Clara Barton- Pioneer for Women and Aid Agencies

The Battle of Antietam had been raging for what seemed like days. The battlefield was loud, chaotic, dirty, and filled with the sounds of suffering from wounded soldiers. Through the haze of musket fire and smoke, a young woman in a red bonnet called Clara made her way to every injured man she could find, providing care and supplies. While offering a dying man a drink of water, Clara felt a tug in the sleeve of her dark dress. When she looked down to see what it was, she found a perfectly formed hole in the fabric near her elbow. A musket ball had gone through her dress and hit the man lying beside her, killing him instantly. Clara could afford herself only a moment to grieve before moving on to the next person in need of her help.

Clara was born Clarissa Harlow Barton on Christmas Day, 1821, in the central Clara-Barton-181468210a-56aa233b3df78cf772ac870cMassachusetts town of North Oxford. The youngest of four siblings by at least ten years, Clara grew up as a tomboy, learning “unladylike” activities and games from her older brothers and preferring school to domestic chores. She also grew up painfully shy, sometimes getting so anxious and overwrought that she refused to eat. However, in a pattern that would continue for the rest of her life, Clara was able to overcome her shyness completely whenever someone was in need. When her brother became ill, she stayed by his side and learned to administer his medication, including what she thought of as “great, loathsome, crawling leeches.”

Despite this early inclination towards nursing, Clara’s inner drive to help first lead her towards being a schoolteacher. She taught for several years in her hometown before moving to New Jersey, where she taught at a so-called “subscription” school. Such schools operated on fees paid by student’s parents, and there were many children denied from receiving an education because their parents couldn’t pay the fees. Clara believed this was wrong, and offered to teach school for free if the town would provide her a building. During her first week of running the first free public school in New Jersey, six students showed up; by the end of the year, there were over a hundred. Despite capably founding and leading the school for over a year, Clara was let go in favor of a male candidate. Undeterred, she moved to Washington D.C, where she worked as a clerk in the U.S Patent Office, during a time when it was rare for women to have government jobs. Soon after, the civil war broke out, and Clara’s life changed forever.

As wounded soldiers began appearing in the capital in droves, Clara saw firsthand the desperate need for supplies. She petitioned the army for the right to bring her own supplies to the battlefield. As a woman, it would be easier for her to bring relief working from outside the system then from the inside. In 1862 her pleas found a sympathetic senator, and Clara received permission to bring wagons of supplies to doctors and generals in battle. Clara and her volunteer service were at the front lines of some of the worst battles seen during the Civil War, including Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, and Antietam.

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Those who might’ve known Clara as an anxious and shy young girl likely wouldn’t have recognized the single minded, confident woman dodging gunfire as she brought relief to hundreds of soldiers. Her toughness, spirit, grace, and timeliness on the front lines earned her the nickname “angel of the battlefield.” After the war was over, Clara lent her extensive knowledge of the soldiers and regiments she treated to help identify some 30,000 soldiers graves.

Her time with the army had taught her the importance of neutrality when it came to field nursing. Clara took what she had learned and traveled to Europe, where she worked with the International Red Cross based in Switzerland. She spent time providing aid during the Franco-Prussian war, and the experience galvanized her to action again. Upon returning to America, Clara began advocating tirelessly for the creation of a Red Cross branch in the United States. It took three presidents, but Clara finally got her wish in 1881. She served as its first president until 1903. During the first twenty years of it’s existence, the American Red Cross was largely devoted to disaster relief. Clara and her volunteers assisted in crises like a forest fire in Michigan and hurricanes in South Carolina and Galveston, Texas.

Clara Barton’s incredible legacy extended even further than the barriers she broke as a female combat nurse. She opened up new paths in the emerging field of volunteer service, and created an agency for service that would outlast her. Despite her accomplishments, she remained humble and committed to the service of others above her own well being. Of her time as a Civil War nurse, Clara wrote “I always tried… to succor the wounded until the medical aid and supplies could come up. I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner.”

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Dorothea Lange- Pioneer for Documentary Photography

In 1933 San Francisco, a portrait photographer named Dorothea was starting to get restless. The neat, orderly world she saw inside her studio and her camera lens was not reflected outside the windows, where hundreds of unemployed men and women were filling the streets. As a woman, it was not guaranteed that Dorothea could gain their trust enough to photograph them. But one day, she simply couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. She walked the streets of San Francisco armed with her camera and a deep respect for her subjects, and a new career in documentary photography was born.   

