Clara Barton – A Good Leader

Photo of Clara Barton courtesy the Library of Congress

It’s history time! This semester at school I happen to be taking a leadership class where we analyze different types of leaders and characteristics of good, effective leadership. Essentially, we’re trying to determine what it means to be a “good leader,” both as a collective class and personally. It also happens to be about halfway through National Women’s Month and I haven’t written about any women! Gasp!

So here’s to local legend Clarissa Harlowe Barton. Founder and first president of the American Red Cross, Barton picked my very own Dansville, New York, to set up HQ for her nation-influencing society. Then, when she was done with that one, she went right on and founded the National First Aid Society.

Of course, we learned all the facts and dates in middle school – the small museum is practically right across the street. The highly-anticipated, interactive “Civil War Day” even included some preemptive discussion about Ms. Barton and her name was usually the answer to every bonus question on a history exam.

Granted, at this point it’s been years since I’ve thought about her. People ‘round here in Indiana just don’t talk much about good ‘ol Clara B. However, when considering her from a leadership perspective, she just seems that much cooler.

Here’s what I didn’t know back in middle school: Clara Barton, while a smart cookie for sure, was extremely shy. So shy, in fact, that she was recorded as only ever having one friend in her entire school career.

This small tidbit of information makes Barton even more incredible to me. She went from an “extremely timid” child and young adult to running hospitals and becoming the “Angel of the Battlefield” during the Civil War. She made requests of Abraham Lincoln concerning missing soldiers, corresponded with historical figures like Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglass, and ultimately founded two medical societies that are still famously functioning today.

When discussing leadership traits in class, shyness never comes up as a quality that we want to see in our leaders. However, I think that Clara Barton is the perfect example of a leader who overcame personal and external obstacles in order to help others. She was a woman of note, and we should all be taking notes on her leadership growth.


Halie Solea 2013By Halie Solea