Clara Barton, Professional Angel

Clara Barton, Professional Angel

Elizabeth Brown Pryor
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 476
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  • Book Info
    Clara Barton, Professional Angel
    Book Description:

    Widely known today as the "Angel of the Battlefield," Clara Barton's personal life has always been shrouded in mystery. InClara Barton, Professional Angel, Elizabeth Brown Pryor presents a biography of Barton that strips away the heroic exterior and reveals a complex and often trying woman.

    Based on the papers Clara Barton carefully saved over her lifetime, this biography is the first one to draw on these recorded thoughts. Besides her own voluminous correspondence, it reflects the letters and reminiscences of lovers, a grandniece who probed her aunt's venerable facade, and doctors who treated her nervous disorders. She emerges as a vividly human figure. Continually struggling to cope with her insecure family background and a society that offered much less than she had to give, she chose achievement as the vehicle for gaining the love and recognition that frequently eluded her during her long life.

    Not always altruistic, her accomplishments were nonetheless extraordinary. On the battlefields of the Civil War, in securing American participation in the International Red Cross, in promoting peacetime disaster relief, and in fighting for women's rights, Clara Barton made an unparalleled contribution to American social progress. Yet the true measure of her life must be made from this perspective: she dared to offend a society whose acceptance she treasured, and she put all of her energy into patching up the lives of those around her when her own was rent and frayed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0090-4
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Clara Barton:: Professional Angel
    • one
      (pp. 3-19)

      On a cheerless Christmas Day in 1821 Captain Stephen Barton finished his round of chores and wearily entered the house to sit by the fire. The small Massachusetts town in which the Bartons lived had not yet given up the austere customs of Puritan times, and he looked forward to a quiet evening rather than a gay holiday celebration. He leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs, only mildly disturbed by the voices of his wife and a female cousin in the adjoining bedroom. But the commotion increased, and the cousin finally emerged in a flutter to...

    • two
      (pp. 20-31)

      Clara stood by the large stone fireplace in her family’s house and trained frightened and questioning eyes on the assembled Barton family. “But what am I to do with only two little old waifish dresses?” she asked. Her cousin Julia recognized at once that Clara was right—with her new occupation as teacher she needed an image that would inspire confidence and respect, especially since her appearance was so small and childlike. Convinced that clothes would indeed make the woman, the women of the house began lengthening skirts and putting up hair—a bustle of activity aimed at making the...

    • three
      (pp. 32-38)

      On a blustery day at the end of December 1850, Clara Barton tucked herself under the lap robes in her brother Stephen’s sleigh and set off for the Worcester train depot. Her heart felt as cold as the frozen ground, for she at last realized that if she was leaving scenes that worried and oppressed her, she was also leaving her family and all that had been familiar and comforting.¹ It was, moreover, a bad time to leave Oxford. Her mother had been sick, indeed “quite feeble,” for much of the year and did not sustain much hope of recovering.²...

    • four
      (pp. 39-54)

      Clara’s visit to the Learneds lasted only a few months. In the hazy days of late summer 1851 she returned to her family at North Oxford, still without plans and in a depressed state of mind. Despite her fine scholarship in Clinton, she had been forced to leave before completing the entire course, and for the remainder of her life she considered her education lacking. Though others would view her as learned and erudite, Barton felt that her formal instruction had been rather haphazardly won. She would fill every little gap between jobs or while ill with study. When well...

    • five
      (pp. 55-72)

      In her hasty departure from the rivalries in Bordentown, Clara Barton herself seems hardly to have known why she headed south. “I wanted the mild air for my throat,” she later claimed, stating that she believed Washington to be the furthest point south an unescorted woman could go with propriety. At other times she maintained that the decision was influenced by her interest in politics or the presence of the Library of Congress in the capital. Since the library offered her access to a greater variety of materials than she had ever before encountered, Barton hoped to spend her time...

    • six
      (pp. 73-86)

      In rooms that were the “cosiest and prettiest that one could ask,” Clara pondered and recovered, let the Bertrams wait on her, worried about Irving, weighed her options. Still “weak and bilious” in August but gaining strength, she was determined to go back to New York City, trade her accounting skills to the business world, and rely on friends, not family, for support.¹ Outside events, however, influenced her to follow a different course. Through circumstances that are not altogether clear, for her correspondence was minimal during these uncertain months, Barton was recalled to her post in the Patent Office. After...

    • seven
      (pp. 87-107)

      Colonel Daniel H. Rucker scanned the crowded waiting room of his office somewhat impatiently. It was a hot July day and the quartermaster’s office was, as usual, filled with petitioning citizens and irate soldiers, who had come to leave baskets for favorite sons or brothers, collect their back pay, or angrily demand remuneration for property confiscated or damaged by the Union army. The sea of faces had paraded by Rucker for so many days now that he had stopped seeing them individually, and although he was a kindly man, with a genial face and comfortable stomach, he could no longer...

    • eight
      (pp. 108-133)

      During the winter of 1863 Barton followed the example of the Union army by settling into sluggish semiactivity. She shared with the soldiers a bone-weariness, and like them she spent the dreary months living on memories of the past and expectation for the spring campaigns. She had neglected herself, her clothes, and her surroundings, but those seemed of small consequence after the privation she had witnessed. Indeed, she wore her shabby dress with pride, feeling it was one more link between her and the tattered foot soldiers. “I am glad too that I have not time always to make me...