Dorothea Lange was born Dorothea Nutzhorn on May 26, 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1902, when she was seven, Dorothea contracted polio, which left her right leg and foot considerably weakened. She later attributed this experience as the “most important thing” that had ever happened to her, giving her humility and compassion for others. Although she was physically disabled for the rest of her life, it never slowed her down, and many people who met her had no knowledge of her disability.  The ther childhood trauma leaving a profound impact on Lange was the separation of her parents when she was a teenager. She and her brother went with their mother to her maternal grandmother’s house. Dorothea attended six years of public school in New York City.  She would spend the majority of her time walking in the city, observing the way people lived and the differences between rich, middle class, and poor. She later credited this experience with being what taught her to “see” rather than just to look. With such an intense interest in seeing and understanding the world around her, it’s no wonder that Lange felt so drawn to photography.

 

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Lange enjoyed a successful career as a portrait photographer at her studio in SaFrancisco, but in the 1930’s she turned her camera to a darker subject. The Great Depression left thousands of men and women unemployed and/or homeless. Dorothea began traveling through the breadlines, labor demonstrations, and soup kitchens of San Francisco, documenting the suffering and resilience of those affected by the financial hardships. This bold and compassionate approach allowed her to get close to her subjects, and to capture pictures that few other photographers were able to get. Pictured right is her most famous photo of the San Francisco breadlines, titled White Angel Breadline. 

 

 

Her photographs earned her national attention, and in 1935 she began a four-year commission with the Farm Security Agency (FSA). The Great Depression in America coincided with a major agricultural crisis in the Midwest, known as the Dust Bowl. Hundreds of thousands of farmers were forced to leave their land and make their way west in search of migrant work in places like California. These families were usually destitute, often on the verge of starvation. It was this beaten-down and desperate landscape that Lange was sent to document. She stayed in several migrant camps across the lower-midwest, getting to know the families that lived there. It was in one of these camps that Lange took what is arguably her most famous picture, and indeed one of the 201307F03-KC-MigrantMother-Photo-Portrait-thumbnail-1200x1200most famous American photographs, Migrant Mother (pictured left). Migrant Mother profoundly affected the American public. The photograph put a human face on the suffering that thousands of Americans were facing in a part of the country that could sometimes feel very far away from the cities and coasts of America.

After her work with the FSA, Lange was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Her experiences working with the marginalized and forgotten people of the country inspired her to eventually reject that fellowship to photograph the realities of Japanese internment. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, anti-Japanese fear and racism in America grew to a fever pitch. In 1942, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that allowed for the internment of thousands of people of Japanese descent, simply for the reason of being Japanese. Lange was hired by the Office of War Information (OWI) to document the process, but her photographs of confused and frightened Japanese families being rounded into trains or barracks like cattle proved to be too incendiary. The OWI suppressed Lange’s photographs and they Dorothea Lange - Family of Japanese ancestry arrives at assembly center at Tanforan Race Track. 1942weren’t published for the first time until 2006.

Lange has been called a truly democratic photographer. Her work captured the lives of workers all over the country, no matter if they were black, white, Chinese, Mexican, or Japanese. The legacy she left behind didn’t just enrich the photographic world, but the wider world of American public conscious. She continued to work on social justice issues through her photography until her death in 1965 from esophageal cancer.

 

Book Recommendation- Dear America Series

Author: Multiple authors

In third grade, I set a goal to read every single Dear America book in my elementary school library. The books took up two full shelves, so it was a daunting task, but I soon found out the problem would be what I would do when I finished them all. Each book in the series is written in diary format, from the perspective of a young girl living through an important event in American history. Each girl has a distinctive voice and personality, making each book a joy to read. The topics run from immigration to New York to escaping concentration camps and fleeing to America, along with everything in between. I would recommend any of them, as there are plenty of stories to satisfy any history lover. However, for those looking for pioneer stories like Laura’s, there are a few options. Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie is written from the perspective of a young girl encountering hope and hardship on the Oregon Trail. West to a Land of Plenty describes the life of a young Italian immigrant girl moving to the American West. My Face to the Wind is the diary of a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie. (And if you’re looking for something for a young boy to read, a spin-off series called My name is America is told from a male perspective).

