Women have a fundamental role to play in the social, economic and political development of a country. The United States of America is an example of such a state that has benefited from the efforts of great women who have contributed majorly towards its development and the establishment. The Civil war in America broke out in April 1861. The war resulted from a long-standing controversy. The differences were on slavery; this led to the Confederates attacking Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This attack took place just after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the American President. The time of the civil war was trying to the Americans, and it resulted in many loses including that of lives and property. It was after this civil war that the reconstruction began and was mainly in the years 1865 to 1877. In this time of reconstruction, there were many attempts made to undo the evils of slavery.
One of the phenomenal women who lived at the time of the reconstruction was Bridget Mason, commonly referred to as Biddy in her times. Biddy was born on the fifteenth of August 1818 in Hancock a town in Georgia which was on a plantation (Hayden, 1989). She was distanced from her parents as a child and traded as a slave in several instances. After being given away by her master as a present during a wedding, it was then she learned about herbal medicines and gained skills in midwifery since she did not have access to formal education. Biddy as a slave was inspired by Clara Barton who although was white and free unlike her, was committed to her course of great works. Biddy had three daughters namely: Harriet, Ellen, and Ann who were all supposedly born to Smith. The Smiths later joined the Mormon religion after conversion by the missionaries (Hayden, 1989). Robert Smith in 1847, moved his slaves and extended family to the Utah Territory. Biddy walked alongside her owners wagon several months before arriving at the Salty Lake area around Utah. Her major task was to midwife the women and animals when they gave birth.
Biddy could, later on, find freedom in a rather unexpected way. Smith joined a number of the Mormons sent by Brigham Young to California to put up a new community. Smith could not heed to Youngs counsel to let Biddy go. He probably never knew that California was admitted to the Union of states considered free-states in 1850. Any slave that was brought to the country was considered automatically free, as was specified under the law. Biddys seventeen-year-old suitor, Charles Owens and a couple of free blacks of the time explained to Mason how she could attain freedom (Oates, 1994). By the year 1855, the sentiments against slavery were stronger in California, and Smith moved to Texas. Through the combined efforts of Owen, his father, the Sheriff and the Los Angeles Black Community Biddy was granted freedom on twenty-first January 1856. Biddys freedom came with that of her daughters, ten other African American women, and their children.
Clara Harlowe Barton was born youngest of six children on the twenty-fifth of December 1821. She was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts to Stephen Barton who was both a lawmaker and farmer. Her father had served in the American Revolution between the years 1775 to 1783. At the age of fifteen, she was already exemplary as she worked as a teacher, teaching freely and later on started her school in Bordentown, New Jersey. In 1854, she moved south to Washington, D.C in search of a warmer climate (Williams, 2005). Between the years 1854 to 1857, she served as a clerk in the Patent Office but her strong anti-slavery sentiments made her unlikeable then. She lost the job when the Democrats won the presidency in 1856. The civil war broke out during the time Clara served as a clerk. Barton realized the need for a quality organization to engage in medical supplies and food for the troops. Clara believed that the organization had to free from the bureaucracy of the War Department and the U.S Sanitary Commission.
Clara was amongst first volunteers that appeared to care for the wounded soldiers at the Washington Infirmary. Barton later left for the field in 1861 after her fathers death. She was particularly welcomed at the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) where bandages were being made out of corn husks by the overworked surgeons. Barton selected some men with the great physique to aid in food preparation, carrying water and performing first aid for the wounded. Barton traveled with her supply wagons giving aid throughout the war period. On July 18, 1863, there was a failed Union assault on Fort Wagner. Barton moved from Hilton Head Island to Morris Island to tend to an increasing number of the soldiers that were wounded. It was at Morris Island where Clara became gravely ill and was evacuated back to Hilton Island (Ross, 1956). President Abraham Lincoln later in January 1865 appointed her General Correspondent for the Friends of Paroled Prisoners. Barton was charged with an enormous task of responding to friends and family on missing soldiers via parole rolls, prison rolls or casualty lists at the camps in Maryland and Annapolis. Her assistance enabled the identification and marking of anonymous graves at Andersonville. In her duty, Barton created the Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States which enabled publishing the Rolls of men to be posted across the country. Clara later traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 1869 as a member of the International Red Cross. The culmination of the decade of service by Barton came with the establishment of the American Red Cross in 1880. Clara was the organizations first president until 1904 and practiced her philanthropy as a volunteer in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Clara Harlowe Barton passed away at the age of ninety-one in 1912, and her life was an inspiration to many especially to the under-represented population.
Biddy Mason lived in the time of Clara Barton and was significantly influenced by her deeds and especially her harsh sentiments against slavery and service to humanity. Biddy also took pride in serving humanity as she worked as a midwife and a nurse for Dr. John Strother Griffin after her slavery (Faust, 1996). She assisted in scores of births and attended to mothers of diverse social classes and races, gaining a renowned due to her skilled herbal remedies. Biddy was known to offer her services to the penny-less who could not pay and practiced charity by feeding and sheltering the poor and visited local prisoners with aid and gifts. Mason also became instrumental in founding a travelers elementary school and aid center or black children who had no access to education. Biddy also financed and donated land upon which the First African Methodist Episcopal Church was built.
Women in the age of reconstruction of the U.S had a crucial role to play; this, however, was not a reality in the minds of many. Women, especially African American women were considered to be mere slaves before the free-States began. Their opinion was not highly regarded nor upheld. Many great women rose against such sentiments with the example of Clara Barton and Biddy Mason. The two distinguishable characters in the history of the U.S evidently proved the great role women could play in influencing the social, economic, political and even religious development of a country. Women have there played an indisputable role in making the U.S the great nation it is today.
Faust, D. G. (1996). Mothers of Invention: Women of the slaveholding South in the American civil war. University of North Carolina Press.
Hayden, D. (1989). Biddy Mason's Los Angeles 1856-1891. California History, 68(3), 86-99.
Oates, S. B. (1994). A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War. Free Press.
Ross, I. (1956). Angel of the battlefield: The life of Clara Barton. Harper.
Williams, J. K. (2005). Bridget" Biddy" Mason: From Slave to Businesswoman. Capstone.
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