Study Guide

Clara Barton

by Helen Dore Boylston

Clara Barton Summary

Summary (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross, Helen Dore Boylston stresses Barton’s devotion to service—her courage, unselfishness, and passion for helping others. Despite its title, the book spans Barton’s entire life, but it emphasizes her early years and Civil War work, only briefly synopsizing her time with the Red Cross.

Boylston’s biography allocates most phases of Barton’s life to three-chapter segments. The first three chapters describe childhood incidents in which Barton learned lessons or displayed character traits that affected her later years. Boylston introduces her focus here, observing that even as an adolescent, Barton possessed a “driving necessity to be of service to others.” For example, at eleven, she began nursing her brother through a two-year illness, and then, at fourteen, she cared for villagers during a smallpox epidemic.

The next three chapters explore additional facets of Barton’s commitment to others: her days as a capable and popular schoolteacher in Oxford, Massachusetts, and her success in establishing the first public school in Bordentown, New Jersey. This period concluded after the school board decided that Barton’s school needed a male principal. Their appointee made Barton’s life miserable: She became ill, lost her voice, and had to resign. These two obstacles—the era’s prejudice against placing women in positions of authority and Barton’s own errant health—would plague her...

(The entire section is 496 words.)