Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas in Washington - Civil War Style

Please pardon my recent negligence - the team at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is working feverishly to build the exhibits for the new Missing Soldiers Office Museum and I recently spoke at the Historical Society of Washington's Historical Studies Conference on a different subject, which garnered a great deal of last minute preparation.  My frenzied activities reminded me of an old saying..."Be careful what you wish for..."!  Nevertheless, back to Miss Barton.

Clara Barton spent several years in Washington during Christmas, which also happened to be her birthday.  My impression from reading diaries and letters is that although she did not dislike the holiday, it wasn't very exciting to her, at least as an adult.  Of course, the Civil War era was quite stressful under the best of circumstances and her committment and frustration working to establishing a national humanitarian relief organization also took a toll on her emotions.  I regret to say that I have not had time to delve deeply into her later years - I've seen some Christmas cards from her that were quite nice in the early twentieth century.  

Description of Washington, December 9, 1861
The streets are thronged with men bright with tinsel, and the clattering hoofs of galloping horses sound continually in our ears.  The weather is bright and warm as May, for which blessing I feel hourly to thank the great Giver of all good gifts, that upon this vast army lying like so many thousand herds of cattle on every side of our bright, beleaguered city, with only the soil, for which they peril life, beneath, and the single threads of white canvas above, watching like so many faithful dogs, held by bonds stronger than death, yet patient and uncomplaining.”
Thomas Nast engraving for Harper's Weekly 1863 - a personal favorite

Letter written December 24, 1861, “…to relate of our big city, grown up so strangely like a gourd all in a night; places which never before dreamed of being honored by an inhabitant save dogs, cats, and rats, are converted into ‘elegantly furnished rooms for rent,’ and people actually live in them with all the city airs of people really living in respectable houses, and I suspect many of them do not know that they are positively living in sheds, but we, who know perfectly we what shelters them.  Well, the present aspect of our capital is a wide fruitful field for description…’

Early Santa by Thomas Nast
Greatly influenced Santa's iconic image in the US

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The High Road's A Hard Road To Travel

Dear Reader,

How is that for a nineteenth century title?  Not long enough?  How do you like The High Road's A Hard Road To Travel, or Courage Can Be A Scary Thing?  One of the idiosyncrasies of nineteenth century literature that amuses me most are those practically paragraphical titles.

Cover of a book on the history of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans
I hope this post finds you well.  I have a confession to make.  Regretfully, the other day I failed to take the high road, courage escaped me, or in reality, I rejected it.  While walking to work everyday, I pass two gentlemen who post themselves along the road.  Without fail, one wishes me a great day, the other tips his hat and greets with a smile.  Many folks I know would scoff at these men, one holds a cup out for change, the other is selling his self-published books.  What separates them from others is their offered kindness.  Although their needs are obvious, they do not press them, they offer well-wishes first and foremost.
The issue at hand is that I saw the former the other morning and he looked somewhat upset.  He was not at his normal post but may have been in route to it.  He was walking rather quickly, and did not see me as he passed.  It was cold and overcast, I thought I should ask him if he needed some kind of assistance, but I passed and went on to the office.  Later, on the way home, the pangs of guilt began to gnaw at my conscience.
One friend I have lives by a newly appointed golden rule:  What Would Clara Do?  It seems quite likely she would have taken a much more elevated path and asked the gentleman if she could relieve his upset.  I suspect she would also likely take me to task for passing on an opportunity to help my fellow man.  She would be right, of course.  It is one of the characteristics of her I admire the most.

The High Road is indeed a very difficult one.  It is inconvenient, sometimes painful, under the most important circumstances frightening and even dangerous.  I watched a segment on the news of a consultant giving advice about how to avoid being killed in a situation like the recent mall attack where terrorists killed random shoppers.  The advice was to run.  Run as fast as you can and get away or hide.  There was no mention of how to get help, help others or best practices in stopping the predators.  Where would society be if everyone took this to heart?  If there was no Clara Barton?

Still going strong at age 75

It seems to me that is why Clara Barton is a legitimate and important character to study, promote and emulate.  Her courage to take the high road should be promoted above her physical features, ability to entertain, physical agility, or even business skills and acumen.  Clara Barton stood up for civil rights, humanity and universal prosperity when others asked what they could do for themselves.  She was selfless, often pushing her physical being to absolute and long-term collapse rather than take the easy road.
This post is my penance for taking the easy road.  I hearby resolve to elevate my path to serve others.  I hope this confession may inspire one of my dear readers to do the same.  I challenge you to redeploy random acts of kindness, and remember how sad the world would be without heroes and role models of the likes of one selfless woman, Clara Barton.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Clara Barton and Nursing

Riding into work today, I started thinking (dangerous, I know) about some conversation and my work yesterday in our main office in Frederick, MD.  We were discussing unique merchandising ideas for the Missing Soldiers Office and one particular idea is t-shirts with Barton attributes screen-printed on the front.  We discussed how interesting it might be to see which attribute is most popular with visitors.  Nurse, I think, will be tops because nurses seem to be most enthusiastic as a group towards Barton, but Barton did not want to be remembered for nursing.  That led me to consider what lasting contributions Barton made to the profession. 

Ability.  It seems to me that what Barton contributed most was woman's ability to seriously contribute to the profession.  Most men and women, besides believing it unseemly to care for a strange man, also believed women weren't capable of the mental and physical aptitude required in medical care.  Barton not only showed women were capable in nursing, she also proved women could work as well as men if not better on the extremely stressful conditions of an active battlefield. Working under fire at the Battle of Antietam, her first experience in the heat of battle, she outlasted the assistant surgeons, hospital stewards and many of the surgeons, all the while suffering from symptoms she thought to be typhoid fever.  Her work went well beyond feeding, reading and writing for and other bedside care limiting nurses in long term hospitals.  Barton performed first aid, triage and sometimes transported patients from the field under fire.

