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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 20: Girding for War: The North and the South, 1861 - 1865


Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Born in a log cabin in Kentucky, Lincoln, who would become our sixteenth president, had only vague but fond memories of his mother, Nancy, who died when he was nine. His father was a stocky, heavyset, hard-drinking frontier drifter. Lincoln became estranged from him and did not attend his final illness or funeral, even though he was only seventy miles away at the time.

The story that Lincolns one true love was the beautiful Ann Rutledge rests solely on the report of his law partner William Herndon following Lincolns death, thirty years after the supposed romance. Lincoln did know Ann Rutledge, but he never mentioned her, and Mary Todd Lincoln emphatically denied the Herndon story.

His natural melancholy was much deepened by the deaths of his children, especially eleven-year-old Willie in 1862. He thought a good deal about the afterlife, and at his wifes instigation brought spiritualist mediums into the White House and attended sťances to communicate with the dead.

Quote: The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. (Message to Congress, 1862)

REFERENCE: David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995).


Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 - 1910)

Blackwell was the first American female physician and a pioneer in developing medical knowledge and health care for women and children.

Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, into a family of twelve children. Her father, a charming sugar refiner and social reformer, believed in womens rights and was a great influence on Elizabeth. He died when she was eleven, shortly after the family immigrated to America.

She was turned down by many medical schools before being accepted by Geneva Collegethough the acceptance was initially considered a joke by the male students.

After graduation from Geneva and further study in England, she opened a clinic on Bleecker Street in New York and began treating poor women. In 1868 she opened her own womens medical college. She later wrote extensively on the human element in sex, and attempted to combat ignorance and prejudice concerning womens sexuality.

Quote: The idea of acquiring a doctors degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed great attraction for me. (Memoir, 1879)

REFERENCE: Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Lone Woman: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell (1970).


Clara Barton (1821 - 1912)

Barton was the Civil War nurse who founded and led the American Red Cross for twenty-three years.

Born in Massachusetts of old Yankee stock, Barton was close to her family, including her older brother David, whom she nursed through a two-year illness. Shy and lonely, she attempted school-teaching, but gave it up to become a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office in Washingtonone of the first female federal employees.

When she saw the lack of medical facilities after the Battle of Bull Run, she organized her friends to provide first aid, using her own house as a store room. Scorned at first, she eventually won the respect of military officers and men.

She suffered a nervous breakdown after the war and went to Europe for relief, where she learned of the newly formed Red Cross in Switzerland. She returned to the United States and waged a long, difficult campaign to found the American branch of the organization in 1881.

Quote: The paths of charity are over the roadways of ashes, and he who would tread them must be prepared to meet opposition, misconstruction, jealousy, and calumny. Let his work be that of angels, still it will not satisfy all. (Speech, 1887)

REFERENCE: Stephen B. Oates, A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War (1995).



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