Virginia A Henderson
● Katherine Cox
● Chase Dworshak
● Megan Kopp
● Bridget Mendelkow
Gonzolo, A.(2019). "Virginia Henderson: Nursing Need Theory" Nurses Lab. Retrieved from https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-hendersons-need-theory/
Virginia A Henderson
The Early Years
Virginia Avenel Henderson was born on November 30, 1897 and lived over 98 years of service to her fellow man as she had a powerful career in public health. Virginia was born in Kansas City, Missouri being the fifth of eight children. She was a sister to; Lucy Ridgway Henderson, Charles Henderson, William Abbot Henderson, Jane Henderson, Frances Minor Henderson, Daniel Brosius Henderson II and John Overton Henderson (Norman, 2019). Her mother and father, Lucy Minor Abbot and Daniel Brosius Henderson, named her Virginia after her mother’s native state, a state which she loved (Thomas, 1996).
Virginia Henderson was born into a family full of scholars for multiple generations. Her father Daniel was a former teacher at Bellevue and attorney who worked on the defense of the Native Americans against the United States government. One of his most creditable cases was the case of the Klamath tribe. With the importance of education being a family cornerstone, she first began her schooling at the age of 4 at Bellevue. She traveled to Virginia to live with her aunt and uncle, Charles Abbot, so she could receive an education (Gonzolo, 2019). It was taboo during these times for a girl to receive an education. Because of this, she attended the boy’s preparatory school owned by her Grandfather, William Richardson Abbot, in Bellevue, Virginia. Although she attended school for many years, she did not get her diploma due to the fact she was a girl going to an all boys school. Not getting a diploma would also delay her nursing career (Halloran, 2018).
Photo of Virginia A Henderson's Nursing Class in the Army School of Nursing. Congress, T. (2016). 1st Unit -- Army School of Nursing (LOC). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/28956642110
During World War One Henderson was moved by her two brothers serving in the army, and with the shortage of nurses, she dedicated her time volunteering and caring for wounded soldiers (Smith, 2015). It was here where she began to form an appreciation for nursing and considered her time there treating the soldiers to be a privilege. Shortly after, in 1918 Henderson was moved with American spirit to join the Army School of Nursing which was found in Washington D.C. The Army School of Nursing was created by the United States government on May 25, 1918. The school was created during World War I. The Secretary of War authorized the school to be open in order to utilize nurses aides in the army hospitals. The school was later shut down, there were a total of 937 young women nurses who received a diploma from the school. Among those who graduated were Mary G. Phillips and Rudy F. Bryant, who later became Chiefs of the Army Nurse Corps, and Virginia Henderson. Being accepted to the Army School of Nursing was one of her many accomplishments.
This was a difficult three year program. It included both classroom lectures and clinical experience in a hospital. The courses were taught at Teachers College, Columbia University. They attended classes for four hours each day and received five books to aid in their training. During the three year program they learned about many things including diseases and how to treat them. They learned about the different types of classes of diseases including cardiac, gastric, intestinal, nervous, infectious and contagious. They had courses on general surgery, orthopedics, and diseases of the eyes, ears, nose and throat. They learned how to perform bed-side nursing, dressing changes and treatments. For clinicals, a group of 25-50 students were assigned to a hospital. Upon arrival, students would move into their living quarters and take the nurses’ oath of office. They worked for six to eight hours a day in the hospital. For the first four months they were required to wear an indoor uniform. The indoor uniform consisted of a blue gingham skirt, white collar and cuffs, an apron, the Army Nurse Corps cap and a plain black silk windsor tie. After four months they were required to get an outdoor uniform. The outdoor uniform consisted of a navy blue skirt, blouse, overcoat and hat. During training they were under strict military discipline (Jamme, 1918). It was during her time here that she questioned the strict control over the way they thought of patient care and the concept of nursing. Nurses were still seen as handmaids and were there to support the physicians. These thoughts and experiences would fuel her later in life for her writings and teachings (Smith, 2015). Even though she was treated like a cadet, she thrived in her studies at the Teachers College, Columbia University under the teachings of her mentor, Miss Anne Goodrich. Virginia graduated from the Army School of Nursing at Walter Reed Hospital in the year 1921.
