Margaret M Allemang Centre for the History of Nursing
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Margaret M. Allemang Centre for Nursing History

Editor: Natalie Riegler, RN, PhD. 3 Dromore Crescent, Willowdale, Ontario, M2R 2H4.
TEL: 416-221-5632 E-MAIL: <>.


BOOK REVIEW: By Natalie N. Riegler

Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Clara Barton: Professional Angel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988. 444pp. illus.

If politics at work are getting you down or you wonder how you survived the power plays when you were working take a moment and find out how Clara Barton persevered. Clara toiled first, as a teacher, until she was refused the principalship of the school she had founded, because she was a female; then, as a successful clerk in the Patent Office, until she was demoted to the position of copyist because she was a woman; and finally as the initiator of the American Red Cross. She spent more than a quarter of a century singlemindedly and often at her own expense fighting to have the federal government recognize the International Red Cross Society and ultimately her organization, the American Red Cross, only to be turfed out at the end by dissension between herself and members of some of the Society's branches. Despite all these hassles Barton left the United States a memorable gift, the American Red Cross Society.

In this well documented book Pryor has chosen to let Barton's diaries speak for Clara and only periodically comments on an event or statement. But she does intermittently remind the reader that Barton may have slanted her diary entries to her benefit or written what she believed or wanted to believe was true. Pryor was very fortunate to find a protagonist who lived in the period when women kept diaries in which to express their thoughts and emotions. The diaries were discovered while Pryor was curator of the Clara Barton house in Glen Echo, Maryland and these form the basis of this new biography. Barton's first biography was written in 1915 by the Reverend Percy Epler, who knew her. His book was based also on Barton's own words but he had to find them scattered throughout unpublished manuscripts.

Whereas Epler focused on Barton's achievements, Pryor has emphasized "her intriguing and complex personality." She shows Barton to be a person of paradox: frightened but confident, fearing failure but having a long list of accomplishments and working for multitudes of destitute people but dying alone. Interwoven with Barton's important career events are the periods of anxiety and "chronic depression" from which she suffered all her life. When Clara wasn't in the midst of providing assistance to the wounded and needy or caring for family members she would begin to question the purpose of her life and inevitably would develop a sense of despair. In taking this approach and using Barton's own words, Pryor has compressed so much detail and angst within the 372 pages of text that I found myself emotionally exhausted by the time I had finished reading it.

Barton's "identity was completely tied to her career." She was born in 1821 and at an early age found that "diligence and usefulness" was a means of gaining favour and defining her worth. At first she thought that being a teacher would satisfy her need for responsibility but with success came dissatisfaction and in 1850 she took further education. Unfortunately, after graduation she found that the only careers available to her, as a female, were teaching, factory work or domestic service. She went back to teaching but this time established a school which provided public education in the community. However, the school became so successful that the community decided it should be headed by a male principal, not by Clara Barton.

Barton left the school and in 1854 obtained a position as a clerk in Washington, DC. Once again she experienced bias because of her gender. When her male mentors in the Patent Office left, she was demoted to being a copyist. Though she lost this job in 1857, Clara was eventually recalled and returned to Washington on the eve of the Civil War.

It was her experience in the Civil War which made Barton realize the need to supply the wounded with provisions. At the beginning, it was the injured soldiers returning to Washington where there were no hospitals, barracks or supplies; at the end, it was the needs of the released war prisoners and families looking for their missing relatives. She set to work to fill this gap in the health care system. To the front line she brought surgical dressings, bandages, salves and stimulants for the surgeons; and to the wounded she conveyed sheets and clothing, mended socks and wrote letters. Barton never saw her work as nursing; this she left to women like Dorothea Dix, who headed the Department of Female Nurses, and Mary A. Livermore, who, in directing the Western Sanitary Commission, staffed the hospital ships. Similar to Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, Barton was adored by the common soldier; and, also like her, found her work becoming "blocked," in this instance, by medical directors and nursing superintendents. In 1869, the war having come to an end and herself in a period of inactivity, Clara sailed for Britain and Europe.

In Geneva, Barton heard about Henri Dunant's exploits. Dunant had called a convention of sixteen nations in 1863 and in the following year had had the Treaty of Geneva signed by eleven countries; the United States had not been a signatory. The treaty provided for neutral professionals and volunteers, ambulances and field hospitals in time of war to care for the wounded. After participating with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war, Barton returned to New York in 1873. Once again her health broke down and she spent several years convalescing. But the outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey in 1877 rekindled Clara's interest in Red Cross work and off she went to the war zone.

