(1821-1912), advocate for the American Red Cross
Mary M. Roberts
After reading Jean Henri Dunant's vivid descriptions of war-wounded soldiers' sufferings in 1859 in Un Souvenir de Solferino, Dr. Theodore Maunoir declared, "We must get up an agitation" to prevent such misery in the future ( Dulles, 1950:7). With three others, Maunoir and Dunant formed a Committee of Five that met in Geneva in September 1863, which became the International Committee of the Red Cross, and thus founded the international organization.
Within six years, twenty-four countries had signed the Treaty of Geneva and established Red Cross societies to insure the neutrality of the wartime wounded and their caretakers. The United States did not sign; in 1864 and in 1865, Secretary of State William Seward advised "holding aloof" from the agreement. In 1869, Dr. Henry W. Bellows, president of the American Association for Relief of the Misery of the Battlefields and former president of the Civil War Sanitary Commission, campaigned unsuccessfully for approval. His Battlefields organization dissolved in 1872.
After doing civilian relief work in Strasbourg and elsewhere during the Franco- Prussian War, in the summer of 1877 Clara Barton received approval from the International Red Cross to begin a concerted agitation for U.S. approval of the Geneva treaty, which resulted in Senate passage in 1882. In 1959, Charles Hurd called the Red Cross "one of the great moral movements in the history of mankind" and credited U.S. participation to the "practical maneuvering of a diminutive, dedicated woman already internationally famous for her battlefield work in the Civil War" ( Hurd, 1959:13). Barton, he declared, "had the imagination to develop a long-range public relations program that . . . modern practitioners of that art might well copy" (49).
Clara Barton is well known as a heroic Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. She was not considered seriously as a feminist, however, until the 1970s, and especially after Elizabeth Brown Pryor's revisionist biography appeared ( 1987). Pryor asserted that Barton's achievements as a feminist are "of equal importance" to her war nursing and Red Cross accomplishments, and include functioning as "the first female American diplomat . . . who participated in an astonishing number of the nineteenth century's major events . . . a personal friend of figures as varied as Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Butler, and Kaiser Wilhelm" (ix). On February 21, 1866, she may have become the first woman to testify before Congress when she appeared before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction ( Pryor, 1987:147). This chapter argues that she deliberately kept her feminism implicit, a decision that was a canny adaptation to the circumstances of her time.
In his introduction to Mary Massey Bonnet Brigades ( 1966), Alan Nevins