The Beginning Work in Nursing
Henderson immediately began practicing at Henry Street Settlement in New York City. The Henry Street Settlement was settled in the lower East side of town to care for the poor. The founder of Henry Street Settlement was 26-year-old nurse, named Lillian Wald. Lillian moved to New York in 1889 to study nursing, which was only one of the few careers opened to women at that time. She worked on Henry Street for more than thirty years. Lillian Wald identified “four branches of usefulness” where she could be of service. Those four branches, “visiting nursing, social work, country work and civic work,” helped guide the Settlement’s programming, and turned Wald’s home at 265 Henry Street into a center of progressive advocacy, and community support, that attracted neighbors from around the corner, and reformers from around the world (Levine, 2018). Later in 1902 The Henry Street Settlement opened a playground for the children to have a safe place to play, instead of in the streets. The Henry Street Settlement was the first place to pay a salary for a school nurse. All of the success of Lillian Wald has prompted the board of education to dedicate school nurses. In 1944 the Visiting Nurse Settlement separated from Henry Street Settlement to become the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. They focus on helping lower income families who cannot afford health care (Levine, 2018) Initially, Henderson planned on switching professions after 2 years. This plan changed during her summer work at this facility where she found a deep appreciation for the patient-nurse relationship. A relationship she really thought of to be a privilege. She was able to have less formal meetings and talks with her patients, as opposed to her experience at the Army School (Smith, 2015). Henderson enjoyed these informal meetings and found them to leave a greater impact.
This is the plaque that is mounted outside the Henry Street Settlement.
Lopes J.(n.d.) Henry Street Settlement Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from https://venngage.net/p/159776/public-health-nursing-by-jenna-lopes
After working for 2 years at the Henry Street Settlement, Henderson's passion for education grew and did not stop with just receiving her diploma in nursing from the Army School of Nursing. She felt driven to provide education to others. In 1924, she began a career in nursing education at Norfolk Protestant Hospital in her home state, Virginia. Norfolk Protestant Hospital is a large teaching hospital. In 1892 they started the first nursing school in Norfolk, Virginia (Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, 2020). Virginia Henderson was the first full-time nursing instructor in Virginia at that time. She served as an instructor there for five years. During her time teaching in Norfolk, she joined the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia. She used this association to advocate for the need for psychiatric nursing in the current curriculum (“Virginia Avenel Henderson”, 2020). Due to her advocacy, the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia formed its first psychiatric nursing course in 1929. Following this she became a supervisor and clinical instructor in the outpatient department at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. The nursing program at Strong Memorial Hospital focused on integrating education, research and practice. Their program was unique at the time because they saw the importance of research. Research is key in developing knowledge and promoting evidence based practice. This was the start of Virginias’ passion for research and writing (History of the School, n.d.). Later she was inspired to continue with her education by returning to Teachers College, Columbia University to receive her bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing with the aid of a Rockefeller scholarship (Halloran, n.d.). She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1932 and her master’s degree in 1934.
The Textbook of the Principles and Practice of Nursing that Virginia Henderson helped write.
Harmer, B. (n.d.). Textbook of the principles and practice of nursing. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://openlibrary.org/works/OL15828498W/Textbook_of_the_principles_and_practice_of_nursing
After earning her master’s degree, Virginia Henderson started teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. This college was founded in 1887. They are the oldest and largest graduate school of nursing in the United States. Henderson was the first professor in the school of nursing. She was an associate professor for 14 years (Gonzolo, 2019). Her outstanding teachings were talked about, and word spread. Soon she had students from many countries studying with her. During her time as a professor, Macmillan Publishing Company asked her to revise the fourth edition of the Textbook of the Principles and Practice of Nursing. This would be her first time working on this textbook, she later returned to contribute to several other editions of the book. There were several changes with medications such as antibiotics, new techniques for patients safety as well as their hygiene all the way to comfort care. Needless to say there were so many changes that the book needed to be revised. Henderson seemed to be the right fit to do this. Henderson felt like she needed to add her belief that the nurses job was actually to help the patient heal and be free of the need of help, as quickly as possible. This is where her “Need Theory” comes into the works. The “Need Theory” was based on the idea that a patient did not want to be sick, and helping the patient to heal, meet their own needs, and to come independent again, was the best care the nurse could give to their patient. The new textbook that was published in 1955, emphasized the nurse's responsibility to the patient, not the physician. (Gonzolo, 2019)
Nurses who were unable to travel devoured this book, it soon became a widely used and referenced book. 16 years later, in 1955, Henderson wrote the 5th edition of the same textbook. This edition focused on a new definition of nursing care. This new definition was “nurses assisted individuals, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health, its recovery (or to a peaceful death), that they would perform unaided if they had the requisite strength, will or knowledge”(Halloran, 1996). Henderson took on the challenge of defining the role of a nurse during a time when very few nurses had ventured into defining a modern nurse. This textbook helped shape the way we provide nursing care and was widely used in nursing schools throughout North America.
