Alright y'all time to learn about one of the first American bad asses

On this day in 1881, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross.

When Clara was only 10, her brother David fell off the roof of the family barn. At first, he seemed fine, but the next day he developed a headache and fever. The doctor diagnosed “too much blood” and prescribed the application of leeches to help draw out the extra blood. Clara took over as her brother’s nurse and spent two years at his bedside applying leeches (though David did not get any better until he tried an innovative “steam therapy” several years later).

As a girl, Clara was shy and had a stutter, and her worried mother asked a phrenologist (phrenologists, who were fairly common in the 1800s, examined the bumps on a person’s skull as a way to determine their personality traits) to help her. The phrenologist said that she was shy and retiring and that the solution to her problem was to become a schoolteacher. Barton did not want to teach but she began teaching in 1839 at the age of 18. She overcame her shyness, became a sought-after teacher, and believed in the value of her work. She once said, “I may sometimes be wiling to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

Several men proposed to Barton, but she remained single her whole life, at one point telling her nephew that on the whole she felt that she had been more useful to the world by being free from matrimonial ties.

In 1854, she gave up teaching and took a job in the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C. She worked hard, got promoted, and within a year was making a salary equal to the men in the office (which angered the men). She left Washington for three years when the administration changed, but she returned in the early 1860s and resumed her job in the Patent Office. By 1861, war was breaking out, and when supporters of the Confederacy attacked Union soldiers in Washington, D.C., Clara helped nurse wounded soldiers in the same way she had nursed her brother when they were young.

During one of the first major engagements of the war, the Battle of Bull Run, the Union suffered a staggering defeat and as Clara read reports of the battle she realized that the Union Army had not seriously considered or provided for wounded soldiers. She began to ride along in ambulances, providing supplies and comfort to wounded soldiers on the frontlines.

After the war, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she learned about the International Red Cross and its mission to be a neutral organization that helped wounded soldiers. When Barton returned to the United States, she pressed for the creation of a national branch of the Red Cross. But many people thought there would never again be a war as monumental and devastating as the Civil War and didn’t see the need for the Red Cross. Barton finally convinced the Arthur administration that the Red Cross could be used in other crises.

The American Red Cross was officially incorporated on this day, with Barton as its president.

Clara Barton said, “I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.”

And she said, “The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me.”

She also said, “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business, and nobody’s business is my business.”

I sometimes need to see a phrenologist on account of my neurasthenia. Look, it’s 2015; I’m not ashamed to admit I have a disorder of the nerves.

Anyway. Just rang up the office. Needed to re-up my laudanum at the apothecary. Was on hold for a bit. Would you like to know what the hold music was?

“Crazy,” the 1996 popular music smash hit by the band Gnarls Barkley.


I can only stand back and admire the diabolical imagination of the hold music programmer at this nervous disorders clinic.

Addendum: I was almost disappointed when the operator cut in mid-“Crazy,” because I’ve really been itching to hear Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane.” My 128MB Zune has been full since 2003, and Spotify has barred me (and several aliases), citing quote excessive usage patterns unquote. Look: keeping Smashmouth’s “Walking on the Sun” on repeat at low volume throughout the day really helps my creative juices flow, and, at high volume at night, drowns out the cacophony (supra) in my head.

After Joseph Haydn died in 1809, two phrenologists stole his skull to examine the “bump of music”. They kept the skull in a box adorned with a golden lyre. This was against the wishes of Haydn’s patron, Prince Esterhazy, and the phrenologists were forced to hide the skull in a straw mattress. They passed a different, imposter skull to Esterhazy, and the real skull was not reunited with the body until 1954.