Christmas marks birth of “Angel of the Battlefield” Red Cross founder

By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer.

Merry Christmas! Billions of people around the globe will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ today. This religious and cultural holiday is also the birth date of a significant figure in American history. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was born on December 25, 1821. It seems fitting that a day focused on giving marks the birth of a woman who dedicated her life to giving to those in need.

Matthew Brady Portrait of Clara BartonBorn Clarissa Harlowe Barton in Oxford Massachusetts, Clara was a shy child. She became a teacher at age 15 during a time when most teachers were men. She was also among the first women to be employed by the federal government. She moved to Washington, D.C., in the mid 1850s to work as a recording clerk in the U.S. Patent Office.

In Washington during the Civil War, Clara collected clothing, supplies and food for sick and wounded soldiers. But she felt she was needed most on the battlefields. She persuaded government and army leaders to provide her with passes to bring her volunteer services and medical supplies to battle sites and field hospitals. Her work earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.”

Clara’s pioneering vision and commitment to service continued throughout her life. She founded the American Red Cross at age 60 and served as its first president. Her spirit of giving shines on to this day through the ongoing relief work of the organization she created.

In a second consecutive year of record wildfires, hurricanes, tragic shootings and other large crises, the Red Cross’ disaster workforce—90 percent volunteers—helped millions of people across the country.

In 2018, generous support enabled the Red Cross to:

  • Serve over 8.2 million meals and snacks
  • Distribute over 2.2 million relief items
  • Provide over 290,000 overnight stays in shelters
  • Make over 188,000 health and mental health contacts
  • Provide over 73,000 households with recovery support after home firesAmerican Red Cross Historical Photo

Locally, the Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region responded to about 900 disasters, the vast majority of them home fires, assisting more than 4,200 people—about 1,600 families—and distributing about $800,000 in assistance in 2018.

To celebrate Clara’s birthday, if you would like to donate to the Red Cross and give something that means something on this momentous holiday, visit redcross.org/donate.

To read more about the life and achievements of Clara Barton, visit here.

Akron and the World Owe Thanks to Mary E. Gladwin

Looking back 100 years at the Summit, Portage & Medina Counties Chapter

(Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of centennial-related stories involving the founding of Red Cross chapters in Northeast Ohio)

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Have you ever asked yourself, “What will I be remembered for?”

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Mary E. Gladwin 1887 – Photo courtesy of University of Akron Archives*

I’m not sure if Mary E. Gladwin (1861-1939) ever asked herself that question, but if she had, her answer could certainly put any of us to shame.

Born in England, Mary and her family moved to Akron in 1868. At age 26, she graduated from Buchtel College (which later became Akron University) and began to teach.  Moved by her father’s stories of being saved by a nurse on a French battlefield, she longed to do more than teach. Moving to Boston in 1894, she began training as a nurse at Boston City Hospital.

During the Spanish-American war, she moved to Cuba as a Red Cross volunteer, followed closely by a stint in the Philippines. After years of service in the field, she was readmitted to Boston City Hospital’s School of Nursing, receiving her degree in 1902.

Early in 1904, Gladwin served in Hiroshima, Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, where she received multiple awards for her service. Later that year, she returned to serve as Superintendent for Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts. That was followed by a move to New York City, taking the same role at Woman’s Hospital.

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Mary Gladwin (standing 4th from right) attending to patients during the Russo-Japanese War*

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Mary Gladwin in Belgrade with two Serbian officers-Photo Courtest of University of Akron archives

In 1913, the greatest natural disaster to ever hit Ohio was the Great Dayton Flood. Gladwin answered the call and moved back to Ohio to direct the Red Cross’ nursing services.  Staying in Ohio, she moved to Cleveland later in 1913, organizing and directing the Visiting Nurses Association of Akron.  Eventually, she became president of the Ohio State Nurses Association, and director for the American Nurses Association.As World War I broke out in 1914, Gladwin went with the Red Cross to Belgrade, Serbia, caring for 9,000 soldiers in a hospital with a designed occupancy of 1,000.  Care ranged from battlefield injuries to fighting the typhus plague.

Returning in 1916, she became an incorporator and member of the first Board of Directors for the Summit County Chapter of the American Red Cross.  The chapter received its charter on June 29, 1916 and one day later, the women’s auxiliary was formed.

Heading back to Europe, she once again was on the front lines in Serbia and then Salonica, Greece, until the war ended in 1919. Returning to the US, after becoming the first recipient of the Florence Nightingale Medal, she decided her new focus would be nursing education and directed various schools of nursing until her death in Akron in 1939.

While we can all be in awe of her remarkable life of service, we can also see how perfectly her life’s work mirrored the mission of today’s Red Cross – “preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies, by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

If you’d like to be remembered for something, become a volunteer. Learn more by logging on to the Red Cross website.

*(Note: All photos from the Mary Gladwin Papers at Archival Services at The University of Akron.