Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22, 2018: Nursing Histories: Molly Pitcher

[On May 21st, 1881, Clara Barton founded the American National Red Cross. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of histories and contexts related to nursing and medical aid, starting with my colleague and friend Irene’s Guest Post on Barton herself! Add your responses and thoughts for a healthy crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]
On the iconic war hero who might or might not have existed, and why she matters in any case.
I can think of few more AmericanStudies ways to analyze popular memory and prominence than through the eleven rest stops on the New Jersey turnpike—and by that measure, Molly Pitcher and Clara Barton are the two most famous women in New Jersey history and culture (if that last phrase isn’t an oxymoron—I kid, Jerseyites, I kid). Pitcher’s is also the only one of the eleven rest stop referents that wasn’t an actual name, and that might not even link to an individual figure—some historians believe that the name does refer to one woman, Mary Ludwig Hays, who followed her husband and the Continental Army to the Battle of Monmouth and found herself not only serving water to the soldiers but even taking over her wounded husband’s artillery job; but others have linked the name to a number of other Revolutionary-era women who performed one or another of those roles (camp followers, water carriers, and so on), including Margaret Corbin.
So Molly Pitcher is as much a folkloric as a historical figure, one not unlike Paul Bunyan, John Henry, or, perhaps more accurately, Johnny Appleseed. Because like Appleseed’s inspiration John Chapman (about whom see that linked, wonderful Guest Post by William Kerrigan), women like Hays and Corbin most definitely existed; the details of their lives and experiences are as partial and uncertain as most any 18th century histories, even those of the Revolution’s most prominent leaders, but there’s plenty of information out there, such as at the various stories linked in my first paragraph’s closing sentences, and the Molly Pitcher legend provides an excellent starting point for researching and learning about these historical figures. Even absent such research, any collective memory of “Molly Pitcher” itself adds women to our narratives of these Revolutionary war battles and histories, producing a more full and accurate picture of those histories as a result.
I’d take that argument one step further, however. I’ve written on multiple occasions, including in this post on Judith Sargent Murray and this one on John and Abigail Adams, about the striking cultural, social, and political voices and roles of Revolutionary-era American women (including not only Murray and Adams but also Phillis Wheatley, Annis Boudinot Stockton, and others). Indeed, it’s fair to say that such women help us to see the era’s possibilities for gender and society as likewise revolutionary, and as foreshadowing and influencing the 19th century women’s movement. That some of these women, including Adams and Stockton, achieved such success in relationship to their husbands’ lives and work—just as, that is, Hays and Corbin did in relationship to their husband’s wartime efforts—reflects some of the era’s limitations and obstacles; limitations and obstacles that all these women, like Molly Pitcher, pushed well beyond.
Next nursing post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other nursing or medical histories you’d highlight?

Monday, May 21, 2018

May 21, 2018: Irene Martyniuk’s Guest Post on Clara Barton

[On May 21st, 1881, Clara Barton founded the American National Red Cross. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of histories and contexts related to nursing and medical aid, starting with my colleague and friend Irene’s Guest Post on Barton herself! Add your responses and thoughts for a healthy crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

“Full disclosure right from the start.  I teach British literature.  I love British literature.  One of my favorite jokes not only to Ben but to everyone in my department and our University who discusses American Studies is that we don’t need a minor in British Studies.  We already have it.  It’s called culture.  Besides, I’m not really sure what American Studies is.  However, I do have a nomination for a forgotten hero and, surprise, she’s American.

This past summer, my niece was given a high school assignment of choosing a person “who made a difference.”  Over the summer, they were supposed to read a book appropriate to their reading level about his/her chosen person and be ready to make a presentation.  On her own, my 14 year old niece chose Clara Barton.  Since I was already over-involved in her other summer reading assignments (the hover English professor Aunt), I figured I was in on this too.  I learned a lot, probably more than my niece, and certainly more than her high school expected.

First off, there are no adult books in print on Barton.  Children’s books abound, but they simplify what I discovered is a complex and important life.  So I had to buy some books on the used market (and realize that 14 year olds like fresh and new, but she was still game).

The second huge discovery, and the most common mistake that most people make when considering Clara Barton, was finding out that she was not a nurse.  Barton was a schoolteacher and then worked on the front lines during the Civil War, but she was not a trained nurse, nor did she want to be.  What she understood, and what was truly significant, was that front line care was mostly about triage—making sure clean water and clean bandages were available immediately.  She also worked tirelessly to move the wounded to safe places.  She took down names and helped soldiers write letters home so that their loved ones would know where they were and what had happened to them.  She served hot meals, even if only of soup, realizing that nourishment for a wounded soldier was vital.  These are the kinds of things that we now take for granted—when you enter a hospital or emergency room, you get a bracelet with all your info, and when you finally get treated, you are in a separated, warm room with a blanket over your and clean sheets beneath you.  Thank Clara Barton.

Barton’s realization that identifying soldiers and helping loved ones connect with them became even more important after the War.  As the horrors of Andersonville became known, Barton worked with those in government to identify the unmarked graves.  This eventually became a bit scandalous, but she realized that people needed answers and ultimately she received thousands of letters of people asking her to help them find their loved ones or at least give them any news she might know.