Professionalism.  At the beginning of the war, Barton stated that she struggled with the propriety of a woman assisting unrelated men.  She expressed her concerns to her father, on his deathbed, and he advised her that if she acted professionally they would respect her.  Putting her fears aside to fill the great need, Barton found that her father was correct.  She treated her patients with respect and compassion, and they returned the favor.   Barton impressed the most important men - those who could give her access to the battlefield.  From her return from the Battle of Antietam until his tenure of Surgeon General ended, Barton did not have to beg William Hammond for passes to the field, he asked her to go and gave her transportation.  Barton enabled Hammond to circumvent the antiquated military system and get supplies to the field in a more timely manner.  She also respected the chain of command, requesting permission to work from the appropriate authorities, and arguing with beligerent men before going over their head.  Barton garnered cooperation at the appropriate level.  I know of only one exception and it involved timely care.

Barton's work as a nurse, along with several other capable women, led to the eventual establishment of women as nurses after the War.  Unfortunately, society pressed to reestablish former spheres of roles for women and men just after the war ended, but progressive Americans established nursing schools for women, which Barton fully supported.  As a famous humanitarian and civil rights advocate, Barton spoke at several commencement ceremonies urging women to demand acceptance and respect.  According to, over 90% of nurses today are women. Barton received many requests for support from what we call today "special interest groups" and she was honest about her priorities and ability to help her favorite causes.  While she turned down active rolls in several, she did make women in the nursing profession a priority.  I believe she would be very proud of how women have taken the challenge and proven her confidence and expectations to be correct.

Thank you to all those who serve as nurses, past and future!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The More Things Change...

I went to the Senate accomplished nothing as usual. 
--Clara Barton in her diary, Monday, January 30, 1865

With the Shutdown still bogging down Congress with little hope in sight, I am amused today reading an earlier diary entry from Miss Barton which echoes, I believe today's sentiments regarding our Government in Washington...

Thursday, April 14, 1864

This was one of the most down-spirited days that ever came to me.  All the world appeared selfish and treacherous.  I can get no hold on a good noble sentiment anywhere.  I have scanned over and over the whole moral horizon and it is all dark, the night clouds seem to have shut down, so stagnant, so dead, so selfish, so calculating.  Is there no right?  Are there no consequences attending wrong?  How shall the world move on in all this weight of dead, morbid meanness?  Shall lies prevail forevermore?  Look at the state of things, both civil and military, that curse our Government.  The pompous air with which little dishonest pimps lord it over their betters.  Contractors ruining the Nation, and oppressing the poor, and no one rebukes them.  See a monkey-faced official, not twenty rods from me, oppressing and degrading poor women who come up to his stall to feed their children, that he may steal with better grace and show to the Government how much his economy saves it each month.  Poor blind Government never feels inside his pockets, pouching with ill-gotten gain, heavy with sin.  His whole department know it, but it might not be quite wise for them to speak -- they will tell it freely enough, but will not, dare not affirm it --COWARDS!  Congress knows it, but no one can see that it will make votes for him at home by meddling with it, so it is winked at.  The Cabinet know it, but people that live in glass houses must not throw stones.  So it rests, and the women live lighter and sink lower, God help them.  And next an imbitious dishonest General lays a political plot to be executed with human life.  He is to create a Senator, some memberships, a Governor, commissions, and all the various offices of a state, and the grateful recipients are to repay the favor by gaining for him his confirmation as Major-General.  So the poor rank and file are marched out to do the job, a leader is selected known to be brave and rashness if need be, and given the command in the dark, that he  may never be able to claim any portion of the glory -- so that he cannot say I did it.  Doomed and he knows it, he is sent on, remonstrates, comes back and explains, if left alone with the responsibility on his shoulders, forces divided, animals starving, men suffering, enemy massing in front, and still there he is.  Suddenly he is attacked, defeated as he expected he must be, and the world is shocked by the tales of his rashness and procedure contrary to orders.  He cannot speak; he is a subordinate officer and must remain silent; the thousands with him know it, but they must not speak; Congress does not know it, and refuses to be informed; and the doomed one is condemned and the guilty one asks for his reward, and the admiring world claims it for him.  He has had a battle and only lost two thousand men and gained nothing.  Surely, this deserved something.  And still the world moves on.  No wonder it looks dark, though, to those who do not wear the tinsel.  And so my day has been weary with these thoughts, and my heart heavy and I cannot raise it -- I doubt the justice of almost all I see.

    Evening.  At eight Mr. [Senator Henry] Wilson called.  I asked him if the investigation was closed.  He replied yes, and that General Seymour would leave the Department in disgrace.  This was too much for my fretted soul, and I poured out the vials of my indignation in no stinted measure.  I told him the facts, and what I thought of a Committee that was too imbecile to listen to the truth when it was presented to them; that they had made themselves a laughing-stock for even the privates in the service by their stupendous inactivity and gullibility; that they were all a set of dupes, not to say knaves, for I knew Gray of New York had been on using all his blarney with them that was possible to wipe over them.  When I had freed my mind, and it was some time, he looked amazed and called for a written statement.  He left.  I was anxious to possess myself of the most reliable facts in existence and decide to go to New York and see Colonel Hall and Dr. Marsh again; make my toilet ready, write some letters, and at three o'clock retired.