“The Need Theory”
This work in research Henderson did early on in her career is what later developed into her nursing “Need Theory”. “The Need Theory” involves 14 concepts that include physiological, psychological, spiritual, and social components. Those concepts include breathing normally, eating and drinking adequately, eliminating body wastes, movement, sleep and rest, suitable clothes, maintaining body temperature, hygiene, avoid injury, expressing emotions or fears, worship according to your faith, have a sense of accomplishment, recreation and promoting normal development (Gonzalo, 2019). These seem like simple concepts, but Henderson identified them as essential parts of promoting a patients’ well-being. She has been quoted saying, “The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities' contribution to health or its recovery (or to a peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will, or knowledge” (Halloran, 1996). This needs to be done in such a way as to help the patient gain independence as rapidly as possible. The goal of the theory is to help the patients recover quickly and prepare them to take care of themselves outside of the hospital. This theory emphasized the nurses role in encouraging patients to do their own self-care. She always stressed the importance of a nurse's duty being focused on the patient. She felt that too often nurses spent time focusing on serving the doctor. By changing the emphasis on your patient care, she felt you can make better observations, aid in patient self-care and be a better tool for the hospital with the care provided. She really focused on the importance that nurses are to be there for their patient day and night. This theory is applied as a goal system for nursing practice. By meeting all 14 needs of the patients, nurses are better able to apply their overall nursing care and strengthen their skills. However, many nurses struggled to create a visual as to how they should be reaching all 14 components. Henderson's Nursing Need Theory is often connected back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. By viewing the different components this way it is easier for nurses to better prioritize how they should be reaching all of the different components.
Henderson’s 14 components correlated with Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Gonzalo, A. (2019). Virginia Henderson: Need Theory Study Guide. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-hendersons-need-theory/
A way to look at her theory is that it is structured around four major concepts; individual, environmental, health and nursing. First, she focuses on the importance of looking at each patient individually and their specific needs. Look at the list of 14 components and see how your patient is meeting those components. What adjustments are needed to be made so all 14 components are met? Second, the environment your patient is in affects how much their ability to recover is successful. How is the patient's family support? How well do their external conditions aid them in self recovery? They need to have a positive environment because Henderson believed in the importance of the mind and body being synchronized. Third, the nurse needs to focus on the promotion of good health and recovery for their patient. They need to look at the age, mental capabilities and background to see what help they need in order to get better. Every patient admitted in there with different pre-existing factors affecting their recovery. Fourth, the nurses job is to take their education and training to aid the patient. Doctors will provide treatment plans, but it is up to the nurse to execute the plan and evaluate its success. Nurses need to be able to adapt to their ever changing environment to create the best result. Only by doing this will the patient be able to recover best. It is up to the nurse to apply all these pieces with the 14 components to help the patient become independent again. Henderson’s definition of nursing states: “I say that the nurse does for others what they would do for themselves if they had the strength, the will, and the knowledge. But I go on to say that the nurse makes the patient independent of him or her as soon as possible”(“Henderson’s Nursing Need Theory”, n.d).
In 1964, Henderson published a book called the Nature of Nursing. This book laid out the essential function of a nurse and how it applies to the nursing practice. The book acted as her platform for spreading the Need Theory throughout the nursing community. In this book she describes how a nurse's role is “to get inside the patient’s skin and supplement his strength, will or knowledge according to his needs.”(Gonzalo, 2019). She talked about how her experiences as a nurse has led to her definition of a nurse and the Need Theory. When talking about her experience as a nurse in a hospital she said “I began to realize that the seemingly successful institutional regimen nevertheless often failed to change the factors in the patient’s way of living that had hospitalized him in the first place” (Henderson, V, 1964). She saw the need for care that promoted the patients return to independence.
Research in Nursing
Virginia Henderson and Dean Donna Diers at the 50th Anniversary of the Yale School of Nursing 1973.
Yale University Library online exhibitions (n.d.). Retrived July 2020 from https://onlineexhibits.library.yale.edu/s/yale-nursing/media/7849
Her career in research started in 1953 when she joined the Yale School of Nursing as a research associate. It was a sweet reunion with her old mentor, Miss Anne Goodrich, who was currently the dean at Yale (McBride, 1996). This made her transition from Columbia to Yale even more exciting. During this time, Henderson began a 19-year project to evaluate nursing research and concluded there was insufficient research on nursing care. It was in these years of research that she worked on multiple research projects, helped write several pieces of literature such as The Basic Principles of Nursing Care, and made groundbreaking changes to the field of nursing. Throughout her career, Henderson was invited to many different universities from around the world to teach her new ideas and groundbreaking changes about nursing.
She went on to change the focus of research to the clinical aspect of nursing. In 1964, at the age of 67, Virginia Henderson and Leo Simmons published Nursing Research: Survey and Assessment. This 461 paged book was first reviewed by both graduates and professors of Yale. This survey was received well by the majority of the Yale faculty and student community. This publication was so inspiring it sparked a few of Virginia’s fellow faculty members and students to start their own studies on the effects of nursing on patients (Halloran, 1996). This was her first, four volume, piece of literature that was made to organize nursing studies and papers. It would serve as an inspiration and foundation for the Nursing Studies Index she also published.
