Historical Markers
Clara Barton Historical Marker
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Clara Barton

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
662 Main Street, Johnstown

Dedication Date:
July 1, 1994

Behind the Marker

Main Street in Johnstown after the 1889 Flood.
Main Street, Johnstown, PA, in the aftermath of the 1889 Flood.
The markerJohnstown Flood was one of the worst natural disasters to occur in the United States. When the South Fork Dam gave way on May 31, 1889, it unleashed twenty million tons of water, creating a tidal wave that raced down the valley. Within forty-five minutes, the seventy-foot wall of water, filled with debris, smashed into the city.

The devastation was unimaginable. As the waters receded, hundreds of journalists arrived to document the disaster for the world. Their wrenching stories, photographs and illustrations captured the public's attention, and donations of money, clothing and food rapidly poured into the city. Clara Barton and members of the newly formed American Red Cross arrived to provide disaster relief. The Johnstown Flood became the organization's proving ground.
Clara Barton around 1878. She is wearing a Red Cross pin given to her for her service with the German Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War.
Clara Barton, circa 1878.

Clara Barton was born in 1821, the youngest of five children. As a young woman, she became a teacher and, later, a patent clerk at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. The turning point in Clara Barton's life was the outbreak of the Civil War. Over the course of the war, she dedicated herself to aiding the soldiers on the battlefield, and was eventually appointed the superintendent of nurses in the Union Army. After the war, Barton journeyed to Europe where she became familiar with the work of the already established Red Cross. When Barton returned from abroad, she lobbied for the establishment of the Red Cross in the United States, to provide relief in times of battle and natural disaster.
Red Cross workers running infirmaries.
Infirmaries run by the Red Cross, Johnstown, PA, 1889.

Officially established in 1882, the American Red Cross responded to several disasters before the Johnstown Flood - including floods on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, a famine in Texas, and an earthquake - but nothing of this magnitude. The immense relief efforts involved setting up hospital tents for the injured, providing food, clean water and building hotels to shelter the homeless and burying the dead. Later, prefabricated houses, known as "Oklahoma Houses" (they were designed for the settlers moving to the Oklahoma prairies) were brought in to help the town rebuild. The Red Cross contributed furnishings and domestic items to outfit these homes.

The American Red Cross's tremendous efforts at Johnstown attracted national attention and praise. Clara Barton continued as the organization's president until her retirement in 1904, after guiding the Red Cross through its first wartime experience in the Spanish American War in 1898.
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