I can only imagine Senator Wilson's amazement, and I'm even more amazed that he suffered Miss Barton's rants as well as he did and even came back for more. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fall, 1863

Last year, a college approached me about coming to speak this past spring about Clara Barton's experience at the Battle of Gettysburg.  I felt bad in having to inform the caller that Miss Barton was not at the battle.  She had gone to South Carolina, where her brother David received orders for duty after Senator Henry Wilson applied for a commission to make him a Captain in the quartermaster department, in hopes he could help his sister in the field.  Mr. Barton received the commission, but not an assignment to Miss Barton's favorite army - the Army of the Potomac.  He received orders for the Army of the South, headquartered at Morris Island, SC. 
Capt. David Barton, Clara Barton's older brother
Courtesy of the Clara Barton Birthplace Museum
While Miss Barton missed the Gettysburg Campaign, she was present and working for the Siege of Charleston and attack on Fort Wagner made famous in the movie Glory.  After the attack she became very ill and neglected both her diary and letter writing for some time.  Just when I thought I'd begin posting her diary entries I found that none were available.  Before she became ill, however, she did write some letters, a few are quite interesting.  She wrote the following in her diary after a social event,
I moved along to the farther end of the piazza and found Mrs. D., who soon made known to me the subject of her desires.  As I suspected, the matter was hospitals. She has been visiting the hospital at this place and has become not only interested, but excited upon the subject; the clothing department she finds satisfactory, but the storeroom appears empty and a sameness prevailing through food as provided which seems to her appalling for a diet for sick men.  She states that they have no delicacies such as the country at the North are flooding hospitals with; that the food is all badly cooked, served cold, and always the same thing -- dip toast, meat cooked dry, and tea without milk, perhaps once a week a potato for each man, or a baked apple.  She proposed to establish a kitchen department for the serving of proper food to these men, irrespective of the pleasure of the "Powers that Be." She expects opposition from the surgeons in charge and Mrs. Russell, the matron appointed and stationed by Miss Dix, but thinks to commence by littles and work herself in in spite of opposition, or make report direct to Washington through Judge Holt, and other influential friends and obtain a carte blanche from Secretary Stanton to act independetly of all parties.  She wished to know if I thought it would be possible to procure supplies sufficient to carry on such a plan, and people to cook and serve if it were once established and directed properly.  She had just mailed a letter to Miss Dame calling upon her to stir people at the North and make a move if possible in the right direction.  She said General Gillmore took tea with her the evening previous and inquired with much feeling, "How are my poor boys?"  She desired me to attend church at the hospital to-morrow (Sunday) morning; not with her, but go, pass through, and judge for myself.  In the meantime the Major came in and the subject was discussed generally.  I listened attentively, gave it as my opinion that there would be no difficulty in obtaining supplies and means of paying for the preparation of them, but of the manner and feasibility of delivering and distributing them among the patients I said nothing. I had nothing to say.  I partly promised to attend church the next morning, and retired having said very little.  What I have thought is quite another thing.  I have no doubt but the patients lack many luxuries which the country at large endeavors to supply them with, and supposes they have, no doubt; but men suffer and die for the lack of the nursing and provisions of the loved ones at home.  No doubt but the stately, stupendous, and magnificent indolence of the "officers in charge" embitters the days of the poor sufferers who have become mere machines in the hands of the Government to be ruled and oppressed by puffed-up, conceited, and self-sufficient superiors in postion.  No doubt but a good, well-regulated kitchen, presided over with a little good common sense and womanly care, would change the whole aspect of things and lengthen the days of some, and brighten the last days of others of the poor sufferers within the thin wall of this hospital.  I wish it might be, but what can I do?  First it is not my province; I should be out of place there; next, Miss Dix is supreme, and her appointed nurse is matron; next, the surgeons will not brook any interference, and will, in my opinion, resent and resist the smallest effort to break over their won arrangements.  What others may be able to do I am unable to conjecture, but I feel that my guns are effectually silenced.  My sympathy is not destroyed, by any means, but my confidence in my ability to accomplish anything of an alleviating character in this department is completely annihilated.  I went with all I had, to work where I thought I saw greatest need.  A man can have no greater need than to be saved from death, and after six weeks of unremitting toil I was driven from my own tents by the selfish cupidity or stupidity of a pompous staff surgeon with a little accidental temporary authority, and I by the means thrown upon a couch of sickness, from which I barely escaped with my life.  After four weeks of suffering most intense, I rose in my weakness and repaired again to my post, and scarcely were my labors recommenced when, through the same influence or no influence brought to bear upon the General Commanding, I was made the subject of a general order, and commanded to leave the island, giving me three hours in which to pack, remove, and ship four tons of supplies with no assistance that they knew of but one old female negro cook. I complied, but was remanded to Beaufort to labor in the hospitals there. With this portion of the "order" I failed to comply, and went home to Hilton Head and wrote the Commanding General a full explanation of my position, intention, proposed labors, etc., etc., which brought a rather sharp response, calling my humanity to account for not being willing to comply with his specified request, viz. to labor in Beaufort hospitals; insisting upon the plan as gravely as if it had been a possibility to be accomplished. But for the extreme ludicrousness of the thing I should have felt hurt at the bare thought of such a charge against me and from such a quarter. The hospitals were supplied by the Sanitary Commission, Miss Dix holding supremacy over all female attendants by authority from Washington, Mrs. Lander claiming, and endeavoring to enforce the same, and scandalizing through the Press -- each hospital labeled, No Admittance, and its surgeons bristling like procupines at the bare sight of a proposed visitor. How in reason's name was I "to labor there"? Should I prepare my food and thrust it against the outer walls, in the hope it might strengthen the patients inside? Should I tie up my bundle of clothing and creep up and deposit it on the door-step and slink away like a guilty mother, and watch afar off to see if the master of the mansion would accept or reject the "foundling"? If the Commanding General in his wisdom, when he assumed the direction of my affairs, and commanded me where to labor, had opened the doors for me to enter, and the idea would have seemed more practical. It did not occur to me at the moment how I was to effect an entrance to these hospitals, but I have since thought that I might have been expected to watch my opportunity some dark night, and STORM them, although it must be confessed that the popularity of this mode of attack was rather on the decline in this department at that time, having reached its height very soon after the middle of July.

