By AUDREY FISCHER
Clara Barton's plan, as she left her teaching career in 1854 and headed to Washington, D.C., was to spend her days in therapeutic reading in the "dim, quiet alcoves" of the Library of Congress.
Instead, she dedicated her life to the relief of suffering both at home and abroad. She also assumed the monumental task of enlisting the help of countless volunteers to do likewise through the American Red Cross, which she established in 1881.
"Although Clara may not have personally enjoyed much time in the Library's 'quiet alcoves,' her papers have resided here since the 1940s, when they were donated by family members," said Janice Ruth, the Manuscript Division's specialist in American women's history. According to Ruth, Barton was perhaps the most decorated American woman, and the Library possesses many of her medals.
"Even before the receipt of the Barton papers, the Library of Congress had already begun collecting materials documenting the American Red Cross," said Ruth. "Located in the Library of Congress archives are letters from Red Cross officials dating from the early 1900s to various Librarians of Congress. There are also routine reference inquiries, requests for bibliographic assistance, translation help and technical advice on printing, binding and cataloging matters. "
According to Ruth, the Library also holds the papers of Mabel Boardman, Barton's immediate successor, whose allegations of financial irregularities within the American Red Cross (never proved) were the catalyst for Barton's resignation in 1904. Also well-represented in the Library's manuscript holdings is the work of Red Cross nurses who served at home and abroad in both World Wars.
"I don't dare continue," cautioned Ruth with a laugh, who noted that, in addition to manuscript material, "there are also scores of newspaper articles, magazines, posters, photographs, moving image films, sheet music and audio recordings in other Library divisions relating to the Red Cross and to women's involvement in nursing and other relief activities."
These and other materials relating to women's history are highlighted in a recent Library publication titled "American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States" (with a searchable online version available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/).
Audrey Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.