Nursing Studies Index
From 1959-1971 Virginia was funded to put together the Nursing Studies Index. At the time, clinical study literature was unorganized, therefore she took on the challenge to annotate it. She spent years collecting together studies, literature, and clinical works of nursing. "She gathered, reviewed, cataloged, classified, annotated, and cross-referenced every known piece of research on nursing published in English." (Gonzolo, 2019). This was the first time ever that a person had taken the time to organize and annotate nursing research. The first volume was published in 1963. In this volume, she spoke analytically of nursing from 1900-1959. One of her most famous lines from the first edition is, “We hope that those who used volume four of this index will send us criticisms of its form and content. Such comments will be considered in completing volumes three, two, and one...'”(Blackwell Science, 1996). She knew that there would be critiques of her writing, and she embraced that notion as she knew that would help with her future writings. She finished the final volume of Nursing Studies Index in 1972. With all four volumes put together, her Nursing Studies Index weighed in at an astounding 16.5 pounds (Halloran, 1996). The amount of work, research, and time that were needed to create the Nursing Studies Index is why many, including Hendersen herself, consider these books to be one of the most important contributions to nursing.
Registered nurses were some of the first non-physician organ transplant and donation specialists in the field. Henderson developed a nursing model based on activities of living. Henderson’s principles and practice of nursing is a grand theory that can be applied to many types of nursing. Her theory is applied to intensely focused and specialized areas of organ donation for transplantation. Virginia Henderson’s concepts are applied to the care and management of the organ donor, the donor’s family and friends. (Nicely & DeLario, 2011). In some instances to the caregivers themselves. She has also gone as far as changing the attitude of the profession itself, and the purpose of it. Henderson’s theory has had a tremendous influence on understanding nursing throughout the world. Many of the established models of nursing are based on her work.
The Basic Principles of Nursing Care
The Basic Principles of Nursing Care by Virgina Henderson.
Gonzolo, A.(2019). "Virginia Henderson: Nursing Need Theory" Nurses Lab. Retrieved from https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-hendersons-need-theory/
In 1960, The International Council of Nurses commissioned her to write an essay titled Basic Principles of Nursing Care. Having taken inspiration from helping rewrite the Harmer and Henderson Textbook on the Principles and Practice of Nursing, she was able to put together an essay that would be universal for all practices. This essay was able to be distributed worldwide for both nurses and patients. This was written "for the use of nurses who had neither access to technology nor the medical care required to establish disease diagnoses" (Halloran, 1996). Many people today compare it to a 20th century version of Florence Nightingale's Notes on Nursing. It is still being used throughout the world and in 29 different languages.
Her Final Years, Awards, and Recognitions
In 1971, Henderson changed her role at Yale from research associate to emeritus. She then continued to teach and travel but put her years of writing aside. Yale was founded in 1923, and was funded through the Rockefeller Foundation. Yale school of nursing was the first school within a university to provide nurses with an education, instead of an anticipation program. By 1934 Bachelor’s degrees were required in order to get into Yale. By 1956 anyone entering the school into a graduate program needed to have a background in nursing (“Yale School of Nursing”, n.d.). Virginia passed away on March 19, 1996, on her headstone you will find this engraved, “She gave continuously but never counted the cost.” This was in fact exactly what she did. Upon her death, she was surrounded by friends and family as they ate chocolate cake and ice cream while saying their goodbyes at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut. (McBride, 1996). She was survived by her sister, Frances Houff, four nieces, a nephew, and several grand nieces and nephews (News, Y., 1996).
Virginia A. Henderson Tombstone.
Gonzolo, A. (2019). "Virginia Henderson: Nursing Need Theory" Nurses Lab. Retrieved from https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-hendersons-need-theory/
Throughout her career, Henderson received many awards and honors. "She received honorary doctorate degrees from the Catholic University of America, Pace University, University of Rochester, University of Western Ontario, Yale University, Rush University, Old Dominion University, Boston College, Thomas Jefferson University, Emory University and many others." (Gonzolo, 2019). In 1977 she was an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. In 1985 she was awarded the first Christiane Riemann Prize. This was the highest and most prestigious award in nursing. In 1988 she received the Virginia Nurse Leadership Award. In 1996 she was selected for the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame. In 2000, the Virginia Nurses Association recognized Henderson as one of fifty-one pioneer nurses in Virginia." A recipient of many awards, the Sigma Theta Tau International Library is named in Henderson's honor" (American Nurse Association). She made a powerful impact and was often called “The 20th century Florence Nightingale” and “Modern-Day Mother of Nursing”. Henderson received numerous accolades and awards. In 2000 the Virginia Nurses Association recognized her as one of the 51 Pioneer Nurses in Virginia, and she is a member of the American Nurses Association (ANA) Hall of Fame (Dawn Magine, 2020).