The Storming of Fort Wagner by Allison and Kurz
Courtesy of
Barton was profoundly disappointed with Gillmore's lack of appreciation and understanding of her work, returning to Washington in January, 1864.  While transcribing this entry from Barton's cousin's biography of the extraordinary American woman, I realized there are many parallels to current events within our government.  Can you see them, too?

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Woman of Valor - Discussion Group Meeting

Most of you know that I am working on a museum project - Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office (MSO) - at 437 Seventh Street Northwest in Washington DC.  The project is progressing wonderfully and the preservation/conservation work should be completed sometime this fall.  With that in mind, several friends have begun the process of filling up on available material on Miss Barton, and asked if it weren't possible to start a "Book Social" to discuss said materials and digest different perspectives. 

Everyone is invited to attend the Social meetings beginning in the first or second week of October.  I may hold an additional meeting on a weekend.  At the initial meeting we will discuss the first chapter of Stephen C. Oates work A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War.  It is required reading for anyone conducting tours of the MSO.  It is available in our book/gift shop at all three locations.  All interested should email me at and include when/where is the best time and place to meet for their schedule.  All those who RSVP will receive an email invitation with a proposed date and time. 

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barton Hall of Fame Nominee Lucretia Mott

Clara Barton nominated Mrs. Mott for the American Women’s Hall of Fame in 1910. 

Mrs. Mott also hailed from Massachusetts, born in 1793 and lived to be 87 years old.  A Quaker, she attended Nine Partners Quaker Boarding School in a community now called Millbrook, New York.  After graduation she remained at the school as a teacher.  She married colleague James Mott in 1811 and together they had six children, all but one grew up to be active social reformers.  The family resided in Philadelphia, where Mrs. Mott became a Quaker minister and influential speaker.  She and her husband helped form several abolitionist societies in the late 1830s, making them targets of anti-abolitionist mobs.
Lucretia Mott, date unknown
Courtesy of
Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in London, England while attending the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in June 1840.  Frustrated by their inability to vote, together they held the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. 
To promote abolition in the 1840s, Mott spent time lecturing all over the country including the South.  In Washington D. C.,  40 Congressmen attended Mott’s lecture,  made to coincide with their return from Christmas recess. After her speech President John Tyler commented to her that he, "would like to hand [pro-slavery Senator]…Calhoun over to you.”  Although a prolific speaker, Mott rarely wrote down her speeches.  She did publish two, A Sermon To Medical Students in 1849 and Discourse on Woman in 1850. 

Composite of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Courtesy of
In 1864, Mott and a group of Hicksite Quakers founded Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia which is still a leading American liberal-arts institution.  In 1866, she joined forces with E.C. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone Blackwell to establish the American Equal Rights Association.  Elected the Association’s first president, the group leadership disagreed about priorities, compelling Mott to resign in 1868. 
Lucretia Mott died at her home “Roadside” in Cheltenham outside of Philadelphia in 1880 after a long successful career as a significant abolitionist and women’s rights leader.
Courtesy of Historic LaMott, PA

Monday, August 26, 2013

Women's Suffrage Speech

Today is the ninety-third anniversary of the passage of women's suffrage by Congress.  Miss Barton gave this speech on Suffrage, time and place unknown. 

I believe I must have been born believing in the full right of women to all the privileges and positions which nature and justice accord to her in common with other human beings.  Perfectly equal rights—human rights.  There was never any question in my mind in regard to this.  I did not purchase my freedom with a price; I was born free; and when, as a younger woman I heard the subject discussed, it seemed simply ridiculous that any sensible, sane person should question it.  And when, later, the phase of woman’s right to suffrage came up it was to me only a part of the whole, just as natural, just as right, and just as certain to take place.
And whenever I have been urged, as a petitioner, to ask for this privilege for woman, a kind of dazed, bewildered feeling has come over me.
Of whom should I ask this privilege?  Who possessed the right to confer it?  Who had greater right than woman herself?  Was it man, and if so, where did he get it?  Who conferred it upon him?  He depended upon woman for his being, his very existence, nurture and rearing.  More fitting that she should have conferred it upon him.
Was it governments?  What were they  but the voice of the people?  What gave them that power?  Was it divinely conferred?  Alas! No; or they would have been better, purer, more just and stable.
Was it force of arms—war?  Who furnished the warriors?  Who but the mothers?  Who reared their sons and taught them that liberty and their country were worth their blood?  Who gave them up, wept their fall, nursed them in suffering and mourned them dead?
Was it labor?  Women have always, as a rule, worked harder then men.
Was it capital?  Woman has furnished her share up to the present hour.  Who then, can give the right, and on what basis?  Who can withhold it?
In regard to my nationality, I was born in the old Huguenot town of Oxford, Mass.  My father and mother were born there.  My grandfathers and grandmothers, with two exceptions, were born, lived, died and were buried there.
There is, once in a while a monarch who denies the right of man to place a crown upon his head.  Only the great Jehovah can crown and anoint him for his work, and he reaches out, takes the crown, and placed it upon his head with his own hand.  I suspect that this is in effect what woman is doing today.  Virtually there is no one to give her the right to govern herself, as men govern themselves by self-made and self-approved laws of the land.  But in one way or another, sooner or later, she is coming to it.  And the number of thoughtful and rightminded men who will oppose, will be much smaller than we think and when it is really an accomplished fact all will wonder, as I have done, what the objection ever was.