This time when she arrived home Clara commenced her struggle to bring the country into the International Red Cross. She raised funds when and where she could, otherwise the expenses were paid for from her own monies. In 1882, after demonstrating the effectiveness of the Red Cross in the Michigan fire disaster (where nearly 500 lives were lost), Barton was successful in having the Senate ratify the Treaty of Geneva.

Now, at sixty years of age, and having begun to see her work as a "divine appointment," Barton spent the next two decades establishing the organization on a permanent basis. She toiled for finances, recognition of the American association "as the official representative of the Geneva Convention in the United States" and the development of chapters throughout the nation. Only when disasters struck, such as, the Mississippi river floods, could she rally support and gain "new converts" to the Red Cross.

Though physically and emotionally exhausted after assisting at the Ohio River flood of 1884 Barton found time to attend the Third International Conference of the Red Cross in Geneva. Her personal accolades at the meeting were seen as "a larger triumph for women": it was "a novelty" for the audience to have a woman, representing the United States, on the platform with the male dignitaries. Pryor closes the chapter with a negative incident for nursing. Barton's Red Cross was tarnished with a scandal, caused by nurses, in August 1888, at the yellow fever epidemic near Jacksonville, Florida. The nurses were charged with drunkenness, appropriation of Red Cross funds and prostitution. It had been the organizations "first experiment in actual nursing services" but fortunately it would not be the last.

During the years of 1889 to 1896 Barton dealt with the flood at Johnstown, Pennsylvania and continued to fight for incorporation of the American Red Cross by Congress (an action which would have given the Society, "sole and absolute authority to aid the military in case of war" and, an annual budget). Meanwhile, dissension was brewing within the branches of the Red Cross: business men, government officials and philanthropists were protesting the "lack of reports, financial disarray" and her "highhanded methods." The powerful Philadelphia branch had begun to "communicate directly with the International Committee in Geneva and to consider conducting an investigation" into Barton's activities. Disregarding these weaknesses, which she saw as public relation matters, Barton sailed for Turkey to help the Armenians in 1896. She returned later that year in time for the Cuban crisis.

At the age of seventy-seven, Clara embarked for Cuba. She took supplies and a contingent of twenty-five trained nurses. Despite the refusal of the army to have female nurses in the field and the lack of government support for the American Red Cross, Barton had a glorious moment when she sailed into Santiago with the American ship; her prime purpose, to help the starved and ill civilians.

Upon her return to the States, in 1898, Barton was confronted by the increasing political forces within the Red Cross: the committees in New York, California, Washington State and Minnesota were operating independently of the national association. No matter how much she was honoured in the field, the organization remained divided. While the Board of the Red Cross was disputing her integrity, Barton succeeded in having the American Red Cross Society incorporated on June 6, 1900. Though she did win the battle with her Board regarding her accountability she no longer had the enthusiasm for the routine administration.

On May 14, 1904, at the age of eighty-three, she resigned from the Red Cross with a sense of "personal rejection." Fortunately, the opportunity arose for her to work with the recently formed National First Aid Association. This was an interest she had developed in 1884. It was patterned on the English idea of teaching first aid: a program to "teach citizens to give basic emergency care to accident victims." Her next five years would be spent on this concern. Throughout her life, Barton had suffered periods of ill-health and in 1912 she succumbed again to pneumonia. Several months later, having never recuperated, she died at the age of ninety-one.

The reader cannot help but be impressed by Barton's energy and persistence in the face of the difficulties she met: the societal expectations for women, the political jealousies of Red Cross workers, the bias of men with whom she worked and her own health status. Pryor has

written it well. She has interwoven Barton's words into a coherent story. The one weakness is that it might just be too much detail.



Canadian Association for the History of Nursing

CAHN/ACHN is calling for papers for the June 1991 conference in Kingston, Ontario. Deadline for abstract submission is February 3, 1991. If interested contact Joyce MacQueen, 220 Ste. Anne Road, Sudbury, Ontario, P3C 5M3. 705/673-7897.

International Conference on Nursing Research

Title: "Voyage into the Future through Nursing Research."

Place: Columbus, Ohio, USA.

Time: May 19-22, 1992.

Calling for Abstracts for paper or poster sessions. Research reports may include historical, philosophical or ethical enquiry. Symposia may focus on significant issues for patient care, the nursing profession, nursing education, administration, etc.

Deadline: February 15, 1991.

Write to: Ohio State University, Department of Conferences and Institutes, P.O. Box 21878, Columbus, Ohio 43221, USA or call 614/292-1301 (for program information) or 614/292-4230 (for registration information)



Qualitative Health Research

If you wish information about publishing in this new journal contact: Janice M. Morse, RN, PhD,


Faculty of Nursing,

University of Alberta,

Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G3.

403/492-6250 (phone); 403/492-2551 (fax).

This is an international, interdisciplinary journal published by SAGE Publications, Inc. The first issue will be January 1991.



Coburn, David. "The Development of Canadian Nursing: Professionalization and Proletarization." International Journal of Health Services 18 3 (1988): 437-456.

Hezekiah, Jocelyn A. "Nursing Leadership and the Colonial Heritage." Image 20 (Autumn 1988): 155-158.

. "Post-Colonial Nursing Education in Trinidad and Tobago." Advances in Nursing Science 12 (January 1990): 28-36.

MacQueen, Joyce M. "Who the Dickens Brought Sarai Gamp to Canada?" The Canadian Journal of Nursing Research 21 (Summer 1989): 27-37.

Riegler, Natalie N. "Lytton Strachey's Biography of Florence Nightingale: A Good Read, A Poor Reference." In Florence Nightingale and Her Era: A Collection of New Scholarship, ed. Vern L. Bullough, Bonnie Bullough and Marietta P. Stanton, 60-74. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.

Young, Judith. "Women Founders, Nurses and the Care of Children at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto 1875 to 1899." In Florence Nightingale and Her Era: A Collection of New Scholarship, ed. Vern L. Bullough, Bonnie Bullough and Marietta P. Stanton, 309-322. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.



Correction in date of publication. Fildes, Valerie A. Breasts, Bottles and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1986.

Bator, Paul A., and A. J. Rhodes. Within Reach of Everyone: A History of the University of Toronto School of Hygiene and the Connaught Laboratories. Ottawa: The Canadian Public Health Association, 1990.

Buhler-Wilkerson, Karen. False Dawn: The Rise and Decline of Public Health Nursing, 1900-1930. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989.

Bullough, Vern L., Bonnie Bullough, and Marietta P. Stanton, ed. Florence Nightingale and her Era: A Collection of New Scholarship. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.

Cadogan, George, ed. Mary Seacole: Jamaican Nightingale. Stratford, Ontario: Williams Wallace Publishers, 1989. (This is a reprint of, Mary Seacole. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. London: J. Blackwood, 1857.)

MacDougall, Heather. Activists and Advocates: Toronto's Health Department 1883-1983. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1990.

Solomon, Susan Gross, and John F. Hutchinson, ed. Health and Society in Revolutionary Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University press, 1990.

Wertz, Richard W., and Dorothy C. Wertz. Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America. Expanded Version. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.



Montagnes, James. "Stamps: New Zealand to Issue Heritage Series." The Toronto Star 12 May 1990, H6.

Grace Neill is one of the six achievers to be featured on New Zealand's heritage series issued May 16, 1990. She "initiated the registration of nurses in New Zealand and set up the first state maternity hospital at Wellington in 1905."



Baldwin, Douglas. "Discipline, Obedience and Female Bonding: Mona Wilson at Johns Hopkins School for Nurses 1915-1918." To be presented May 25, 1990 at the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine at the Learned Societies 1990.

McPherson, Kathryn. "Rituals and Resistance: Nurses' Work in a Canadian Hospital, 1920-1939." To be presented May 25, 1990 at the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine at the Learned Societies 1990.

Stuart, Meryn, RN, PhD. "Who Becomes a Nurse? Lessons from the Early Twentieth Century on Recruitment and Retention of Nurses." To be presented May 25, 1990 at the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine at the Learned Societies 1990.

Meryn Stuart will chair the session on The History of Hospitals on May 27, 1990 at the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine at the Learned Societies 1990.



1991, June. Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for the History of Nursing/Association Canadienne Pour L'Histoire Du Nursing (CAHN/ACHN) in Kingston, Ontario.

1991. Eighth Annual Conference of the American Association for the History of Nursing (AAHN) in San Francisco, USA.

1992, June. Annual Meeting of the CAHN/ACHN and the Ninth Annual Conference of the AAHN in Saint John, New Brunswick.

1993, Tenth Annual Conference of the AAHN at the University of Pennsylvania.



Church, Olga Maranjian. "Historiography in Nursing Research." Western Journal of Nursing Research 9 (May 1987): 275-279.

Glass, Laurie K. "Uncle Sam Needs Nurses--One Woman's Response." Western Journal of Nursing Research 10 (June 1988): 356-359.

Goutor, Jacques. Writing History. Approaching Ontario's Past Series. Number 6. Willowdale, Ontario: The Ontario Historical Society, 1985.

Hitch, Celia, and Jay Norris. Conducting an Oral History Interview. Approaching Ontario's Past Series. Number 7. Willowdale, Ontario: The Ontario Historical Society, 1988.

Lippman, Doris Troth, and Karen Stonkas Ponton. "Designing a Research Poster with Impact." Western Journal of Nursing Research 11 (August 1989): 477-485.

Noel, Nancy L. "Biography or `Women Worthies' in Nursing History." Western Journal of Nursing Research 10 (February 1988): 106-108.

Sorenson, Elaine Shaw. "Archives as Sources of Treasure in Historical Research." Western Journal of Nursing Research 10 (October 1988): 666-670.

Styran, Roberta M., and Robert R. Taylor. How to Produce Your Own Audio-Visual Show. Approaching Ontario's Past Series. [Number 7]. Willowdale, Ontario: The Ontario Historical Society, [1984].

Tornquist, Elizabeth M., Sandra G. Funk, and Mary T. Champagne. "Writing Research Reports for Clinical Audiences." Western Journal of Nursing Research 11 (October 1989): 576-582.



Brunner Fellowship. Application Deadline is 31 December 1990.

Lillian Sholtis Brunner Summer Fellowship for Historical Research in Nursing offered by the Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. Six to eight weeks of residential study, working under the general direction of the Center's nurse historians. Applicants for the $2,500. Brunner Fellowship should contact Joan Lynaugh, School of Nursing, Nursing Education Building, University of Pennsylvania, 420 Service Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6906. 215/898-4502.



The Training School System has a three-fold object in view-its primary and greatest aim [is] the improvement of the nursing service in the hospital, so that the poor of our community who would otherwise find it beyond their means, may have every advantage which skilled nursing can provide. Secondly, it aims to be a School of instruction, where women who are fitted by nature and education, can obtain a thorough, theoretical and practical knowledge of the art of nursing, with a view to making this their calling or profession; and thirdly, it seeks to give the medical profession intelligent and skilful cooperation, in the noble work of alleviating human suffering.

Mary Agnes Snively, Annual Report, "November 6, 1891," 2.




1990, October 11-13. The Politics of Caring. Sponsored by Emory University Institute of Women's Studies, The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and the Emory University Hospital Division of Nursing. To be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact: Emory Institute of Women's Studies, 210 Physics Bldg., Atlanta, Georgia 30322. 404/727-0096.

1991, February 22-23. Qualitative Health Research: An International, Interdisciplinary Conference. Sponsored by the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. To be held in Edmonton. Contact: Dr. Janice Morse, Faculty of Nursing, 5-122 Clinical Sciences Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G3.



Everett-Green, Robert. "Stage Set for New Operas." The Globe and Mail 11 August 1990, C1-C2.

The Elora Festival plans to stage a chamber opera by Timothy Sullivan and Anne McPherson based on the life of Florence Nightingale. It will be called "Florence" and should be ready for the summer of 1991.


CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS: At the AAHN conference September 22-24, 1990.

Chalifoux, Zona. "A Study of the People, Factors, and Events Surrounding the Founding of [the] Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing 1874-1890."

Kerr, Janet R., and Pauline Paul. "They came by Ox-Cart: Nurses on the Alberta Frontier."

Young, Judith. "Elizabeth McMaster: Hospital Pioneer and Nurse 1875-1892."



© 2000, The Margaret M Allemang Centre for the History of Nursing