American Nurses Association."Virginia A. Henderson (1897-1996) 1996 Inductee" American Nurses Association. http://ojin.nursingworld.org/FunctionalMenuCategories/AboutANA/Honoring-Nurses/NationalAwardsProgram/HallofFame/19962000Inductees/virginiahenderson.html (Links to an external site.)
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Gonzolo, Angelo "Virginia Henderson: Nursing Need Theory" Nurses Lab. August 24,2019 https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-hendersons-need-theory/
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Halloran, E. J. (1996). Virginia Henderson and her timeless writings*. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 23(1), 17-24. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1996.tb03130.x
Harmer, B. (n.d.). Textbook of the principles and practice of nursing. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://openlibrary.org/works/OL15828498W/Textbook_of_the_principles_and_practice_of_nursing
Henderson's Nursing Need Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://nursing-theory.org/theories-and-models/henderson-need-theory.php
Henderson, V. (1964). The Nature of Nursing. The American Journal of Nursing, 64(8), 62-68. doi:10.2307/3419278
History of the School: University of Rochester School of Nursing. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.son.rochester.edu/about/history.html
Hoyle, M., Senior. (2019, June 07). Virginia Avenel Henderson: Foremost Nurse of the 20th Century. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from https://www.shiftwizard.com/virginia-avenel-henderson/
Inductees Listed Alphabetically. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.nursingworld.org/ana/about-ana/history/hall-of-fame/inductees-listed-alphabetically/
Jamme, A. (1918). The Army School of Nursing. The American Journal of Nursing, 19(3), 179-184. doi:10.2307/3406200
Levine , Lucie . (2018, November 30). Lillian Wald’s Lower East Side: From the Visiting Nurse Service to the Henry Street Settlement. Retrieved from https://www.6sqft.com/lillian-walds-lower-east-side-from-the-visiting-nurse-service-to-the-henry-street-settlement/
Lopes, J. (n.d.). Public Health Nursing. Retrieved August 10, 2020 from https://venngage.net/p/159776/public-health-nursing-by-jenna-lopes
Mangine , D. (2020, March 11). Virginia Henderson: The first lady of nursing. . Retrieved from https://blog.simtalkblog.com/blog/virginia-henderson-the-first-lady-of-nursing
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(n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from http://currentnursing.com/nursing_theory/Henderson.html
News, Y. (1996, April 30). Memorial for Nursing Pioneer Virginia Henderson. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from https://news.yale.edu/1996/04/30/memorial-nursing-pioneer-virginia-henderson
Nicely, B., & DeLario, G. T. (2011). Virginia Henderson’s Principles and Practice of Nursing Applied to Organ Donation after Brain Death. Progress in Transplantation, 21(1), 72–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/152692481102100110
Norman, R. (2019, May 09). Virginia Avenel Henderson. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Henderson-6552 (Links to an external site.)
“Our History .” Henry Street Settlement , https://www.henrystreet.org/about/our-history/.
“Our History .” Strong Memorial Hospital , https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/strong-memorial/about-us/history.aspx.
"Remembering the First Lady of Nursing." Virginia Henderson Global Nursing e-Repository, www.nursinglibrary.org/vhl/pages/VHLonRNL.html. Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.
Seletyn. “WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: VIRGINIA HENDERSON (NURSING).” Thoughts and Ponderances The Adventures Of Chelle. Thoughts and Ponderances The Adventures Of Chelle, 31 Mar. 2020. Web. 3 June 2020.
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Smith, M. C. (2015). Section II; Conceptual Influences on the Evolution of Nursing Theory. In M. E. Parker (Ed.), Nursing Theories and Nursing Practice (Fourth Edition ed., p. 56). Philadelphia, PA: F.A Davis Company.
Thomas, R. M., Jr. (1996, March 22). Virginia Henderson, 98, Teacher of Nurses, Dies. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/1996/03/22/arts/virginia-henderson-98-teacher-of-nurses-dies.html (Links to an external site.)
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- Jayden Cooper
- McKensie Hone
- Birk Gundersen
- Lexie Lifferth
- Alanna Van Pelt, RN, BSN
- Dani Thornton
- Sean N. Bennett, RN, MSN - Associate Professor - Utah Valley University
The Early Years
Clarissa Harlow Barton was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts on December 25, 1821 to Stephen and Sara Barton (Britannica, T. E., 2019). She had a great sense of purpose and a genuine and deep concern for her fellow beings throughout her life. Clara's father was a captain of the local militia and was known as "Captain Stephen Barton." He was a veteran of the Indian Wars and often recounted his experiences during that time. He taught all of his children that to give your life for a cause like your country is a great thing, and that being a good American required serving one's country and obeying its laws.
