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  • Writer's pictureNEIA Red Cross

Clara Barton’s Words Preserved for the Digital Age to Increase Accessibility

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

What if you could meet and learn from your long-dead hero from their writings? Tawnta Staten, a grant writer for the American Red Cross Nebraska-Iowa Region, gets to do just that through the By the People project with the Library of Congress. This groundbreaking project encourages volunteers to transcribe handwritten historical documents to better preserve and allow access to them for those who cannot visit the Library of Congress in person. Historical correspondence, diaries and speeches, all available with the touch of a finger. Staten came to the project upon hearing that volunteers were needed to transcribe Clara Barton’s writings. Staten has long been a Barton fan. “Clara rolled up her sleeves 140 years ago and refused to ignore the needs of others”, said Staten. “Clara Barton is why I came to the Red Cross.”

Though the Library of Congress has been in possession of Barton’s papers for quite some time, many of them have never been transcribed. Staten and other volunteers are likely the first people to read these documents in their entirety in over a century. The preserved articles document her work on the battlefield and the founding of the Red Cross. Transcribing the volume of writing is a large undertaking. “Clara wrote every day. Diligently documenting everything”, explained Staten. “She wasn’t pleased with her writing. She never thought people would want to hear what she had to say.”

A page from Clara Barton's diary, dated March 29, 1863.

The first Red Cross publication from 1875.

What Barton didn’t realize at the time is that her experiences, her dedication to the service of others and the organization she founded that proudly lives on all over the world make her a significant woman in American history. Through her hours of transcribing Barton’s words, Staten is full of interesting stories that tell us the kind of woman Barton was. Staten described that Barton left Washington for the Battle of Andersonville. She asked for a wagon to serve those wounded at the front, but she was given a cart and a donkey. Not letting that deter her, Barton positioned herself on the front lines where she knew she was most needed.

Barton’s courage and dedication have certainly outlived her. Thanks to By the People, younger generations will have access to her experiences. Her life and work can continue to inspire people for another hundred years and more. “We have to preserve this history in a form that younger generations will latch on to”, said Staten. “I hope others will be inspired to volunteer to help transcribe history.

A tribute to Clara Barton in Tawnta Staten's office.

You can learn more about By the People and volunteer to transcribe the writings of Clara Barton and other historical figures and movements by visiting the Library of Congress.

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