In the coming weeks, you’ll occasionally find articles by the ECW ladies about their challenges and successes as historians, researchers, and writers. Primary sources by Civil War women will also be featured, along with stories and accounts about how women made history in unique ways during the Antebellum, War, and Reconstruction Eras. Behind-the-scenes, in the public sphere, on the battlefields, in the hospitals, or on the home front, women influenced and shaped the Civil War.
To begin, here’s are a few quotes by Clara Barton about the conflict and the difficult situation for women at that time. As a single woman, teacher, government employee, independent battlefield nurse, finder of missing soldiers, speaker, and founder of the American Red Cross, she had a life of firsts in women’s history.
On her decision to go as an independent battlefield nurse:
“This conflict is one thing I’ve been waiting for. I’m well and strong and young – young enough to go to the front. If I can’t be a soldier, I’ll help soldiers.”
“I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.”
Barton’s perspective on war:
“If I were to speak of war, it would not be to show you the glories of conquering armies but the mischief and misery they strew in their tracks; and how, while they marched on with tread of iron and plumes proudly tossing in the breeze, some one must follow closely in their steps, crouching to the earth, toiling in the rain and darkness, shelterless themselves, with no thought of pride or glory, fame or praise, or reward; hearts breaking with pity, faces bathed in tears and hands in blood. This is the side which history never shows.”
“What armies and how much of war I have seen, what thousands of marching troops, what fields of slain, what prisons, what hospitals, what ruins, what cities in ashes, what hunger and nakedness, what orphanages, what widowhood, what wrongs and what vengeance.”
“It has long been said, that women don’t know anything about war. I wish men didn’t either. They have always known a great deal too much about it for the good of their kind.”
Her position on equal rights and pay:
“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”
Barton’s idea on her own memory:
“Others are writing my biography, and let it rest as they elect to make it. I have lived my life, well and ill, always less well than I wanted it to be but it is, as it is, and as it has been; so small a thing, to have had so much about it!”
For more details on Clara Barton, may we recommend the following resources?
A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War by Stephen B. Oates (The Free Press, New York, NY: 1994)
Clara Barton Papers at Library of Congress (Digitized)