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How Well Do You Know Clara Barton?

How Well Do You Know Clara Barton?

Children looking at National Park Service trading cards of people and places related to the Cara Barton National Historic Site

As a homeschooling family with five kids, we enjoy having the flexibility to take field trips to local places of interest throughout the year. Over the summer, it’s especially beneficial for us to break up the pool days and downtime with family adventures to educational sites. We visited the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, Maryland, for this summer’s trip. After studying American History and famous Marylanders in their homeschool co-op this past year, I found that learning about a local legend like Clara Barton would fit nicely into my children’s overall educational focus at this time.

My two girls and their homeschool friend accompanied me for the ninety-minute trek from our home in Harford County. We ventured out on a warm Sunday afternoon in July, stopping for sandwiches and car snacks before our arrival.

Two children reading info display at the historic site
Photo Credit: Lydia Browning

The kids were immediately fascinated with the impressive exterior of the building, clambering onto the porch to peer into the windows and discover what was waiting inside. My 8-year-old photographer-in-training brought a digital camera to capture her compositions and helped me collect resources from the generous sampling of pamphlets, picture cards, and brochures to take home. 

Our visit acquainted us with the dedicated and determined founder of the American Red Cross, and we enjoyed exploring the restored house that served as her warehouse, headquarters, and residence during the last fifteen years of her life. My kids experienced an interactive 50-minute tour, during which they gazed at the ceilings resourcefully lined with muslin, practiced binding their arms with strips of cloth, peeked behind hidden closets stored with medical supplies, and asked any questions that came to mind.

Children participating in activity where they learn how to bind their arms like the Red Cross would do hundreds of years ago
Photo Credit: Lydia Browning

Several other families and groups were in attendance that afternoon, demonstrating the ongoing interest in the history of this home. 

The tour and printed materials taught us about a woman who lived an accomplished, energetic life from 1821 to 1912. Driven by a selfless and relentless humanitarian resolve, she bustled around to dozens of locations locally and internationally until she ended her days in Maryland at the age of ninety. She was a woman of many hats and talents, filling valuable roles as a teacher, office clerk, war nurse, relief work director, and, most memorably, as the first President of the American Red Cross for twenty-three years before resigning at 82. She also devised ways to serve during American and international wars, promoted the rights of African Americans and women, and expanded first aid services to include natural disasters in times of peace.

Tour group inside a house listening to a park ranger presentation
Photo Credit: Lydia Browning

As a woman who pursued work with a religious zeal, Clara Barton was always on the go, and it was only when her body would break down from exertion that she’d allow herself to rest. We will certainly remember the inspiring example of Clara Barton’s compassionate and tireless work ethic.

Slightly northwest of Washington, D.C., this circa 1891 heirloom sits on a public site within the National Park System. The house is a free and accessible destination for the whole family, situated beside a large parking lot for Glen Echo Park. You could easily expand your visit by packing a lunch, exploring the historic grounds after your tour, or taking a bike ride along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail. Additionally, you could include this site in any educational tour of Washington D.C., as it resides a mere twenty minutes from the capital. Want to enhance the educational value of your visits to additional Civil War sites? Find Clara Barton printable worksheets on the website for your children to complete!

The house’s interior is open to visitors on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1-5 pm. You can attend free hourly tours on those days with a friendly and informative guide by meeting on the porch at each hour. The house is currently unfurnished and limited to the first floor due to structural concerns and ongoing funding efforts, but the interior is scheduled to be furnished again within a few years. In the meantime, you can still admire interesting features of the building’s architecture and browse images of the furniture in its usual configuration, imagining what it was like for this persevering woman to live and work there so many years ago. I would recommend this site to anyone who enjoys historic buildings, Civil War stories, medical facts, local history, or examples of heroic Americans who dedicated their lives and health to serving others.

Lead Photo: Lydia Browning

About the Author

Lydia is a Maryland local and mom of 5 who gets by on coffee and cramming her many hobbies and side jobs into the late hours of the night. She's a literature teacher, family photographer, and history lover who is always itching for a chance to tour something old and interesting. You can find her photography and adventures on Instagram at @Lydiabrowning_.

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