Clara Barton to the Rescue

6, 7, 8

This lesson explores the contributions made by Clara Barton as a nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. Her work is an example of the women from the Industrial Era making a difference through contributions to society. This lesson incorporates a service project connecting youth to the Red Cross.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session, plus time for a service project

The learner will:

  • describe how Clara Barton helped her country and trace the beginnings of the Red Cross. 
  • conduct a blood drive or advocate for checking the organ donation box as a service learning project.
  • Notes on Clara Barton, 1821-1860 (handout below)
  • Parent Letter (handout below)
Teacher Preparation 

Arrange for a speaker from the local Red Cross to speak to the youth about the needs they address and how. The goal is to see the community as a place where needs are met.

Home Connection 

Send home the letter attached below to inform families of the blood drive. If any parents have objections to their children participating, they should be directed to call and discuss the matter with the teacher. Revisions may be made in the sample letter. Parents may also be invited to participate as either donors or volunteers.


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    Share this quote by Barbara Bush:

    “Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life's blood. But everyone has something to give.”

    Lead a discussion about bodily donations as a form of philanthropy. We define philanthropy as "giving time, talent, or treasure for the common good." Where does giving blood or signing up for organ donation on our drivers license fit in that definition?

  2. Have a speaker from the local Red Cross speak to the group about the needs they address and how. The goal is for youth to feel empowered and some responsibility to help, as well as see their community as a place where people's needs are met. Encourage them to ask questions about ways they can volunteer or advocated to help.

    Introduce background on how the American Red Cross came into existence.

  3. Using Notes on Clara Barton, 1821-1860 (handout), introduce Clara Barton. Discuss her contributions before the Red Cross and then tell how she came to establish it in the United States.

  4. Discuss the Red Cross and why it is so important. Have the youth list at least four possible situations when the Red Cross might be present to give aid.

  5. Lead a discussion about how philanthropic women like Clara Barton saw a need and made a contribution to society that affected the social climate then and now. Her work increased services provided to the public through the creation of a nonprofit group. Nonprofits rely on citizens as contributors of time, talent, and treasure to do their work.

    What can we do to support the work of the local Red Cross or other similar organizations?

    Note: listen to the experiences and connections of the youth. If they have family members with needs or personal interests, follow those leads to determine the service project related to health. 

  6. Suggest that the class consider a service project related to the Red Cross. Direct them to organize a blood drive or campaign to encourage people to sign up for organ donation. Discuss why it would be important.

  7. Brainstorm what is needed to plan and carry out a project. This may involve some research, phone calls, establishing a plan, and advertising. Put plans on the chalkboard or a large sheet of paper as they are suggested.

  8. Secure permissions from within the school and with families. 

  9. ​When completed, the youth can calculate the impact of their campaign or drive and communicate it publically.

  10. Plan a celebration and thank the Red Cross volunteers.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities and research.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      3. Benchmark MS.3 Describe the task and the student role.