Red Cross Hotels” were opened to provide shelter for those left homeless before the winter weather set in.  The first “hotel” was so successful, five more were quickly erected.

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Photo credit: U. S. National Park Service

They also began building 3,000 “Oklahoma houses,” a type of prefabricated home, to aid the city in rebuilding. Furniture donations and domestic items were then organized and distributed to outfit these homes.

Clara didn’t leave the city for five straight months, only returning to Washington on October 24, 1889.  The city presented her with a number of gifts to show their lasting gratitude.  One editorialist wrote, “Too much cannot be said in praise of this lady…To her timely and heroic work, more than that of any other human being, are the people of the Conemaugh Valley indebted.”

Today if you visit the Johnstown Flood Museum, you’ll see a section devoted exclusively to Clara Barton and the Red Cross’ success in helping restore the town, along with some of her original papers and one of the first Red Cross blankets to be distributed.

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Photo credit: Doug Bardwell/American Red Cross

Based largely on the success of her mission to aid the Johnstown residents, the American Red Cross received its Congressional Charter 10 years later, in 1900.

Today you can continue the legacy of Barton and volunteer to help with the next big disaster to strike this country.  Volunteer today at https://neoredcross.org/volunteer/.

Access the ProVia Employee Red Cross Volunteer Application here.  

Merry Christmas – and Happy Birthday Clara

By Sue Wilson Cordle, Volunteer Leader and Board Member

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Today is a very special holiday. Yes, of course it’s Christmas, but it’s also Clara Barton’s birthday. Who is Clara Barton? One the most honored women in American history. Barton was a pioneering nurse during the Civil War who risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field. Her understanding of the ways she could provide help to people in distress guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service. Her intense devotion to serving others resulted in enough achievements to fill several ordinary lifetimes.*images (1)

2017 may very well go down in history as the year women found their voice–and began to speak up for injustices that have been going on for a very long time. Sometimes, it takes a while to find your voice. To find your mission. And if this year taught me anything, it taught me that it’s never too late. Clara Barton is the ultimate example of that. She was a feminist before there was even a word for it. And when most people her age, and at her time were settling into old age, she was busy founding the Red Cross. Yep, when Clara founded the Red Cross in 1881 she was 60 years old!

On this Christmas Day, when so many of us are enjoying the company of family and friends, it is good to reflect on the many who know no holiday–nurses, caregivers and the many volunteers, specifically those for the Red Cross, who every day help those who have been affected by the many natural disasters this year; the hurricanes, wildfires, home fires and other tragedies.

Need a last minute Christmas gift? Donate to Red Cross today. Merry Christmas- and Happy Birthday Clara!m15840200_South_Florida_Clara_Barton_Society_A_Spot_514x260

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