Founding the American Red Cross

Barton spent the next few years helping the International Red Cross provide food and shelter to European refugees. In 1873, she returned to the United States, where she began working to create an American branch of the international aid organization.

Over the next several years Barton worked tirelessly to see her dream of an American Red Cross become a reality. She published pamphlets that discussed the organization's philosophy and goals and talked with influential congressmen and administration officials in order to gain their support. Finally, in 1881, Barton's crusade paid off, when the American Association of the Red Cross was formally founded. One year later, the U.S. Senate ratified (officially approved) a treaty that made the nation an official member of the International Red Cross.

Over the next two decades, Barton devoted her life to building the American Red Cross into a great relief organization. She served as the organization's president from 1882 to 1904, guiding it as it provided food, shelter, and medical supplies to victims of wars and natural disasters alike. But as the years passed, criticism of Barton's leadership became quite strong. People said that she never listened to anyone else, and that she did a terrible job of recordkeeping and managing the organization's funds. These criticisms seemed to be supported by dwindling public support for the group. By 1902, dissatisfaction with Barton's domineering style and sloppy bookkeeping became so great that a group of Red Cross members made an unsuccessful attempt to remove her from office.

In 1904, continued questions about Barton's handling of the organization's finances led to a Senate investigation. The Senate cleared her of any intentional wrongdoing, but public confidence in the organization continued to decline. Weary and bitter about the whole controversy, Barton finally resigned as president of the American Red Cross on May 14, 1904. The Red Cross reorganized itself after her departure and eventually established itself as one of America's most respected relief organizations.

Barton, meanwhile, adopted a quiet lifestyle. Settling in Glen Echo, New York, she spent her days reading or working in her garden. She died on April 12, 1912.

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