Clara Barton Was
A Unitarian-Universalist
Frances Prevas

We had issued a dispatch warning of scam artists posing as donation stations for the American Red Cross. In this dispatch, Cliff stated that Clara Barton was "openly atheistic." We thank Frances Prevas for straightening us out on this matter, and nudging us toward agnosticism regarding Barton's lack of theism.
     One point worth mentioning: The Unitarians in Cliff's family appear to have tended toward the "Spinoza's god" viewpoint, toward old-school Unitarianism before the merger with Universalism, which, the way Jefferson writes about it, appears synonymous with Deism; thus, "Unitarianism" is not readily identified with theism or even Deism or pantheism in Cliff's usual (day-to-day) mode of thinking. This has nothing to do with Cliff mistaking Clara Barton as an atheist (this idea came from elsewhere), but is simply a point worth mentioning: the word Unitarianism has as many different meanings as there are Unitarians plus observers of Unitarianism.

Clara Barton and her parents attended the Universalist Church in Oxford, Massachusetts. In 1905 she wrote a statement of her religious beliefs to her friend, Mrs. Norman Thrasher, Lakewood, Ohio.

My dear friend and sister:

Your belief that I am a Universalist is as correct as your greater belief that you are one yourself, a belief in which all who are privileged to possess it rejoice. In my case, it was a great gift, like St. Paul, I 'was born free', and saved the pain of reaching it through years of struggle and doubt.

My father was a leader in the building of the church in which Hosea Ballow preached his first dedication sermon. Your historic records will show that the old Huguenot town of Oxford, Mass. erected one of, if not the first Universalist Church in America. In this town I was born; in this church I was reared. In all its reconstructions and remodelings I have taken a part, and I look anxiously for a time in the near future when the busy world will let me once more become a living part of its people, praising God for the advance in the liberal faith of the religions of the world today, so largely due to the teachings of this belief.

Give, I pray you, dear sister, my warmest congratulations to the members of your society. My best wishes for the success of your annual meeting, and accept my thanks most sincerely for having written me.

Fraternally yours, (Signed) Clara Barton

Glen Echo, Md., March 12, 1905

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Frances Prevas"
Subject: Re: Clara Barton
Date: September 13, 2001 10:06 AM

Being of Unitarian stock, it is my understanding that UU has always accepted atheists (Madalyn Murray O'Hair's initial denunciation of them as she fled west to California and ultimately Hawaii notwithstanding). I think it is possible to be either or both and still lack a god belief.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, in Women Without Superstition, lists her as a "freethinker," which again may indicate either theism or atheism. I have heard from other sources that she was an atheist, but cannot trust them implicitly. Joseph McCabe, in his Dictionary of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Freethinkers, says the following:

She was a farmer's daughter, a shy sensitive, slight little woman (5 feet in height) who worked so heroically amongst the wounded in the Civil War that she was called "the Angel of the Battlefield." General Miles said that she was "the greatest humanitarian the world had ever known." The rest of her life was devoted to work for the Red Cross, which she introduced into America, and other reforms. The Dictionary of American Biography admits that "she was brought in the Universalist Church but was never a Church member."

A clear statement from her, later in life, that she believed in the existence of a deity would of course show her not to have been an atheist. This statement where she longs to become once again a member of the Church "praising God" could be such a statement: I am not going to assert or suggest otherwise, but neither do I consider it a clear-cut and definitive confession of faith. But in lieu of such a statement, I must retract my claim that she was, in fact, an atheist and must now say that she was, at minimum, a freethinker and my knowledge does not extend beyond that at this time.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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