The Clara Barton Museum Blog

19th Century to the 21st Century: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

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Did you know we celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November because of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War?

This year, as you plot your post-Thanksgiving festivities, plan to visit the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum, DC’s newest and coolest museum.

There are plenty of other surprising connections between the 1860s and today just waiting to be discovered. Here are just a few:

Selfies were serious business.
Clara Barton

THE picture.

If you’ve seen a picture of Clara Barton you’ve probably seen the picture of Clara Barton. Seriously, it’s everywhere. What you probably didn’t know is this wasn’t the only Civil War era photo of Clara. Famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady had taken Clara’s picture twice before, but Clara had hated the picture. She thought she looked like “death on a pale horse” and destroyed the plates. Today, we have a selfie station set up in the museum where you can pose with Clara. If you don’t like the pictures though, disposing of them is much easier.


When you invite everyone over, someone is going to end up sleeping on the floor.
First Rhode Island Regiment Camping in the Shelves of the US Patent Office

You may be sleeping on an air mattress nick-named “the Valley of Fatigue,” but at least you’re not sleeping on the Patent Office shelves like the First Rhode Island regiment.

You know it happens. If you’re having house guests over the Thanksgiving holiday, you’ve probably already started dusting off the inflatable mattress and plotting how you can subtly guilt trip your guests into letting you keep your bed. Unfortunately, when the Civil War broke out the United States wasn’t as prepared. Hundreds of troops arrived in Washington, DC, ready to defend the nation’s capital, and the nation’s capital wasn’t ready for them. There were no barracks. There wasn’t an official place for them to camp. So soldiers did what hundreds of house guests will do this week: they slept on the floor … the floor of the Senate chamber that is. Another regiment slept in the shelves of the Patent Office, curled up between inventions.


#TheNew10 was a topic of conversation back when it was #TheOld10.

For those families that debate current events around the dinner table, who should be on #TheNew10 should be an interesting topic of conversation. (Our vote is for Clara.) In the 1850s and ‘60s, Clara Barton herself was thinking a lot about money, gender, and pay equity. Not only was she one of the first women to work for the federal government in a federal government building … she rose through the ranks and at one point held the coveted job of a clerk and was paid the same as her male counterparts. Before that, Clara Barton left her teaching job in New Jersey when the town elders refused to pay her the same wage as a man. “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing,” she explained, “but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”


Siblings didn’t get along then either.

After the Civil War, Clara Barton took it upon herself to help locate the tens of thousands of soldiers who had gone missing. She and her small staff received over 68,000 inquiries and found over 22,000 men. We know of at least one case, where the missing soldier in question wanted to stay missing, rather than go home to his sister. Take a break from your own sibling rivalries and turkey-fueled tension to find out about this 19th century family feud.


Come to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum and discover more 19th century connections, while giving thanks for 21st conveniences. The Museum will be open Friday November 27th and Saturday November 28th, from noon until 7:00 pm.




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