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: