Clara Barton, best known as a Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross, was significant in New Jersey history for beginning the first "free" public school in the state. Barton took a teaching position in Hightstown in 1851, at the urging of her friend and Hightstown resident, Mary Norton. While visiting nearby Bordentown, Barton was disturbed by the number of children she found in the streets because their families could not afford private school. Barton met with the local school committee and convinced them to let her try an experiment of educating the children with just six male students who were not attending private school in a free school in this charming red brick building on Crosswicks Street. It was so successful that by the end of the year attendance grew to 600 pupils. The town officials built a new public school, but replaced Barton as principal with a man. Feeling hurt and resentful, Barton left New Jersey for Washington, D.C.. where she founded the American Red Cross in 1881.
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