Transcribed from a newspaper clipping at:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Clara Barton’s Top Eight American Women

In 1910, the New York World asked Barton to nominate her top eight American women for a Woman’s Hall of Fame.  She chose the following:

  Abigail Adams
  Lucretia Mott
  Lucy Stone Blackwell
  Harriet Beecher Stowe
  Frances Dana Gage
  Maria Mitchell
  Dorothea Dix
  Mary A. Bickerdyke 

Over the following weeks, I hope to report on the work each of these women accomplished to earn a place in Barton’s most admired list.  It will be interesting to see how these women compare and contrast, which begs the question, who would Barton nominate from the women who achieved great things after Barton’s death?

Our first nominee is (Mrs John) Abigail Adams.

Photo courtesy of

Born Abigail Smith in 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts, she died in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1818.  Her husband, John, was the second President of the United States and her son, John Quincy was the sixth President of the US.  Best known for her published letters to and from her husband advocating for women’s rights and giving insightful advice as his confidante, Abigail raised their six children and managed the family farm largely in his absence.   

During the organization of the nation, Adams wrote her husband,
Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
And her husband replied,

As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe, more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented.– This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and, in practice, you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight; I am sure every good politician would plot, as long as he would against despotism, empire, monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, or ochlocracy.**

The Adams’ during his Presidency
Photo courtesy of

A friend of Martha Washington, she assisted in conducting parties at the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia, and moved into the White House as first lady during its construction. 

An older Abigail Adams, while First Lady, 1797-1801
Photo courtesy of

One of the most interesting remarks found on the internet was that she did not attend school, as if that damaged the quality of her education.  During her lifetime girls generally did not receive an education, but considering the remarkable handwriting and thoughtfulness of her ideas, it seems obvious that a good education could be found outside of school, and in fact can still be found that way today. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

A New Chord Was Struck

To give my readers and idea about Clara Barton’s life in Washington during the war, I will transcribe a letter to her cousin Annie from Port Royal, Virginia, May 28th 1863 thanking her for a box sent while she was in Fredericksburg after the battle assisting the medical department.
Alfred Waud View of Fredericksburg, Virginia from Falmouth
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

My Dear Annie:

I remember, four long months ago, one cold, dreary, windy day, I dragged me out from a chilly street-car that had found me ankle-deep in the mud of the 6th Street wharf, and up the slippery street and my long flights of stairs into a room, cheerless, in confusion, and alone, looking in most respects as I had left it some months before, with the exception of a mysterious box which stood unopened in the middle of the floor.  All things looked strange to me, for in that few months I had taken in so much that yet I had no clear views.  The great artist had been at work upon my brain and sketched it all over with life scenes, and death scenes, never to be erased.  The fires of Fredericksburg still blazed before my eyes, and her cannon still thundered at my ear, while away down in the depths of my heart I was smothering the groans and treasuring the prayers of her dead and dying heroes; worn, weak, and heartsick, I was home from Fredericksburg; and when, there, for the first time I looked at myself, shoeless, gloveless, ragged, and blood-stained, a new sense of desolation and pity and sympathy and weariness, all blended, swept over me with irresistible force, and, perfectly overpowered, I sank down upon the strange box, unquestioning its presence or import, and wept as I had never done since the soft, hazy, winter night that saw our attacking guns silently stealing their approach to the river, ready at the dawn to ring out the shout of death to the waiting thousands at their wheels.

I said I wept, and so I did, and gathered strength and calmness and consciousness—and finally the strange box, which I had afforded me my first rest, began to claim my attention; it was clearly and handsomely marked to myself at Washington, and came by express—so much for the outside; and a few pries with a hatchet, to hands as well accustomed as mine, soon made the inside as visible, only for the neat paper which covered all.  It was doubtless something sent to some soldier; pity I had not had it earlier—it might be too late now; he might be past his wants or the kind remembrances of the loved ones at home.  The while I was busy in removing careful paper wrappings a letter, addressed to me, opened—“From friends in Oxford and Worcester; -- no signature.  Mechanically I commenced lifting up, one after another, hoods, shoes, boots, gloves, skirts, handkerchiefs, collars, linen,--and that beautiful dress!  Look at it, all made—who--! Ah, there is no mistaking the workmanship—Annie’s scissors shaped and her skillful fingers fitted that.  Now, I begin to comprehend; while I had been away in the snows and frosts and rains and mud of Falmouth, forgetting my friends, myself, to eat or sleep or rest, forgetting everything but my God and the poor suffering victims around me, these dear, kind friends, undismayed and not disheartened by the great national calamity which had overtaken them, mourning, perhaps, the loss of their own, had remembered me, and with open hearts and willing hands had prepared this noble, thoughtful gift for me at my return.  It was too much, and this time, burying my face in the dear tokens around me, I wept again as heartily as before, but with very different sensations; a new chord was struck; my labors, slight and imperfect as they had been, had been appreciated; I was not alone; and then and there again I re-dedicated myself to my little work of humanity, pledging before God all that I have, all that I am, all that I can, and all that I hope to be, to the cause of Justice and Mercy and Patriotism, my Country and my God.  And cheered and sustained as I have been by the kind remembrances of old friends, the cordial greeting of new ones, and the tearful, grateful blessing of the thousands of noble martyrs to whose relief or comfort it has been my blessed privilege to add my mite, I feel that my cup of happiness is more than full.  It is an untold privilege to have lived in this day when there is work to be done, and, still more, to possess health and strength to do it, and most of all to feel that I bear with me the kindly feelings and perhaps prayers of the noble mothers and sisters who have sent sons and brothers to fight the battles of the world in the armies of Freedom.  Annie, if it is not asking too much, now that I have gathered up resolution enough to speak of the subject at all (for I have never been able to before), I would like to know to whom besides yourself I am indebted for the beautiful and valuable gifts.  It is too tame and too little to say that I am thankful for them.  You did not want that, but I will say that, God willing, I will yet wear them where none of the noble donors would be ashamed to have them seen.  Some of those gifts shall yet see service if Heaven spare my life.  With thanks I am the friend of my “Friends in Oxford and Worcester.”