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte- A Pioneer for Native Americans and Female Physicians

The Omaha Indian Reservation in 1865 was a place caught between two worlds: the modern, White world, and the traditional world its residents had lived in for hundreds of years. In a log cabin on the Northwest side of the reservation, a place more conservative Omahas called “Village of the Make-Believe White Men”, an 8-year-old girl named Susan was tasked with watching over a sickly elderly neighbor while messengers went to find the white agency doctor. The woman was in agonizing pain, but the doctor ignored all four messages pleading for his help, and young Susan watched the woman eventually succumb to her illness. It was then that Susan realized that for her people, something was going to have to change.

Susan La Flesche Picotte was born on June 17th, 1865, on the Omaha Indian Reservation. She was the youngest of four daughters born to Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eyes) and Mary Gale (One Woman). Both of her parents were mixed Omaha and white, and so Suan grew up caught between two worlds. As a young child she was educated in a mission school on the reservation. She later received education at the Hampton Institute, one of the first universities for people of color. During her time at the Hampton Institute, Susan was advised by a mentor to attend medical school. With this mentor’s help, Susan secured a scholarship from the U.S Office of Indian Affairs, making her the first person to attend college on a federal grant. Susan graduated from the Pennsylvania Woman’s Medical College at the top of her class, becoming the first Native American Female physician in the country.

Susan returned to the reservation she was born on, medical degree in hand. On the reservation, she was responsible for some 1,200 people and was on call 24 hours a day. As one of the few female doctors and the only Native American one in the country, Susan faced discrimination and hostility from some of her patients. Nevertheless, she threw everything she had into their care. Susan was paid ten times less than an Army or Navy doctor with the same amount of patients, yet she was still forced to pay for her own supplies when the Indian Affairs Office ran out, which was often. She was sole doctor within a 1,350 mile radius, and was often forced to walk several miles to reach her patients. Beyond her capacity as a physician, Susan often found herself acting as a parent, lawyer, advocate, and teacher. SusanLaFlesche

Through all of this, Susan’s dream remained opening a hospital on the Omaha reservation. While she worked on that, she also advocated tirelessly for hygiene and disease prevention standards to be raised on the reservation, and for the rights of Native Americans to be recognized as legal citizens. In 1894, she married a Sioux man named Henry Picotte, and the two moved to Bancroft, Nebraska. Susan opened a private practice there, treating both white and native patients, while also raising two children. Her husband Henry suffered from severe alcoholism, and Susan was often forced to care for him alongside her patients until his death in 1905 from tuberculosis. This experience sparked a lifelong passion in Susan for the American Temperance Movement. She was considered controversial for her condemnation of the scourge of alcohol available on reservations across the country.

As a Native American woman, Susan knew well what it was like to have her knowledge and experience discounted right off the bat. Even as a child, her goal was to help her people. “It has always been a desire of mine to study medicine ever since I was a small girl,” she wrote years later, “for even then I saw the need of my people for a good physician.” In 1913, Susan finally achieved her lifelong dream of opening a modern hospital on the Omaha Reservation. She would end up passing away just two years later from what was believed to be bone cancer. Her tireless work on behalf of the Omaha people led to a legacy of activism. She was at the forefront of many causes of Native Americans and is considered a trailblazer of the women’s movement in the United States. The hospital she worked to open remained open until the late 1940’s, at which point it became a museum dedicated to Susan La Flesche Picotte and to the history of the Omaha people.

Book Recommendation- Hattie Big Sky

Author: Kirby Larson

For readers like me who are interested in reading more about the life of Homesteaders in the American West, there is a Newbery Medal-winning book that is perfect for us. The hero of Hattie Big Sky, Hattie Brooks, is a 16-year-old girl living with an aunt and uncle in Iowa during WWI. She has been moved from relative to relative since she was orphaned at the age of five, and she’s tired of never having anywhere to put down roots. When a distant uncle dies and leaves her his unproven homestead in Montana, Hattie jumps at the chance to make her own home. As a sixteen-year-old solo homesteader, Hattie faces more than her share of struggles. With the help of her kind neighbors and her own inner strength, Hattie proves to herself and everyone else that she is capable of anything. Hattie Big Sky and its sequel, Hattie Ever After, are stories about one courageous, resilient girl, and the opportunities she took advantage of in the West.