In addition to lessons he shared with her from experiences he had on the battlefield, Stephen Barton also taught Clarissa about geography (Clara Barton Childhood, n.d). Stephen's knowledge and experience regarding the nuances of war, which he imparted to Clarissa from an early age, later helped her when she served as a nurse during the civil war. Stephen doted on Clara and was known as a good, generous man that often helped the less fortunate. He was also a successful farmer, owned and operated a sawmill, and served in the Massachusetts legislature. Stephen's experiences as a veteran influenced Clara's tender feelings for the soldiers, she would later aid.
Clara's mother, Sara Stone Barton, was known for her thriftiness and her temper (Clara Barton Family, n.d). Sara was a very strict mother. She was practical and was known for her common sense. She taught Clara how to sew and cook and do the things that many young women learned to do at that time. Clara was the youngest of five children. Her older siblings were Dorothea, Stephen, David, and Sarah. While her mother taught Clara the skills a young woman should have, her older brothers taught her how to ride a horse bareback, climb trees, and play baseball. Although she was a shy child, these activities taught her a certain toughness that would help her throughout her life.
Clara learned how to tend to and nurse others at a very young age. It is said that her love for nursing developed after her older brother David at the age of 25, fell from a rafter in a barn when Clara was only 11 years old (National Park Service, 2018). David suffered a severe head injury, and no one could stop his constant fevers after the accident. Clara stayed home from school to help nurse David. She administered his medications and tended to him by following his physician's orders to "bleed the patient" by adding and removing leeches (Clara Barton Family, n.d.). Clara was essentially her brother's nurse for the next two years. Owing at least in part to Clara's care, David would later become an Assistant Quartermaster in the Union Army during the Civil War and was known as "Captain David Barton".
Clara learned an important skill or life lesson from each of her siblings. Her oldest brother, Stephen Barton, taught Clara mathematics. It is said that Clara's fondest memory of Stephen was when he defended her right to work at the Satinet Mill after the two years she spent taking care of her brother, David (Clara Barton Family, n.d). Clara's sisters taught her how to read. Clara was especially close to her older sister Sara or "Sally" as she was also called. She later lived near Clara in Washington DC and helped her collect food, clothing and medical supplies for the Union troops.
Clara started school at the age of four. She was very studious, but her shyness affected her. When Clara was eight years old, she had not made a single friend and her parents sent her to a boarding school to help with her shyness. However, it seemed to make the issue worse and her parents ended up withdrawing her from the boarding school soon after (Clara Barton Childhood, n.d.).
Clara began supplementing her education with work experience at a young age. She gained her first experience by working for her oldest brother as his clerk and bookkeeper (American Battlefield Trust, 2018). Though Clara was introduced to nursing as a child while tending to her brother, she did not return to nursing for another 30 years. Clara never actually attended a nursing school or had formal training in nursing. However, she learned and developed her nursing skills through experience.
Clara began teaching at the age of 15 during a time when most teachers were men. At the time, corporal punishment was the standard method of discipline for students. However, instead of using the common and accepted painful punishments of the time, Clara used kindness and persuasion and treated each of her students as fairly as possible. She attended the noon recess with her students in an effort to maintain supervision of them and discourage them from playing too rough with one another (Clara Barton Childhood, n.d).
In 1845 At age 24, Clara recognized that the children of the workers at her brother's mill lacked opportunities for education, so she founded a school for them to attend at the mill (Michals, 2015). Clara began traveling from town to town, teaching at different schools. Towards the end of 1850, she decided to return to college in order to gain more education. Clara only attended college for a year before moving in with some friends in New Jersey and opening a free public school in Bordentown. The school was founded in 1852 and started with only six students. Initially Clara was unpaid, but Clara gradually expanded the school to 600 enrolled students, and eventually began earning a salary. Clara's success in her endeavors to impart education showed her strength and talent in organizing, managing, and administering.
Clara was ultimately pushed out of her position as headmaster by the school board who voted to replace her with a male counterpart who had been making double her salary. Undeterred by this misogynistic injustice, she moved to Washington, DC shortly after and was hired by the US Patent Office as a recording clerk. True to her character as a pioneer, Clara became the first woman to be hired for a position like this. Unlike the salary she was paid as headmaster of the school she founded, at the US Patent Office, Clara was paid $1,400 annually, which was the same as her male colleagues (Michals, 2015). Clara believed and was determined that if she was doing a job that a man could do, she would not work less than the man's pay (Editors, 2009).
Unfortunately, her second year working there she was reduced to copyist with a lower salary by Secretary of the Interior- Robert McClelland - who was opposed to women working in the government. In 1857, her position was dropped entirely, by the Buchanan Administration, putting Clara out of a job. After losing her job, Clara returned home to Massachusetts where she lived for the next three years (Van Hartesveldt, 2018).