                                                                                                            Clara Barton

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Lady to Her Fingertips Part II

My apologies for the tardiness of this week’s post.  A recent discussion with my friend Mike Hoffman regarding Barton’s principles of humanitarian service distracted me!  I will write about that later.  Now, where were we….oh yes, physical descriptions of Clara Barton, Angel of the Battlefield.
As in my last post, William Barton figures heavily with his impression.  He wrote,
"…there was a clear-cut prominence of the chin that suggested a firm decision and a tenacious purpose.  She said to the writer, ‘Every true Barton knows how to possess an open mind and teachable disposition with a firmness that can be obstinate if necessary, and no one can be more obstinate than a Barton.’…She did not stare, but she had a habit of fixing her eyes upon an object or a persona which did not put arrogance or pretense at ease…ordinarily her look into one’s face was gentle and companionable and sympathetic.
Barton in 1838 (age 18)
…She had an almost mobid shrinking from the infliction of pain, or from the taking of life.  She was not strictly a vegetarian.  If she was at another’s table and meat was offered her, she ate it sparingly.
…From her father…[she] inherited a spirit of broad philanthropy and wide human interest.  From her mother she inherited a warm heart and a very hot temper.  It was this temper that gave her self-control.  She kept it perfectly under her bidding, and that lowered voice was the sign of mighty resolution and smouldering passion under the control of a conquering will.
Barton at the end of the Civil War
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
[She]…was a lifelong believer in woman’s suffrage.  She was a close friend and warm admirer of Susan B. Anthony, and shared her aims and hopes for her sex.  She was never as militant an advocate of the rights of women as Miss Anthony was, however.  Temperamentally she was of quite another disposition.
…Much as she prized any kind of useful knowledge, she especially admired the spirit of the pioneer, and honored the man who blazed new paths and widened the horizons of learning….
While extremely modest, Clara Barton was far from being a prude.  She was never terrified by appeals to respectability, nor could she be frightened by any warning concerning men or women whom gossip condemned.
…Clara Barton worked slowly.  While she formed her decisions promptly in emergencies, she formulated them carefully and with painful precision.  It was not by doing things easily she accomplished so much, but by rising early and working late and keeping constantly at the thing she wanted to do…
She coveted the ability to work more rapidly.  She admired that ability, and perhaps overvalued it, in others.  
Clara Barton was a self-willed woman…All the women who went to the battle-front and were worth their carfare were women of strong will….Clara Barton was a lady to her very fingertips; and she had had enough of experience in Washington among officials and men of influence so that she knew how on occasion to be much more diplomatic and gracious than most other women with her responsibilities.  Moreover, she shrank from giving pain, and was careful of her words.  But she had as strong a will as Florence Nightingale, and, while she was as a rule more amiable than that lady in her more violent moods, she got things done.  People sometimes found her arbitrary, impatient, and obstinate; had she been less so, it had gone hard with the interests which she cherished.  She was capable of being arbitrary, impatient, and obstinate, and the same is true of each of the other women whom her name calls to mind.  But among them she was not the least gentle, considerate, and self-forgetful.  She required that things should move, and move in the direction of her decision; but she was at heart, and on most occasions in her demeanor, quiet, gentle, affectionate, and calm…

Courtesy of the Universalist-Herald
One time a friend of hers recalled to her a peculiarly cruel thing that had been done to her some years previous, and Clara Barton did not seem to understand what she was talking about. ‘Don’t you remember the wrong that was done you?’ she was asked.  Thoughtfully and calmly she answered, ‘No; I distinctly remember forgetting that.’…Only baseness and treachery and betrayal of trust won her scorn…
She was modest in her dress, but she  had an eye for bright colors…she inclined to green, which she loved to set off with red.  Red was her color, and she said, the Barton rose was the Red Rose, all the way from the War of the Roses down.  She loved red roses.  She loved red apples.  She liked to wear red ribbons and trimmings.  With a background of green, red was always safe…
Something must be said about her habit of economy, and it must be said with some care lest it give a very wrong impression.  Clara Barton was economical to a very marked degree…If a valid distinction may be made between two words that are nearly synonymous, she was parsimonious, but was not penurious.  She was raised in a community and in a family where want was unknown, but where money was earned by hard work, and capital was accumulated by thrift and economy.  It was part of her birthright and of her being.  There was about her nothing that inclined her to waste or even extravagance….She economized in things she did not greatly care for that she might do the things that were to her of supreme importance…
A strong individualist, she inspired in those who came to know her well that perfect confidence and grateful devotion which are the crowning test of leadership.
Clara Barton was a woman of tact.  She needed all the tact she had and more. 
Courtesy of Clara Barton
National Historic Site
She had little love of music.  She did not sing or play any musical instrument.  When traveling abroad, if forced to attend the opera, she saved the time from utter waste by writing a home letter while singers of world-wide repute performed and sang before her.
…If Clara Barton did not care for music, she did dearly love poetry. 
…No quality in Clara Barton was more marked than the breadth of her sympathies.  She shuddered at the thought of needless pain…She did not merely sympathize with suffering; she suffered…Her sympathies were so strong that she would have been useless in the presence of danger and pain but for her remarkable self-control.  I asked her once how she acquired this, and she said it was simply by forgetting herself.  She saw something that needed to be done, and went about the doing of it so promptly, so completely absorbed by the necessity of it, that she forgot to be horrified by the sight of blood, forgot to faint as timid females were supposed to do.  Days and weeks and months and years of it she would endure and never once give way…Again and again she held herself in hand through nervous strain that would have crushed most women or men, and when it was all over went nervously to pieces.”
Courtesy of JHU Press
My favorite description of Barton comes from her neighbor at the Shaw Settlement, Mr. Horatio Taft, Esq., who rented a boarding room (most likely #7 since he describes it as a room with windows in the front).  He wrote in his diary while staying there in the spring of 1865 of Miss Barton,

