Thursday, March 22, 2012

Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office

     The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is about to gain another satellite location, the Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office, which will be located in Washington D.C.  This means I will be responsible for the artifacts at three different sites.  Overall, it’s an exciting prospect though! 

     You may recall that Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross after the Civil War.  During the Civil War she was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” in recognition of her care of the wounded soldiers and her work in getting much-needed medical supplies to the battlefields.  In 1865, she started the Missing Soldiers Office from her room in a boarding house on 7th St. in Washington D.C., and she responded to over 63,000 letters with inquiries about missing soldiers.  By 1867 she had discovered the fates of over 22,000 men. 

This is the exterior of the building which housed Clara Barton and her Missing Soldiers Office.  You can see the windows to her rooms on the third floor. 

     By 1996, the building had been abandoned for many years, and was about to be demolished.  The building is owned by the General Services Administration, and Richard Lyons, a GSA employee, happened to check the attic of the building.  He discovered several boxes of items which belonged to Clara Barton.  The plans for demolition were cancelled, and the GSA eventually approached the NMCWM to manage Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.  The agreement was approved recently, and everyone is eager to move forward.  The Clara Barton site will not be open to the public until sometime next year though, since there is quite a bit of work still to do!

Here’s one end of the room. You can see the wood floor, the horsehair plaster on the upper portion of the wall, the wallpaper on the lower portion of the wall, and the holes for the stove pipes.

     Last Friday, several of us from the GSA and the NMCWM took time to clean up the space a little.  It has many years’ of accumulated dust and dirt and it needs some repairs, but it appears pretty much as Clara left it. 

This was her door – number 9. So, now I can say that I have touched the same doorknob as Clara Barton! None of the other doors on the hall have mail slots. She had the mail slot you see in the photo cut into the door because she was receiving so many letters inquiring about missing soldiers.

     The space will be restored by professionals.  We were just there to clean up enough for a crew from C-Span to come in and film it on Monday.

The cameraman for C-Span is up on the ladder filming the attic where the artifacts were found. NMCWM volunteer, Audrey Scanlan-Teller, holds the other ladder. The large windows face out over 7th Street. You can see how much work still needs to be done!
     So, although the Clara Barton artifacts are owned by GSA, I will be responsible for the care of the ones which will be on display.  We plan on displaying a few here at the NMCWM in the near future.  Of course, most of them will be displayed at the new Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.  In the meantime, I need to assess which ones are stable enough to display and which ones need conservation work done.

Here is Clara’s original tin sign for her Missing Soldiers Office, painted in black and gold. It is currently being stored inside an acid-free box padded with ethafoam and acid-free tissue paper.  There are some scratches to the paint, but otherwise the sign is in good condition.

     I’m not going to show too many of the artifacts yet; I do want people to come visit the museum when it opens!  I’m sure I’ll be giving you some sneak peeks at the work as it progresses though.
You can see more information about Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office here:

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.


  1. Wow! Is this the same office that at one time collapsed because of the weight of all of the documents it held? I read about it in The Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. What a cool project :)

  2. I have to admit that this is a story I have not heard! I don't think it was this office though, as the floor does not appear to have had repairs made to ti.

  3. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’ s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! Janitorial Services