Top of page

Head and shoulders portrait of Clara Barton facing right with text at the bottom that says "Clara Barton From portrait taken in Civil War and Authorized by her as the one she wished to be remembered by"
Clara Barton - from portrait taken in Civil War and authorized by her as the one she wished to be remembered by [between ca. 1890 and 1910] Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c08564

Clara Barton and the Geneva Convention

Share this post:

Clara Barton is well known as the “angel of the battlefield,” who tended to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, but she also played an important role in the United States’ entry into an international treaty.

Following the Geneva Conference of 1863, the first treaty of the Geneva Convention was ratified by 12 nations in 1864. The treaty declared medical personnel neutral and the parties agreed that sick and wounded soldiers would be cared for regardless of their nationality. The treaty also established the symbol of the red cross on a white background as a sign used by medical personnel to indicate their neutrality when aiding the wounded in war zones. The United States was not a party to the Geneva Convention in 1864. When the treaty was first ratified, the United States was still in the midst of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/pnp/cph/3g10000/3g11000/3g11300/3g11358r.jpg
[Red Cross. Soldiers receiving medical attention] Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g11358
Throughout the Civil War, Clara Barton provided nursing and relief services in support of the Union army. After the Civil War, she worked to locate missing soldiers and toured the Northeast and Midwestern United States, delivering speeches and lectures about the Civil War. In the late 1860s, Barton traveled to Europe, where she met representatives of the International Red Cross. When she returned to the United States, after providing nursing assistance in the Franco-Prussian War, Barton founded the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881. As the president of the organization, she was a strong advocate for the United States’ ratification of the treaty of the Geneva Convention.

Poster showing a Red Cross nurse holding a wounded soldier as she signals for help. Text on the top of the poster says
Help the Red Cross / Herman Roeg. [1917]. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08354
Barton met with three presidents to advocate for ratification of the Geneva Convention. President Rutherford P. Hayes expressed concern about entering into an alliance with European nations and President James Garfield indicated support for ratification but was assassinated before he could endorse the treaty. Finally, on March 3,1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the treaty, and the Geneva Convention was ratified by the Senate on March 16, 1882.

Today, several landmarks in and around Washington, D.C. memorialize Clara Barton.  In D.C., there is a parkway named in her honor and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum commemorates her work, particularly during the period when she used the building housing the museum to help locate missing Civil War soldiers. Barton’s home from 1897 to 1912 in Glen Echo, Maryland is now the Clara Barton National Historic Site, which is operated by the National Parks Service and open for tours.

To learn more about Clara Barton’s life and work, see the Library of Congress’s Clara Barton Papers Collection.

Subscribe to In Custodia Legis – it’s free! – to receive interesting posts drawn from the Law Library of Congress’s vast collections and our staff’s expertise in U.S., foreign, and international law.

Comments

  1. Felizmente , estamos longe das guerras ; e se ocorrer vamos precisar de outras enfermeiras como CLARA BARTON para o servi├žo de socorro e enfermagem…..

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.


Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.