All of this alone would justify her fame, at least in my book, but her greatest work was yet to come.  Barton heard about a group of people who were trying to get the United States to sign on to a treaty that had been written in Geneva.  The treaty had created a group called the International Red Cross.  In the treaty, signatory countries agreed to allow Red Cross members to treat wounded soldier from both sides.  The Red Cross would be allowed to move around combat zones in safety as long as they were clearly marked.  It also set out rules for how prisoners of war would be treated.  These statutes, which have developed and changed over the years, are now commonly referred to as the Geneva Conventions.

Barton worked tirelessly to get the United States to sign on to this treaty.  It was not an easy job.  After the Civil War, America was not concerned with the wars of Europe and had no desire to get involved with them (yes, I’m simplifying).  Barton fought this—through a number of presidencies, no less.  But she eventually convinced the American government to sign on, and thus became the founder of the American Red Cross.

This became her life and boy, did she live it.  In an odd coincidence, while my older niece was at camp this summer, my sister and younger niece took a mini-break to Johnstown, PA—Flood City.  And there, at the site of the burst dam, was an array of books on Barton, including a coloring book (of course, I bought it).  Although the American Red Cross had been called into action a few times earlier, this was the first major disaster in which they became involved.  They were one of the first groups to go to Johnstown.  Barton simply packed up and went.  They were organized and they stayed, too.  They gave sensible help, also.  Barton registered families and survivors and distributed food and clothing.  As Johnstown began to slowly rebuild, they distributed furniture. 

Barton was a fascinating woman.  She was apparently not particularly tall, prone to depression and hypochondria, and perceived by many to be bossy.  And she was a hoarder, which helps us understand her now since she saved so much.  Frankly, I think she was an educated, savvy woman who had no time for those who would judge her on her height or her gender.  Sadly, not too much has changed on that front—how many educated, savvy woman are immediately seen as threats?  In the end, Barton was too much of a threat, and she was forced out of her own organization.  Whenever there was a disaster, Barton was first in with the American Red Cross.  She didn’t fill out travel requisitions or other forms—she used her own money and the organizations in a mix and did the bookkeeping later.  When the Board wanted her out, this is where they got her.  Later, an audit showed no wrongdoing, but her pride had been (understandably) damaged and she resigned.  Of course, Barton was right again.  The Red Cross is still first in.  They don’t wait for the paper work or the approval forms.

When I was growing up, one family favorite show to watch was Hogan’s Heroes.  I’m sure that’s another American Studies topic, not only for the depiction of American POWs, but also for the personal story of its star, Bob Crane.  However, more pertinent to this story is that in every episode, Hogan or one of his cabin mates would yell out about how Klink was violating their rights under the “Geneva Conventions.”  The fact that Hogan could say that is thanks to Clara Barton.  And now, when we are discussing the rights of enemy combatants, we should remember the Geneva Conventions, and the work of Clara Barton.

I could go on and on.  I ended up reading the two volume biography of Barton written by her nephew, and I visited her childhood home and her gravesite (which I found terribly moving, but I’m rather a crybaby).  But I’ll spare you all the details.  In the end, my niece got 25 out of 25 on her report and showed me how two girls in the class presented on Princess Diana and one on Bono.  All that for 25 points.  At least I learned something.”
Next nursing post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other nursing or medical histories you’d highlight?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

May 19-20, 2018: Summer and Fall Previews

[As another semester concludes, this week’s series has recapped some of the wonderful texts we read in my classes, along with some other Spring work of mine. Leading up to this preview of coming attractions for the Summer and Fall semesters. I’d love to hear about your work, past, present, or future, in comments!]
On three classes I’m looking forward to in the months to come.
1)      Literature and Work for MAVA: As I’ve discussed a few times in this space, I’ve now taught three sections of Intro to Speech for FSU’s BA program for vocational educators. But this summer I’ll have the chance to teach a lit course for them for the first time, and have decided to focus this hybrid summer class on Literature and Work. I know some texts I’ll definitely include—Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s “The Tenth of January,” Martín Espada’s “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper”—but there’s a lot of room on the syllabus still, so I’d love any suggestions for short-ish literary texts that engage with themes of work. Thanks!
2)      Grad Ethnic Literature: I’ll also be teaching an FSU Graduate English course this summer per usual, this time one that’s been on the books for a long while but hasn’t been taught since I came to FSU: Three Ethnic Literatures: African American, Asian American, Native American. I’m not yet sure what I’ll be teaching, but our grad students can read novels for weekly in-person meetings (this class is also hybrid), so I’ll likely pick one longer work for each tradition and then do shorter works and some criticism for the hybrid/online meetings in between. Leaning toward Native Son, Typical American, and Ceremony for the longer works, but I’m open to suggestions!
3)      Major American Authors of the 20th Century: This undergrad lit seminar is an old friend, although it’s been a couple years. I should probably shake up the reading list at least a bit, although I know for sure I’ll stick with the two-week units on Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath (reading many of a poet’s collected works over two weeks is a profoundly different experience from reading a poem or two).  Sister Carrie and Native Son make for a great one-two punch to begin the class, so those will likely stick as well. But I’m not as sure about the final three: Love Medicine, American Pastoral, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. All wonderful books, but it might be time to shake things up a bit. One more time, I’m open to suggestions!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What have you been or are you working on?