Some females rode in the Review yesterday and today who I was told had been "through the War.” Some officers and soldiers wives and some "Daughters of the Regiment," who had followed their Brothers or Fathers or husbands, and shared their dangers, taking care of the wounded, and nursing the sick. One of this Class I am acquainted with, but she left the Army of the Potomac some three months ago, Miss Clara Barton of Worcester Mass. She has been known and called the "Angel of the Battlefield." She was in Fredericksburgh during the terrible "Burnside Battle" there having crossed the River on the Pontoon Bridge while the Rebels were shelling it. She was there again last summer when the City was filled with our wounded from the Battle fields of the "Wilderness." She afterwards went with the Army to Petersburgh and administered to the wounded in the field Hospitals being frequently under fire in carrying relief to the Wounded on the field. I am told that she seemed on such occasions totally insensible to danger. She is highly educated and refined, and few ladies ar[e] as inteligent as She is.

The name of my blog is actually taken from an assessment of Barton about herself.  She said that she was not a woman with more than any ordinary courage.  I beg to differ!  Barton was a woman of extraordinary courage and true to the spirit of her day, strong enough to maintain and promote her beliefs in order to make her fellow man’s life better, especially those in need.  What a world it would be if more citizens prescribed to the values Barton held dear.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Lady to Her Fingertips

Clara Barton has had many biographies written to remember her life, but in my opinion, the best is Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross, by Barton’s Cousin Rev. William E. Barton, an accomplished author.  Rev. Barton wrote this biography, using a great deal of material quoted of Miss Barton’s, after her realized Miss Barton’s authorized biography, Percy Epler, did not have access to much of her many written documents, correspondence, and speech and book manuscripts, and so the whole story did not unfold in his book.  The biography Rev. Barton wrote is almost a transcription of many of those documents accompanied with explanation and remarks about Miss Barton, who as a family member, he had spent a great deal of time visiting and conversing about “old-time” (as Miss Barton would say) memories.  The amount of quotations makes the book seem almost more like the autobiography Miss Barton never wrote, as her ever-busy schedule kept her from it.  Many of the remarks found in the book from family and friends remembering Barton gives one a familial feeling as one receives sitting on the lap of an older relative listening to stories like Miss Barton did while her father recounted his experiences in the Federal-era Indian Wars that inspired her.

Clara Barton in 1838

Rev. Barton wrote special sections at the end of his two-volume work further describing this extraordinary woman and enabling us to learn from her experiences to our benefit.  First, one will find several physical descriptions of Miss Barton, including one she wrote to a friend.  Next, some of the characteristics that helped her persevere through the trials and triumphs of her long life.  This week I will include physical remarks.  Rev. Barton wrote,

At the beginning of her public career, Clara Barton was short of stature and slender as she was short.  Her form rounded out in middle life, but she never exhibited any approach to stoutness.  She was so well proportioned as to give the impression of being taller than she was.  When she spoke in public, if she stood beside a presiding officer, it was seen that she was small of stature, but when she stood alone, she gave the impression of being, and was often described as being, above medium height.  Her maximum height, attained in adolescence, was five feet two inches in moderately high-heeled shoes.  The author measured her in her later years, and she was exactly five feet tall without her shoes.

Her carriage was erect, except for a slight stoop in the shoulders.  There never came any sag in her person, any letting down of her erect standing.  Her spine below the shoulders was carried to the end of her life as erect as in youth.  As she stood or sat, she never had the bearing of an old person.  When seated, she commonly kept her back well away from the back of the chair, depending upon nothing external to assist her in maintaining her erect bearing.

She walked quietly, deliberately, and flat-footedly.  She put her whole foot down at once.  There was a certain firmness in her gait which indicated strength of character and resolute purpose.  She did not dart or rush or drift or flutter; she walked, and her walk was of moderate speed and of marked decision. 

Her hair was brown and in her younger days she had great wealth of it.  She took good care of it; and, while there was less of it in her later years, it retained its fine texture, its soft silky wave, and its rich brown color.  The writer asked her once if she had a single gray hair.  She replied that she thought she had one, but had forgotten just where it was.

Her eyes were brown, and in some lights appeared black.  I find at least one description of her as she appeared on the lecture platform in which she was described as tall, with hair and eyes black as the raven’s wing.  The reporter is not to be blamed for his departure from truth.  She looked tall when she stood alone, and her eyes and hair appeared as he described them, when seen in some lights.

Her features were regular.  Her nose was prominent and strait.  Her mouth was large and very expressive.  Her features were remarkably mobile.  Her forehead was both high and wide, and in her middle life she wore her hair so that its full breadth and height appeared beneath the graceful parting of the hair.  In her later years her hair was combed down over the temples on either side, and remained parted in the middle.  Her chin was a very firm chin.  It did not protrude, neither did it recede.  There was not the slightest suggestion of a lantern-jaw; but there was a clear-cut prominence of the chin that suggested a firm decision and a tenacious purpose. 

Barton circa 1865

Her cousin’s generous description of Miss Barton probably would have embarrassed her.  She thought of herself as plain and practical.  To a friend she wrote,

I was never what the world calls even “good-looking,” leaving out of the case all such terms as “handsome,” and “pretty.”  My features were strong and square, cheek-bones high, mouth large, complexion dark; my best feature was perhaps a luxuriant growth of glossy dark hair shading to blackness…I never cared for dress, and have no accomplishments, so you will find me plain and prosy in both representation and reality if ever you should chance to meet either.
Barton 1878

Next week, descriptions of Barton’s personality, from several perspectives.

