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Barton, Clara.

LETTER: ALS to Mrs. [Emily Fairbanks] Talbot.


Barton, Clara. Autograph letter signed, "Clara Barton," to Mrs. Emily Fairbanks Talbot, Washington, D.C., March 13, 1883.
8vo, two 9-1/2 x 7-7/8" lined sheets folded to 4-7/8 x 7-7/8," 8pp; written on seven of the eight sides (in whole or in part); folded to fit an envelope; small tearing along center folds; very good.
A discursive letter to friend and confidante Emily Fairbanks Talbot (1834-1900), wife of the distinguished Massachusetts physician Israel Tisdale Talbot (1829-1899). Emily Talbot was a teacher and philanthropist who advocated higher education for women and promoted organizations for university women. Clara Barton writes to her friend concerning her possible appointment as Superintendent of the Woman's Reformatory Prison at Sherborn by longtime friend and supporter, General Benjamin Butler, then Governor of Massachusetts and, more urgently, about Lucy Larcom as the proposed author of a profile of Miss Barton for a volume to be published by A. W. Worthington.
Barton served as the president of the American National Red Cross for two decades with the exception of a brief term of service as the Sherborn superintendent. The letter suggests Barton's reluctance to take on the appointment: "I suppose I let your dear letter lie so long because I did not know just what I ought to say to it. You were all so kind and united so nobly, with Governor Butler, that I felt selfish in denying you all." Barton hopes that the original appointee will be able to accept, "...and so full of work, cares, uncertainty as to what I ought to do - and self accusations for what I did not do. I waited without a word..." Though General Butler's career acquired an indelible tinge of notoriety after his occupation of New Orleans where he acquired the sobriquet "Beast Butler," to Clara Barton he was a sympathetic supporter and invaluable aide. They first met in 1864 when she was given a note of introduction to the General as the new commander at Fortress Monroe:
He became one of Clara's most enthusiastic supporters from that time one. He appointed her superintendent of the Department of the Nurses for the Army of the James and assigned her to Point of Rocks, Virginia. He gave her passes to go where she wished and ordered his medical officers to aid her in every way.
 Butler told his officers, "Honor any request that Miss Barton makes without question. She out-ranks me." After war's end, Butler entered politics to rather dubious effect; he twice ran for Governor of Massachusetts and in 1882 finally succeeded in winning election. With the increased attention being focused on prison reform, Butler's desire to appoint Barton whose profound empathy for others combined with an extraordinary capacity to organize and lead is understandable. The letter, however, abundantly reflects Barton's reluctance to leave her nascent Red Cross and undertake the appointment.
Even more intriguing is Miss Barton's concern about the authorship of a profile of her life to appear in a volume to be printed by Hartford publisher A.D. Worthington. He has proposed Lucy Larcom, author, poet, and editor, to write the profile:
He seems to be quite anxious that she do it - says she is in full sympathy with my work and is very desirous of making the Sketch -. He adds that I, "of course know of Miss L., her acknowledge[d] ability and great reputation he regards it as fortunate that she is so anxious to write it as he thinks I could scarcely fall into better hands.".
 Barton recounts that "Miss Larcom called upon me at Mrs. Claflin's...she was pleasant and I liked her, but I am not very familiar with her writings I am ashamed to confess as I work too much and read too little." With some embarrassment, Barton asks Mrs. Talbot to "do a little more 'secret Service' for me and tell me just in a word, yes or no." Worthington has sent her a list of subjects and contributors; Barton notes, a trifle wistfully, "Miss [Elizabeth Stuart] Phelps writes Mrs. Livermore. I presume that is all she feels able to do." She continues, "Mr. Worthington adds by way of 'taffy' that he is 'specially interested to make this sketch an interesting one for he is one of the old soldiers who remember me gratefully and that no other sketch in the book can elicit the interest for him that this does..." Mrs. Talbot may have succeeded in allaying Barton's concerns; as a fellow Bostonian she no doubt was familiar with the writer and editor. In any event, two years later the volume Our Famous Women appeared with Larcom's admiring account of Barton's life and career. A letter with exceptional content, touching upon a brief but significant hiatus in Barton's association with the American Red Cross and Barton's sensitivity to the shaping of her public persona.
Angel of the Battlefield, by Ishbel Ross, pp. 77, 80, 92, 152.
Concise Dictionary of American Biography, pp. 131, 1040, 1041.
NAW I, pp. 103-108.

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