After President Abraham Lincoln was elected and inaugurated into office, he invited women back into government offices (Stevenson, 2017). Clara returned to the Patent Office and continued her job as a copyist in 1860. She continued working there until the Civil War broke out in 1861 (Michals, 2015).
Education and Volunteerism
When the American Civil War broke out, wounded soldiers from the sixth Massachusetts Infantry were transported to Washington D.C to recover. Clara wanted to help her country and the wounded men, so she went to the railroad station and nursed 40 wounded soldiers (Clara Barton Wikipedia, 2019). As wounded Union soldiers continued pouring into the Washington D.C. area, Clara had compassion on them and wanted to help them. Despite not having any formal nursing training, Clara used the experience she had gained tending for her brother David to help care for the wounded and dying troops.
Clara recognized some of the injured men that she cared for in the 21st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as men from her hometown of Oxford and had even taught some of them in school. She saw that these men had nothing and gathered supplies for them as they lay wounded in Washington, D.C.
The tragedies of the American Civil War inspired Clara to begin her work as a great humanitarian. This work would impact the rest of her life (Van Hartesveldt, 2018). As men were entering Washington D.C., they had only what was carried on their backs, Clara immediately worked to aid these men by working to supply them with food, bandages, and other items. The supplies Clara provided were acquired through her personal sacrifice and by soliciting donations from her friends and acquaintances.
The wounded soldiers were housed in the Capitol Building. With help from other women in the community, family, friends and even strangers, Clara was able to provide items the soldiers needed in order to recover. Clara was inspired after she helped the men of her hometown. She soon left her job as a copyist at the Patent Office in order to give her full devotion to any and all soldiers in need of care (Stevenson 2017).
Clara Barton and the Red Cross
After the ending of the civil war in the United States, Clara went to Europe looking for respite from the difficulties caused by the war. During her time in Europe, Clara was introduced to the International Red Cross. The Red Cross was an idea that was pioneered by Henry Dunant where countries would sign a treaty promising care for the sick and wounded during war time. The first variation of such a treaty was ratified by 12 European nations in 1864 and was called the Geneva Treaty. Throughout history, adjustments and additional members were added to the treaty during the various Geneva Conventions (Clara Barton. n.d.).
While Clara was in Europe, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Although Clara was not aligned with either the French or the Germans (who were led by the Prussian King), she joined with the International Red Cross to help the sick and wounded. Clara primarily helped the Red Cross by delivering supplies and aid to the conquered French town of Strasbourg although she spent time in other parts of France also (Clara Barton. n.d.).
After the war, Clara returned to the United States, but kept in contact with her colleagues in the Red Cross. The Red Cross recognized Clara as an asset to their organization and believed her to be the perfect person to present membership to the United States. Having been given signed authorization from the president of the Red Cross, Clara took the proposal to enter the international treaty to the president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes rejected the idea thinking it would cause issues for the United States on the international stage. Undeterred, Clara persisted. After several years of political upheaval, Clara was able to lobby President Chester Arthur and convinced him to sign the treaty, which was subsequently ratified by the Senate. Clara then helped establish a Red Cross charter that was adopted by the United States Congress. This treaty legitimized the American Red Cross (Clara Barton. n.d.).
The American Red Cross flag flew for the first time in 1881. Over the next 20 years with Clara in charge, the Red Cross focused primarily on disaster relief. In the same year that the flag first flew on American soil, the Red Cross provided aid to those suffering from a widespread forest fire in Michigan. In 1884, she and 50 volunteers helped victims in Pennsylvania who were suffering from a dam break that caused over 2,000 deaths. Later on, she raised over $120,000 for people who fell victim to a hurricane and tidal wave in Galveston, Texas. In 1893, a hurricane hit the Sea Islands of South Carolina, leaving more than 5,000 dead in its path. Clara and her band of volunteers spend the next 10 months helping a primarily African American population repair and regain their agricultural economy (American Red Cross, 2019).
The American Red Cross' efforts not only stretched from coast to coast, but also expanded globally. For just one of many examples, Clara and volunteers sent railroad cars full of cornmeal and flour to those suffering from a famine in Russia in 1892. Because of Clara's global outreach, several countries honored Clara by awarding her decorations. The Red Cross was relentless in their efforts to bring relief to many, not just on American soil.
When the Spanish-American war broke out, The American Red Cross changed its focus. For the first time ever, they would be delivering supplies and rendering services to American armed forces, along with prisoners of war and Cuban refugees.
At age 83, strong opinions about her age and her management style eventually led Clara Barton to resign as president of the American Red Cross in 1904. However, she did not let that stop her. Clara would prove to be far from finished with her life's work. She turned her efforts towards establishing the National First Aid Association of America (American Red Cross, 2019).
