Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bully For Clara?

Recently it is reported in the news that workplace bullying is a reality, viz. a report that found that a former lineman for a professional football team was bullied by coworkers with the full support of the coaching staff.  The man accused of bullying the lineman claims that what happened was not bullying but a method of toughening up a player to make them more aggressive.  The investigator wrote that besides racial and sexual slurs aimed particularly at the player, his family was also threatened.  That seems to be a peculiar way of toughening one up.  It is sad to see that bullying is not just taking place in schools, but in the workplace as well. 

Workplacing bullying at its worst!

One may wonder, what does this have to do with Clara Barton?  She was famously bullied while working at the Patent Office in the 1850s.  She was the first woman to receive a permanent position at the same rate of pay as her male coworkers.  Most biographers cover the period without telling the whole story.  They wrote that the men were jealous of Barton's position and her pay since women were considered second class citizens unable to perform the tasks given men. 

As Paul Harvey used to say, "and now, the rest of the story."  In an interview with Lenora Halstead in 1890, Miss Barton gives some details of her work that shed a good deal of light about how her co-workers treated her.  She told Ms. Halstead,
The carriage of the Comm[issioner] of Patents called with the request that I sh[oul]d get in & drive down to see him. It was a most unusual thing for a woman to go to one of the Dep[ar]t[ment]s; in those days there was not a woman on their payrolls not one.  There were a few women, the d[aughte]rs and widow of a man who had died who did his work & rec’d pay in his name, but this was substitution and was almost unknown.  However, I got into the carriage & went to see the Comm. as requested.  In his room the first person I saw was an old friend of my father’s who had known me from childhood and who welcomed me cordially.  The Comm. asked me, he said after he had presented me, if I know of a man of perfect integrity & trustworthiness, whoed [sic] do some important work for him in finding out  where frauds had been perpetrated in his accounts, and I told him I knew of no such man, but I did know a woman who c[oul]d exactly serve him and he told me to send for her, & so here you are. I tried to disclaim his praises but the Comm w[oul]d  not listen to me & only asked me if I w[oul]d take the place? I said, ‘Why, I don’t know why I sh[oul]dn’t, yes, I will.” “Very well,” said he, “I am delighted to hear it now when you can come?” “There you choose, said I. “Can you stay now?” “Certainly, “ and I took off my bonnet & shawl & staid [sic].  I worked in that office from that time; I found the frauds, & my service was the first woman’s name to go on the payrolls.  It made a great commotion.  The clerks; they knew what it meant, & they tried to make the place too hard for me.  It wasn’t a pleasant experience, in fact, it was very trying, but I thought perhaps there was some question of principle involved & I lived it through. (italics mine)
Now there's the rub-- Barton stated that she was brought into the Office to investigate fraud and she found some, certainly leading to the dismissal of clerks and examiners.  The Commissioner, Judge Charles Mason, became famous as the man who reformed the Patent Office.  Evidently, Barton conducted the investigation.  It seems reasonable that these clerks were not only jealous of Barton's unusual position, but she also posed a direct threat to their employment.  That threat would certainly cause some men to react by making Barton's life miserable.  Perhaps Barton was not the sweet innocent victim of abuse that writers have made her out to be.  It does not excuse the abuse, but it does give a clearer understanding of the situation at the time.  Barton had every right to feel justified in her work exposing illegal activities in the Office, but leaving that tidbit of information out implies Barton did nothing to cause the abuse.

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Charles Mason

I have to admit, it may well be that this story lost credibility with interpreters because of the lateness of the interview.  Barton was 68 years old in March of 1890.  Any well-trained historian knows that the farther away from an event the less accurate it will be.  But then, family and friends remarked on Barton's keen mind up until her death at age 90. 

Unfortunately, there was nothing Barton could do about the bullies, but it is a shame Mason did not do anything to stop it, or some other man at the Patent Office.  Evidently, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, that is not unusual and sometimes, as in the case in football, it appears even conducted or sanctioned by leadership.  The institute points out that workplace bullying actually reduces the productivity and revenue for an organization that does nothing to stop it.  One would think that from a purely business perspective that would be incentive enough for businesses to be pro-active in preventing bullying.  Although no one should have to endure the abuse Barton did, I admire her for her determination to ignore the abuse and continue her work.  She could be one tough lady.

For more information about today's problems with workplace bullying, go to

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Little Miscommunication: Three Cheers for Clara Barton!

In 1882, a veteran's reunion group asked Clara Barton to come speak at an event.  At this time strong lobbying efforts for women's rights by Susan B. Anthony and her followers obviously annoyed some men.  According to Barton, the group reassured their membership stating,
We can promise our citizens a rare treat of patriotic eloquence such as is seldom listened to  X X  and we can assure them that there will be no cause for disappointment, they will not have thrust upon them a lecture on woman's rights after the style of Susan B. Anthony and her clique.  Miss Barton does not belong to that class of women.

As I read this, I thought about the silence before a young child screams after being hurt, pictured the steam escaping adult human ears when furious- as forceful and noisy as a steam engine's boiler being reduced, pictured the veins popping and red neck that Gen. Robert E. Lee's staff allege he displayed when highly annoyed...oh boy, this is going to hit the roof!  I was not disappointed. 

Her response:
My blood boiled as I read and faced an audience of which the most exacting speaker might be proud, not even standing room in the aisles.  And I treated them to their feast of 'Patriotic eloquence' a vim I had no power to control.  I could feel the indignation hiss between my teeth as the words rolled almost unbidden, but I held firmly to my subject till it was ended, and when they had shouted and cheered to a tiger I resumed- in the following text--

     'Soldiers, you have called me here to speak to you on the war we lived together.  I have done it.  Now I have a word for you.  I wish to read this paragraph which you have used to help fill your hall,-' I read it very slowly and distinctly.

     That paragraph, my comrades, does worse than misrepresent me as a woman, it maligns my friend and it allures the brightest and bravest work ever done in the land for either me or you.  You glorify the women who made their way to the front to seek you out in your misery and nurse you back to life.  You call us angels.  Who opened the war for us to go, and made it possible, who but that detested set of women who for years had claimed that women had rights and should have the privilege to exercise them, the right to her own property, her own children, her own home, to her freedom of action, to her personal liberty, and upon this other women have claimed the right and took the courage if only to go to a camp and drag a wounded man out of a swamp [?] and try to save him for his family and country.

     And soldiers, for every woman's hand that ever cooled your fevered brow, staunched your bleeding wounds or called life back to your famished body you should bless God for Susan B. Anthony, Cady Stanton and their followers.  No one has stood so alone, so unhelped as Susan Anthony and Soldiers I would have the first monument that is ever raised to any woman in this country raised to her, and that monument will be raised and your daughters, boys will help proudly, gratefully help to set its granite blocks for everlasting age, set it where all may see.  And I would reproduce the eloquence of Webster at Bunker Hill-, [']Let the earliest light of the morning gild it and parting long linger and play on its summit.[']

     Boy's, three cheers for Susan Anthony!

   And the very windows shook in their easements.

I believe that cleared any misunderstandings up quite well as well as establish "what class of woman" Clara Barton was, don't you?