Clara Barton: A shining example of the success of American women

Clara Barton: A shining example of the success of American women
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Today, March 5, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) dedicated its main public gathering space in honor of Clara Barton. Perhaps best known as one of the founders of the American Red Cross, Barton also was one of the first female clerks at USPTO — at a time when only a few women worked outside the home.

Far ahead of her time, she is a shining example of the American pioneering spirit and of the empowerment the White House’s recently announced Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative seeks to foster. The initiative includes key pillars of women (1) prospering in the workforce, (2) succeeding as entrepreneurs and (3) being enabled in the economy.

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In addition to helping create the Red Cross, an enduring organization that brings humanitarian aid to thousands of Americans in need, Barton forged new methods in the nursing field. And, perhaps more importantly, she was a trailblazer for the millions of women in future generations who followed her lead, starting and building their careers in the Federal Government. Most relevant to the history of USPTO, she had deep ties to early innovation in the United States.

Born in 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts, Clara Barton’s first job was as a teacher in her hometown. Eventually, she moved to New Jersey where she furthered her education and established a free school open to all children in Bordentown. This school was so successful under her direction, it soon needed to expand. Eventually, she moved to Washington D.C. in 1855 and was hired as one of the first female clerks at the U.S. Patent Office.

Although a woman employed in government service was in itself a rarity at the time, Barton was not content in that achievement alone. She became a staunch advocate for equal pay and was one of the first women in government to receive the same salary as her male counterparts. Reflecting on this, she would remark: “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.” Barton left the Patent Office in 1857, but returned in 1860 as a copyist in hopes of advocating for more women joining public service.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, she aided dozens of men injured in the Baltimore Riot, and came to dedicate herself to helping wounded soldiers. In time, she began providing international relief to other similar efforts across the globe, used her own funds to search for missing soldiers, and advocated for prison reforms. Her efforts earned her the moniker “Angel of the Battlefield.” In 1881, she presided over the first meeting of the American Red Cross, serving as its first president.

Much has changed since Barton’s time. The USPTO is the crown jewel in the American and global innovation ecosystem. Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the USPTO processes over 640,000 patent applications and nearly 470,000 trademark applications each year, promoting the progress of innovation and entrepreneurship. The American intellectual property system is a beacon to the world, showcasing the power of democratized innovation such that any person can apply for a patent or trademark and reap the rewards of their labor.

That said, more needs to be done to broaden our innovation ecosphere, especially in view of the USPTO’s recent study on women in innovation. This study illustrates that women still comprise only a small minority of patent inventors and further highlights the untapped potential of women “to spur U.S. innovation.” The USPTO is committed to working with industry, academia and other government agencies to unleash that potential.

Clara Barton is emblematic of the contributions pioneering women have made throughout history. Far ahead of her time, she forged a path for women in government, the technology sphere, and the corporate world. The USPTO is proud to formally recognize her and ensure we continue to inspire future generations of women inventors and entrepreneurs.

Andrei Iancu is the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Laura Peter, deputy director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.