A House Undivided

Clara Barton didn’t take work home. She took home to work.

January 19, 2012

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881, which makes her use of bandages as building material only slightly less strange. This unusual touch is one reason her Glen Echo, Md., residence feels like the inside of a giant first-aid kit. Paper cut? Dig into the ceiling (don’t actually try this!) — some of it’s covered in painted cotton bandage cloth. (It was cheap, and she had a lot of it.) Blizzard? Other than not having heating, this is the place to be, what with the closets full of emergency supplies.

No boundaries between career and personal life was how the Angel of the Battlefield rolled. (That’s the badass nickname she earned during the Civil War.) She lived in the Glen Echo residence from 1897 until her death at age 90, 15 years later. It was also, from 1897 to 1904, American Red Cross headquarters and a dormitory for employees.


Clara Barton wasn’t a big spender on decor. This lamp hangs from bandages.

Backstory: In 1890, brothers Edwin and Edward Baltzley began developing a community they named Glen Echo. Hoping to lure homebuyers with a celebrity neighbor, they offered Barton land and the resources to build a home. She didn’t like the commute to D.C., and used the structure as Red Cross storage until 1897, when she finally moved in.

Tour Highlights: More pragmatic decor: The wood paneling doesn’t match, and the pretty windows are factory scraps, because Barton would use whatever she could get. In the office is a Graphophone, a recording device that Barton used to leave messages for staff. She could type, too. Barton loved her medals from foreign governments, now on view on the first floor, and would even wear them while gardening.

Gift Shop: The site’s National Park Service handbook ($9) reveals that Barton warred against aging, using tissue paper to enhance her bosom and wearing lots of makeup. For free: National Park Service Civil War trading cards, which do not include bubble gum.

Clara Barton National Historic Site, 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo, Md., next to Glen Echo Park; 301-320-1410.
Holly J. Morris is Express' managing editor for features.
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