Clara Barton National Historic Site

When Tom and I went to Washington DC a month ago, I collected a lot of stamps for my National Parks Passport book.  I got all the stamps for the National Mall except for the White House.  We are waiting for a different president before we visit there.  I also got a lot of the stamps for the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  We made swooping visits through the things along the parkway that we had not seen before.  But one of the things I wanted to see in more depth was the Clara Barton National Historic Site, so we headed back there on our last day in DC.

Most of us know that Clara Barton was the founder of the Red Cross in the United States.  But what else do you know about her?  She was born on Christmas Day in 1821 in Massachusetts.  She trained as a school teacher and established the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey.  When she was replaced by a man because the school board thought the school was too big for a woman, she left teaching.  She worked as a Patent Office clerk in Washington DC when her boss decided that women couldn’t be Patent Office clerks.  With the outbreak of the Civil War she started nursing the wounded and obtaining supplies for medical care.  She was called “The Angel of the Battlefield.”

Barton left the United States after the Civil War and worked with the International Red Cross in Europe.  When she returned to the states, she promoted the work of the Red Cross.  President Chester A. Aruthur chartered the American Red Cross in 1882 and Barton headed the work.  She organized flood relief in Johnston, Pennsylvania.  In 1897 she moved into a house some friends built for her in Glen Echo, Maryland, which became the headquarters of the American Red Cross.  She died in this house in 1912.

I wanted to see the house for myself and learn more about Clara Barton, so we headed to the house on a Thursday morning.  When we got there, we took the requisite picture beside the sign, and then walked up to the house.  Which was closed.  And locked.  With curtains drawn.  The website (which I should have checked before we went) says the house is closed for renovations.  But directly under that it says that it is open Fridays and Saturdays from 1 until 4 p.m. with tours on the hour.  That is a pretty narrow window to visit.

Instead, Tom and I walked around the outside of the house and read the waysides.  The exterior is in miserable condition.  The paint is peeling off of it in strips and the screen door was missing a hinge.  The house reminded me of one of the big old cottages at Lakeside – it went on and on.  But it certainly needs some love and care.  And money.  It felt like the monuments are the things that get the money in DC and anything else can fend for itself.  The NPS brochure says “The National Park Service has restored this beautiful building commemorative of Clara Barton and will continue to preserve it as a place sacred to her memory.”  I think they have some work to do to live up to this.

Clara Barton is a fascinating woman and I hope to read more about her in the future.  Maybe I can even see inside her house someday.