She laments "the pulling down of any little reputation that might have attached to a life of toil.".
Barton first came to public attention for her nursing efforts during the Civil War. She learned about the Red Cross movement while working briefly as a Red Cross volunteer during the Franco-Prussian War (1870). After returning to the United States, she focused her attention on the formation of an American Red Cross...
Barton first came to public attention for her nursing efforts during the Civil War. She learned about the Red Cross movement while working briefly as a Red Cross volunteer during the Franco-Prussian War (1870). After returning to the United States, she focused her attention on the formation of an American Red Cross organization. It took eleven years of work, but in 1881 the organization was formed and Barton was elected president. Its purposes were to secure the adoption of the Geneva Convention by the United States, to obtain for itself a charter from the U.S. government, and to organize a system of national relief to mitigate the suffering caused by war, pestilence, famine and other calamities.
In 1900, after almost two decades of effort, Congress finally granted the Red Cross its federal charter.
One of the reasons driving Congress to grant the charter was concern over the way the organization managed its finances. While Barton remained popular in the public eye, some closely associated with the organization viewed her personal style with concern. In particular, they considered her financial record keeping inadequate and incomplete, quite a problem for a group that was appealing to the public for its funds. The charter attempted to insure more systematic governance and greater fiscal responsibility. However, in the view of a growing number of people, the broad authority and lack of accountability of Barton herself were the issues, and open opposition to her broke out. These remonstrants took their concerns to President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress, and for the first time Barton found herself and her leadership publicly questioned. She and her remaining followers put up a strong fight but in the end the opposition convinced Congress to launch an investigation (though with the sweetener of acknowledging the good work Barton had done). Barton felt that she had devoted her life to selflessly serving others and that now her repayment was to be attacked and humiliated. As she makes clear here, she also saw her opponents as enemies who had thrown her a bone while trying to give her the boot.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pages, Glen Echo, Maryland, January 15, 1904, to her friend Mrs. Donald McLean, socialite and president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Lincoln Centennial celebration. “I pray you accept warmest thanks for words so kindly and timely spoken. True, a great courtesy was paid in the fullest manner possible, and it was sincere – but adroitly a ‘string’was attached, by which I am to pass through the ignominy of an ‘investigation’which has no purpose under Heaven in it but ignominy, disagreeable notoriety – the pulling down of any little good reputation that might have attached to a life of toil – and the compelling one to meet false charges or suffer under them. I shall probably make no effort to refute or defend myself (for when they name the ‘Red Cross’they mean only me). If the country will be more benefitted or satisfied with my name in disgrace than in honor, I have nothing to object. I have no family to suffer by it. I bear alone whatever is put upon me and defame only myself. I have not been a member of the committee appointed to investigate and have only casual acquaintance with any of them. I have met Mr. Carlisle once some months ago, who seemed friendly then. Pardon me for this dash of cold water on your earnest gratulations, but I could not be honestly true to either of us and keep silent. My heart turns always warmly and lovingly to you, my friend, and though we seldom meet you are never far from me.”
Just four months later, Barton decided to resign from the Red Cross rather than go through the trauma of the investigation. An interim committee was set up to run the organization and to work with Congress on creating a revised charter for the Red Cross. The new charter and organizational structure were put into place in 1905.
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