Educator Clara Barton (1821-1912), an advocate of publicly funded schools, established Bordentown’s first public school in 1852. During her first teaching job in Hightstown, Barton realized the great need for free public schools in New Jersey. She traveled to Bordentown in order to secure permission from officials to build a school; so successful was her endeavor that school attendance grew to 600 by the end of the first year. The town soon voted to build a new brick school that would better accommodate the growing number of interested school children. When the building opened in 1853, a male educator was immediately hired as the school principal and paid more than twice Barton’s salary. Consequently, a disheartened Barton moved to Washington, D.C. where she trained as a nurse and later joined relief efforts during the Franco-Prussian War.
A lifelong admirer of the Swiss-inspired global Red Cross, Barton decided to introduce the organization to the United States upon her return from the war. In 1881, a 60-year-old Barton became the first president of the American Red Cross. In this role, she directed all activities, managed funds and took over most of the field relief work. Barton received over 25 decorations of honor for her service both at home and abroad. The Clara Barton School in Bordentown was restored and honored by school children in 1923.