The National First Aid Association of America
Clara Barton had been criticized by others over her style of leadership and lack of delegation in the American Red Cross. After she resigned as President of the Red Cross, there were those who were loyal and followed her as she established the National First Aid Association of America in April of 1905. It was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. She served as the President of this organization for five years.
The National First Aid Association of America worked with the police and fire departments to form brigades that would serve as transportation or ambulances for the sick (Clara Barton Chronology, 2018). She patterned these brigades after the Saint John Ambulance Association of England and the Saint Andrews Association of Scotland. This organization allowed Clara to utilize her experience as a teacher as one of the organization's primary goals was to educate the public in basic First Aid and prepare people to know how to respond to personal and local emergencies. In addition to the educational aspect of preparation, The National First Aid Association assembled first aid kits as well.
Clara's first-hand experience and knowledge of first aid, which she gained during the civil war, left Clara with a great desire to utilize her knowledge and experience and teach it to others. The American Red Cross was not teaching first aid at this time, but The National First Aid Association's educational framework was so successful that the American Red Cross eventually incorporated first aid into their scope of practice. Despite having been forced out of the American Red Cross, Clara continued to influence the organization through her ingenuity and talent for administration.
A book that aided in teaching first aid entitled, "The Barton First Aid Textbook", incorporated Clara Barton's ideas and experience. It was written by the National First Aid Association of America's medical director, H.H. Hartung, M.D. and arranged and illustrated by one of Clara's loyal followers who came with her from the American Red Cross, Roscoe G. Wells. The first edition was published in February of 1906.
The first nursing school in the United States, Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing, opened in New York in 1873 and operated until 1969 when it closed. The curriculum was based on Florence Nightingale's principles, which she taught in the nursing school she opened in 1860 in London, England. This school was called: Nightingale Training School for Nurses (Nursing School, 2019).
In addition to Clara Barton's nursing and humanitarian work during the American Civil War, her subsequent work with the International and American Red Cross, and her founding of the National First Aid Association, Clara also helped with the fight for women's rights. Barton had helped set a precedent for gender equality by being the first woman hired at the U.S. Patent Office who receiving the same pay as men. This was unheard of during this time.
Her efforts to care for wounded soldiers during the Civil War was culturally perceived as strange. It was unusual for women to be caring for men they did not know, because of the sometimes-intimate situations the women would find themselves in order to render the requisite care (Clara Barton Museum, 2018). Clara was the first woman nurse in the civil war and the first to advocate that nursing principles be applied on the battlefield in order to save more lives.
Clara understood her deeds were uncommon, perceived as strange and improper, but she was proud of the work she and other women were doing. She considered herself to be perfectly equal to any man.
Women's rights had always been important to Clara. She specifically advocated for, "the right [of a woman]to her own property, her own children, her own home, her individual claim before the law, to her freedom of action, to her personal "liberty" as she put it (Clara Barton Museum, 2018). Clara was friends with and supported those who paved the way for women's rights such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances D. Gage, and other monumental women at the time (Clara Barton Museum, 2018).
Clara was highly in favor of equal rights for women. As a friend to Susan B. Anthony, Clara had the opportunity to speak at multiple conventions for women's suffrage, including the first national women's suffrage convention held in Washington, D.C. (1869) and National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Conventions of 1893, 1902, 1904, and 1906 (Clara Barton, 2019).
At the 1902 Convention, Barton loaned them 30 flags given to her from foreign nations that were displayed at the NAWSA convention to show their support. Even in her later years, Barton was an advocate for women's rights. When she was no longer able to attend the conventions, she would send letters to be read aloud to the audience. In one of those letters she described her life by saying, "The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me."
In 1907 and 1910 the NAWSA sent her thank you greetings to show their appreciation for her continuous efforts (Clara Barton, 2019). Barton passed away at the age of 91 in her home in Glen Echo, Maryland April 12th, 1912 due to a fatal case of Pneumonia. Clara Barton died being highly respected for all of her contributions to health and wellbeing of society. Clara's reputation has carried on to the present day, and because of her contributions to the nursing profession they have established a National Site where you can tour her home and visit the places where she made monumental contributions to the world we enjoy today.
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- Kunkel, Katherine. "Clara Barton: War Hero, Educator, and supporter of Women's Rights." Sutori, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.sutori.com/story/clara-barton-war-hero-educator-and-supporter-of-women-s-rights--oPL7MgKYJ4dJuzNqYU3GXQRy
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- National Park Service (2018). Clara Barton National Historic site. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/clba/exb/Work/Teacher/CLBA113_pg4_5.html
- Vintage Red Cross Flag with pole. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-red-cross-flag-pole-478267949
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