ClaraBarton1

Clara Barton’s Office of Missing Soldiers

During the Civil War, a humanitarian named Clara Barton had a discussion with her father in which he convinced her that it was her Christian duty to help the soldiers.  She subsequently went on to help gather and distribute medical supplies, food, and clothing to soldiers during the war.  She even gained permission to work on the front lines, where her work gained support from other people who believed in her cause. These people became her patrons.  Eventually, with the support of her patrons, she went on to be appointed as the “lady in charge” of the hospitals at the front of the Army of the James.

Among her more harrowing experiences during the war was an incident in which a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress without striking her but killing a man to whom she was tending.  For this she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

At the end of the Civil War, Barton continued her work by hiring a staff and opening an office to provide assistance to grieving parents, family and friends whose sons, brothers, neighbors were missing.  It was named the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.”  Also referred to as the Missing Soldiers Office, they responded to over 63,000 letters, most of which required some kind of research.  The research then led to published lists of the names of the missing so that anyone with knowledge of their whereabouts or death could contact Barton. By the time the office closed in 1867, she had identified the fate of over 22,000 men.

Barton, along with another humanitarian named Adolphus Solomons, would later go on to found the American National Red Cross, an organization designed to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross.

Over a century later, in November of 1997, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) discovered signs, clothing and papers in the attic of 437 Seventh Street in northwest D.C. (MAP).  The vacant building had recently been transferred from the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation for sale by the GSA and was slated for demolition.  The artifacts were identified as the belongings of Clara Barton from her occupancy of the building during the Civil War, while she was providing supplies to soldiers on the battlefields, and immediately following the Civil War, when she operated the Missing Soldiers Office out of Room 9 on the third floor.

As a result of the discovery, the building was not demolished as planned.  Instead, it has been preserved by the GSA, which retains an easement for a planned museum in the future.

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