Ida B. Wells- Pioneer for Black Female Activists

In May of 1884, a young woman named Ida was traveling home to Memphis from Nashville on a first-class train ticket. She was on break from Fisk University, where she was continuing her studies after taking a break to be a teacher. About halfway through her trip, Ida was approached by a porter who asked her to move to the back of the train, where African American passengers were required to ride. Ida, who had paid for her ticket to sit in first class, refused. When the porter returned with another man to threaten her into action, she still refused. When the two men attempted to physically remove her from the train, she fought back and bit one of them on the hand. Ida was eventually forced off the train. Rather than simply accepting what had happened to her, Ida let the incident fuel a fight in her that would someday take her to the White House and beyond.

Ida Bell Wells was born the oldest child of slaves on July 16, 1882 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Six months after her birth the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, but life for African Americans in the South was still rife with racism and discrimination. Ida’s parents were active in the Republican Party during the years of Reconstruction, and her father James helped found Shaw College, a school for freed slaves. Ida would eventually receive her early schooling there, but she was forced to abandon her studies in 1879, when both of her parents died in a yellow fever epidemic. Sixteen-year-old Ida suddenly found herself the sole caregiver of her five siblings. To keep her family together, Ida convinced a country school administrator that she was 18 in order to start teaching school. Her resourcefulness got her family through until they were able to stay with an aunt in Memphis, where Ida was able to continue going to school at Fisk University, a historically black college. At Fisk, Ida quickly gained a reputation as an outspoken supporter for women’s rights.

It was on one of her trips back and forth to school that Ida found herself forced off the train. Outraged, she hired a black lawyer in Memphis and sued the railroad company for $500. She won her case, but it was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In response, Ida began writing. She published several articles in black-owned newspapers detailing the racial discrimination she and other African Americans faced in the South. She was a pioneer for black female journalists during a time when outspoken women, particularly outspoken black women, were not encouraged.

In 1889, Ida was devastated by the death of her friend, Thomas Moss, in Memphis. Moss owned a successful grocery store, and after an altercation with a mob Moss and two other black men were lynched. In response, Ida began an anti-lynching campaign. She conducted research into the causes of lynching cases and the ways they were justified. Ida published her findings in a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases.” Her writing incensed many members of the white community in Memphis; soon after her articles began appearing in the anti-segregation publication Free Speech and Headlight, she received death threats and the newspaper office was trashed. None of this deterred her. Ida traveled the country and eventually to Europe, giving speeches and talks exposing the horror of lynching practices in the American South. She helped organized protests in Washington D.C, urging President Woodrow Wilson to pass stronger laws to protect for black people in the U.S. She spoke out out against the mistreatment of black people in the justice system, the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South, and discrimination faced by women.

During her long, distinguished career in journalism, Ida wrote about the world as she ida-b-wells---civil-rights-pioneersaw it, without shying away from harsher details. Her legacy inspired generations of activism and investigations into the practice of lynching in the South. As she wrote herself, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”, and she embodied that practice her entire life.

Book Recommendation- Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlen

Laura’s stories inspired a new interest in the stories of the pioneer life for children. These stories often emphasized the importance of family, hard work, and perseverance. They could also be incredibly descriptive, bringing the beautiful world of the prairie alive for many readers. One of the most charming and well-loved examples of this is a short book entitled Sarah, Plain and Tall. The book is the first in a series centered around the Witting family, living in the American Midwest during the late 19th century. The children, Anna and Caleb, are dealing with the death of the mother, and the fact that their tired papa doesn’t sing anymore. One day, their father announces that he has placed an order in the newspaper for a new wife, and he has received an answer from a woman named Sarah. Sarah comes all the way from Maine, bringing a collection of sea shells, a cat named Seal, and laughter and excitement to Anna and Caleb’s lives. The children and their father anxiously wait all summer, hoping that Sarah will not miss the sea and her family too much to stay with them. I finished this little book over an afternoon, making it the perfect length for a school-aged child or  someone looking for a quick read. Deceptively simple, Sarah Plain and Tall is full of rich descriptions of the prairie and heartwarming family ties