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



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Old Dog Discovers New Tricks in Washington DC

As part of the research to properly interpret Clara Barton and develop programs for the new museum, David and I have begun to study Washington history in detail to test for the city’s tour guide license.  We plan to give tours related to Barton’s time in Washington for visitors beginning this summer.  My friend and museum supporter Debra Friedmann, a licensed guide and Guild of Tour Guides Vice President is working with us to develop the tours.  The discoveries made during this process are fascinating, and I thought I knew a great deal about the District of Columbia!

Panoramic view of Washington City from Capitol building
Did you know that there are two underground art galleries between the Smithsonian Castle and the Arts and Industries Building?  I didn’t.  The Arthur Sackler Gallery, home to an ancient Chinese collection, a gift to the Smithsonian in 1982, is one.  The National Museum of African Art, home to a collection primarily from Benin (now Nigeria) is the other.  I’m looking forward to seeing these collections! 

Undated glass negative of the Smithsonian Castle
part of CBMSO Collection
Courtesy of US Gen. Services Administration
In correlation to Clara Barton, I found that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing did not print the Missing Soldier Rolls.  I am hoping the Government Printing Office, who did print them, has a copy!  I am on the hunt for a complete set.  Places Barton often visited are an area of intense interest.  Luckily, I have been able to identify the locations of many of these places.  Barton actually had several different residences in Washington.  Her home at Glen Echo was out in the country when she lived there, not in Washington proper. 
Clara Barton's Boarding House on 7th Street
Courtesy of Adele Air
Also new to me is the term Beaux Arts architecture.  I always thought of the buildings on and around the Mall as classic revivals based on the Greeks and Romans.  I found that historians consider several of these buildings Beaux Arts, a popular style in the late 19th /early 20th century.  The Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, completed in 1897 is an example of this style as well as the West National Gallery of Art building, Union Station and the National Postal Museum.  
Union Station
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons
If any reader feels compelled to place a comment about something amazing they learned about DC, I'd love to hear about it, so please comment!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It All Started Here

Clara Barton’s boarding house was not the first place she opened the Missing Soldiers Office.  The first place, in fact, was an office in Annapolis, MD, where Barton first proposed to locate missing soldiers for their families at Camp Parole.  The camp, opened in June 1862, it was one of the ideal places to begin searching records and interviewing witnesses.  After Camp Parole’s closing, Barton worked from the former Custis estate, Arlington, in Virginia.  May of 1865 is the first we have on her making some rooms in “Shaw’s Settlement” (the nickname given by boarders in the space) on 7th Street in Washington the office. 
Engraving of Camp Parole
Camp Parole began as a holding place for paroled prisoners waiting for their official exchange between the two belligerent governments fighting the Civil War.  Initially, the military allowed these soldiers in limbo to go home on furlough to await their formal exchange.  After a period, the War Department noticed an alarming amount of desertions among the recovering prisoners and decided to limit their movement so they were within an arm’s reach during the suspense.  Camp Parole’s function became a prison for prisoners of war from their own army.

St. John’s College in downtown Annapolis became the Camp’s first location.  There a hospital was set and tents erected as barracks, but it did not take long for the college to become overwhelmed with soldiers.  Next, Camp Parole moved to a space further from town, along the intersection of Forest Drive east of Bywater Road (now a small shopping center), and lastly 250 acres on Old Solomons Island Road (MD Rt. 2) south of West Street (MD Rt. 450) over to Chinquapin Round Road.  As the Union army gained control of more of the South, numbers necessarily increased.  While the population ebbed and flowed, the military built the camp to hold up to 10,000 men.  Barton described her situation as receiving an office with some assistants and supplies.  Her main source for information came from prisoners waiting for dispensation.  She remained at Camp Parole until the facility closed, and then returned to Washington.
Photo of Barracks at Camp Parole

Being held at the Camp really was not too bad.  Soldiers received medical care, ample food, new clothing and visits to the town.  Sgt Barbar, of the 15th Illinois Infantry Regiment, recorded after arriving at Annapolis,

Arose early, after a good night’s rest.  Ate breakfast and then marched to the parole camp, three miles south of the city.  It was a splendid camp, well and tastefully arranged, alid out in regular streets, excellent barracks, warm and well ventilated, with cook houses, etc…Passed my first night in a parole camp and it proved pleasant and agreeable.  Arose early, answered to roll-call and then took breakfast, which consisted of soft bread, boiled bacon or beef and coffee.  For dinner, we had bread and bean soup.  The sanitary commission has been busy all day distributing needful articles amongst the prisoners, such as thread, paper, envelopes, combs, etc.  A large sutler’s stand is also on the ground.  A large washhouse nearby which contains fifty tubs and other accommodations for washing clothes.  The whole camp presents a neat and wholesome appearance, the streets being wide and kept perfectly clean.

In August 1864, Grant suspended paroles and exchanges, leading some men to despair such as  Francis Reed, a parolee from Pennsylvania who wrote,

We arrived here yesterday morning, we heard the exchanging has been stoped[sic].  We are all very anxious to be exchanged to go back and square accounts with some of the rebels in the vicinity of Murfreesboro.  We are entirely out of money.  The rebels took all my clothes they did not leave me anything except what I had on, I have no change and I am pretty dirty.  If we do not get exchanged I shall try to get a furlough from here in a few weeks.  All are anxious to be exchanged, we have sent several petitions to Secretary Stanton asking to be exchanged, but no attention is paid to our petitions.  I have wrote to the Captain to go to General Commanding the Western Division to have us exchanged, but have received no answer yet.  I only wish we could get out of this place.  Never have I been so discouraged as since being here.  Everyone is dissatisfied all want to go home or be exchanged.  So there is continual growling, we are comfortabley [sic] quartered now, the boys will all have blankets and tomorrow they will all get a new suit from head to foot.

Oliver Ornsby of the 149th NY could hardly disagree.  He wrote his parents,

We have got a new Colonel to command the camp here.  He has put a guard around the camp and lets no one go out of camp without a pass from him.  The men have been allowed to go out of camp when they liked, but as our new Col. Wants to show some authority I suppose we will have to stay around HOME as we call it, for the soldiers call every place home where they must leave their blankets overnight. 

Photo of a Prisoner of War Record
Camp Parole continued to accept paroled soldiers up to May of 1865.  The Army abandoned the post and eventually  tore down all the buildings, the wood reused to build housing for freedmen in the area.  According to military records, the army processed around 70,000 soldiers through Camp Parole.  Although the location received recognition as a National Historic Site, Anne Arundel County decided to develop the land in 1994 and it now contains a shopping center and apartment building. 
Sign marking the site

Anecdotally, although Dorence Atwater, who had a copy of the deaths at Andersonville, processed through Camp Parole, he did not meet Clara Barton there.  He contacted her after seeing her plea for information in a newspaper in June 1865.
Work cited:  Roblyer, Michael R. “The Civil War In Annapolis, Part VII: Union Soldiers at Camp Parole”. Anne Arundel County History Notes, April 2006, pp. 3-4, 13.   
The National Cemetery in Annapolis
James Donelson (grave in center) died while Barton was at Parole