    • nine
      (pp. 134-154)

      In her sorrow Barton once again instinctively turned to work for comfort and escape. She had won Lincoln’s approval for her plan to work with released prisoners of war, and his word was, if anything, more revered now than before his death. His legacy to her had been a scrap of paper that read:

      To the Friends of Missing Persons:

      Miss Clara Barton has kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please address her at Annapolis, giving her name, regiment, and company of any missing prisoner.


      A. Lincoln¹

      Armed with this letter and a vague notion...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • ten
      (pp. 155-174)

      The customs officers who scanned the lines of people trooping off of theCaledoniaat Glasgow probably failed to notice a woman of forty-eight, plainly attired in black silk and accompanied by her sister. Her passport, too, gave little reason to pay her special attention. It described her without flattery as five feet five inches tall, with brown hair, brown eyes, a prominent nose, large mouth, broad chin, sallow complexion and oval face. Barton was tired and sick after the two-week ocean voyage and in no mood for a grand tour. The doctors had ordered her away from the scenes...

    • eleven
      (pp. 175-186)

      Seasick, worn, and more than a little anxious, Clara stepped from theParthiato pier 59 of New York’s bustling harbor. To her surprise, it was crowded with friends and well-wishers. Eyewitnesses on the pier reported that Barton looked so well that her friends banished their fears that she had become a tottering old woman and welcomed her back into their productive midst.¹ Before she left New York she was honored at a “brilliant reception” given in the Fifth Avenue home of Clarence Lozier, a prominent doctor whose wife was on the board of the Woman Suffrage Party of New...

    • twelve
      (pp. 187-211)

      Throughout 1876 and 1877 Barton’s health and spirits continued to improve. Doctors Austin and Jackson still supervised her recovery. They encouraged Clara to participate in outings and programs at the sanitarium, to fill her house with congenial company, and to limit her activities to those that required little mental or physical exertion. As always, she had to guard against an inclination to overwork the minute she felt a little recovered. “I find it a difficult problem to solve, how to bring myself down to the necessary economies of my present condition,” Barton admitted. “I cannot realize that a few hours,...

    • thirteen
      (pp. 212-231)

      In the early spring of 1882, amidst piles of telegrams, letters, and cards congratulating her on her unparalleled achievement in bringing the United States into the Red Cross, Clara Barton sat contemplating her future and that of the fledgling society she had formed. Having “worked so hard and done so much for y[our] country, as well as for the benefit of all others,” the Grand Duchess Louise had proudly written, “must have given you great happiness.”¹ This is hardly how Barton would have characterized her mood. She was only too aware that the struggle to keep alive her ideal had...

    • fourteen
      (pp. 232-262)

      Of course the American Red Cross suffered while Clara Barton was managing the prisoners at Sherborn. She had been concerned about this when she reluctantly agreed to take the position, and the problems of the emerging organization continued to nag at her throughout 1883. Yet she could not bring herself to give up its leadership, even temporarily. Soon after her arrival at the reformatory she decided she would not “neglect it, but simply … add this charge to it, and conduct the two.”¹ Barton obtained permission from the prison committee and Governor Butler to hire John Hitz or someone else...

    • fifteen
      (pp. 263-295)

      Barton’s arrival in Washington was greeted by a cheering throng, which had gathered at the Willard Hotel to honor her. But though the applause for Red Cross activities at Johnstown ended after the November 2 reception, the work did not. For nearly a year Barton was pressed to answer requests for information, work out financial details, and finish the packing of supplies.¹ The stickiest problem involved the three Red Cross hotels. Once the organization had built the hostelries and turned them over to private landladies to run, Barton considered its role finished. But the location of the buildings, rumors of...

    • sixteen
      (pp. 296-324)

      The Turkish field had not yet really closed before press and public invited—indeed required—Barton to take up a prolonged mission in Cuba.

      For nearly two years Americans had trained their eyes to this neighbor some ninety miles from their shores. In 1895 the Cubans had staged a revolution against the colonial rule of Spain, but the insurgents had lost and the despotic policies against which they were fighting were strengthened. To show their displeasure and to attract the attention of the United States, the rebels destroyed property and planned guerrilla raids on Spanish military fortifications. To check the...

    • seventeen
      (pp. 325-354)

      On June 6, 1900, President William McKinley signed a bill that incorporated the American National Red Cross and gave a measure of protection to its insignia. It had been rather hastily put together in the beleaguered days following the Spanish-American War, when Barton feared that the New York Red Cross or another outside group would take over the nation’s relief work, and she had done much of the lobbying for it herself. For six months she wearily traveled the sixteen miles to and from Washington each day, while the legislation went from committee to committee and from Senate to House...

    • eighteen
      (pp. 355-372)

      In the weeks following her resignation from the Red Cross, Clara Barton frequently grieved over the estrangement as if it were the loss of a child. Like a young adult who abruptly cut the ties to his mother’s apron strings and independently denounced her tastes and habits, the organization had drifted forever beyond her control. It was the personal rejection that hurt her, Barton told one acquaintance, for she had long believed the Red Cross was ready to make its own way in the world. But after so many years of nurturing the infant body, it was difficult to watch...

  6. abbreviations
    (pp. 373-374)
  7. notes
    (pp. 375-436)
  8. index
    (pp. 437-444)