Sondra Torchia was the guest speaker at the March meeting of the McDonald County Historical Society on Sunday.
Torchia appeared in costume as Clara Barton, one of America's most famous women. The time setting for "Miss Barton's" visit to McDonald County was 1904. She was in Missouri to attend the World's Fair in St. Louis. Actually her visit came just months before her retirement as the director of the American Red Cross.
Torchia, speaking as Miss Barton, said she was born in Oxford, Mass., in 1821, and unlike many young women in her day, wanted to do useful work. She taught school for 20 years in Philadelphia and then took a job in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.
While working there, she witnessed the effects of slavery and the suffering of the men who participated in the 1861 Baltimore Riots, which were a prelude to the Civil War. Seeing the condition of men fighting, Clara Barton took it upon herself to tend the wounded. With the outbreak of the Civil War, she continued this practice.
Early on, she saw that the army was not prepared to take care of the wounded, so she took it upon herself to gather and store hospital supplies for wounded soldiers.
As the war continued, she received permission from President Lincoln himself to take her supply wagons and "follow the cannons." She had a pass which allowed her to enter upon battlefields. This was very unusual for a woman, and in doing so, she earned the title "Angel of the Battlefield."
After the war, Clara Barton found a new cause. People throughout the land wrote to Washington inquiring about their sons, brothers, uncles, cousins and fathers who did not return when the fighting ended. There was no one in government to answer these letters, so she began answering what eventually turned out to be 163,000 letters of inquiry. She sought records of all kinds, and in all places, to find missing or dead soldiers.
In 1881, when on a medical leave to Europe, she learned about an organization in France which was formed to help people. The French group used a banner with a large red cross. Her health restored, Clara Barton returned to the United States, determined to form an American Red Cross.
Through this new organization, she lead many disaster efforts, including spending time in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. She also had the Red Cross help with major floods, big fires and hurricanes. Leading volunteers in this work, she remained as president of the Red Cross until her retirement in 1904.
The program ended with Clara Barton saying, "When I started this life, I never knew it would be such a long journey."
Sondra Torchia is a resident of Eureka Springs, Ark., and has done portrayals for several years. Her performance as Clara Barton was enjoyed by about 50 people in the new McDonald County Courthouse.
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