Barton with horse, Baba, date unknown

Monday, July 8, 2013

Friends - Honorable Charles Mason

Conducting research on Miss Barton revealed she had the best of friends in the highest of places.  I have already covered arguably her top patron, VP Henry Wilson.  Wilson was not her first friend in Washington.  While Barton used her Congressman, Colonel Alexander DeWitt, to introduce her to Washington society, Charles Mason gave Barton her first big break.  Although Mason initially planned to employ Barton for traditional reasons as a governess for his daughter, he realized after becoming more acquainted that she was well educated, articulate and had experience working in an office setting.  Mason was contemplating reforming the Office at the time, and decided to hire Barton to be his confidential clerk.  He was concerned clerks were rejecting and reselling patents for personal gain.  Barton's mission would be to review the efficiency of the Office's clerks and report her findings to him. 
Charles Mason

Charles Mason was born in Pompey, New York, the six of seven children. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1825, finishing first in his class, ahead of the legendary Robert E. Lee.  After two years as Professor of Engineers at the Academy, Mason resigned and became an attorney.  In 1836 Mason moved to Wisconsin Territory, married and acted as the governor's aide and public prosecutor.  Mason also farmed land outside of Burlington, now part of Iowa.

In 1838 Iowa became a territory and President Martin Van Buren named him chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court.  While serving, Mason wrote 166 of the territories 191 opinions.  He became famous for not following precedents.  Mason, at the direction of the territorial legislature, wrote a draft bill that became the territory's criminal code.  Although he was reappointed in 1842 and 1846, Mason resigned in 1847.  In 1848 he argued for Iowa regarding a border dispute at the US Supreme Court and won. 

In April 1853 President Franklin Pierce appointed Mason Commissioner of Patents.  There he promoted agricultural research and office reform.  Although retained by President James Buchanan, Mason left the Patent Office in 1857 after the Secretary of the Interior, Robert McClelland began to illegally interfere with Mason's work including his hiring of Barton.  Mason returned to Iowa but then moved back to Washington in 1862 to found a patent law firm, Mason, Fenwick and Lawrence. 

Patent Office, circa 1850s

Mason's allegiance to the Democratic party caused him to lose a bid for governor of Iowa in 1861.  He maintained in Richard Acton's Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, Acton quotes Mason as saying "the Union, 'can never be perpetuated by force of arms and that a republican government held together by the sword becomes a military Despotism.'"  Acton also quoted Mason's reaction to his political losses as that "' I played the game of life at a great crisis and lost.  I must be satisfied.'"

Mason residence in Burlington, Iowa

After the Civil War Mason remained active in business in Burlington.  He died there at age 77 in 1882.  It is interesting to note that although Mason was a Peace Democrat, he hired Clara Barton despite her outspoken views supporting the Republic Party and their policies.  He made her the first full-time female clerk paid the same rate as men.  His willingness to hire her is a statement to the character of both people.

Additional Reading:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ahead of Her Time?

One would think Clara Barton was a staunch liberal in her day.  Fremont was her man in politics, she admitted wholeheartedly believing in the policies of the Republican Party, all before Lincoln won election in 1860.  Certainly, her views about helping others seem to cement her on what we would consider the left politically.  She just had a rather conservative view about charity.  In a letter from Europe in 1871, Barton outlined her work in Europe assisting refugees in war-torn France (she sided with the Germans, by the way).  She stated,

At first we could only give indiscriminately to the hundreds who thronged our doors.  But, directly, I perceived that a prolonged continuance of this system would be productive of greater disaster to the moral condition of the people than the bombardment had been to their physical; that in a city, comprising less than eighty thousand inhabitants, there would shortly be twenty thousand confirmed beggars.  Only a small proportion of these families had been accustomed to receive charity, but one winter of common beggary would reduce the larger part to a state of careless degradation from which they would scarcely again emerge.  It seemed morally indispensable that remunerative [paid] employment in some form should be given them.

She made great success with her plan to organize employment for refugees and skill development for future employment. The plan was simple; the refugees needed clothing, work and job skills, so Barton decided to have them make garments, learning to sew on the job, and providing clothing for the community.  The plan revitalized the textile industry and benefited the long-term recovery of the region.  Later on in her life, she was quoted as describing her work as “a hand-up, not a hand-out.” 
Franco-Prussian War Refugees
Courtesy of

She went on during her time in Europe to become close friends of the Grand Duke and Duchess of Baden, and explained to them and other European leaders how she was spending their money to assist the French after war had left its horrible wake in their neighborhood.  Barton did not just visit and assess the challenges facing these people, she advocated for them to the leaders who would be responsible for their recovery.  To the victors of the war she wrote,
Medal received from Princess Louise of Baden
Courtesy of the Clara Barton National Historic Site
This population must always be the neighbors, if not a part, of the German people; it will be most desirable that they should be also friends; they are in distress—their hearts can never be better reached than now; the little seed sown to-day may have in it the germs of future peace or war.

Although many of Barton’s ideas such as civil rights and humanitarianism were pioneering, her ideas about charity do reflect that she was a woman of her time.  In 19th century America, industry impressed good citizens, and a dependence on charity showed lack of moral character.  Nothing showed good character more than independence and making positive contributions to society.   Today’s society does not seem so interested in moral character, but should that make Barton “old-fashioned” or out of touch with public need?  Studying psychology taught me that basic human needs never change, but the human mind is a very complicated thing, a product of our value system and life experiences.  I wonder how much we have really changed since Barton’s time.  Does she remain ahead of her time or have we passed her in social evolution?
Clara Barton wearing pansy brooch and medals received for service. 
The brooch was one of many gifts from Princess Louise of Baden.
Courtesy of Clara Barton National Historic Site