Arts & Culture

5 Minutes with historian Rosemary Staples

Clara Barton is one of the most influential women in American history. Even before she founded the American Red Cross, she made her name providing medical support for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. She even helped the Lowcountry.

She first traveled to Hilton Head Island in 1863 to provide aid during the war, then returned 30 years later when a hurricane battered the Sea Islands.

Hilton Head resident Rosemary Staples performs a one-woman show as Barton. She'll be giving a presentation Oct. 14 at the Heritage Library.

Staples explains how Barton impacted the Lowcountry.

Question. What is it about Clara Barton that interests you?

Answer. She's one of the most well-known women ever and one of the most accomplished. She was the first woman to work in U.S. government. She worked in the U.S. Patent Office and had a salary comparable to men. She knew all the movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. They helped her bring supplies to the battlefield. She was at Antietam and Bull Run and all these terrible battles. Often, she was right in the midst of it. She's absolutely fearless. One time a bullet went through her sleeve when she was taking care of a soldier. It didn't touch her, but it went right into his heart.

Q. And she came several times to the Lowcountry.

A. One story that I always like to tell that explains the type of impact she had on people: When she came back here in 1893, she was in Beaufort. There were 30,000 people who were homeless. Many people were lying dead in the streets. Just terrible. Four black men came to see her. They used to be part of the 54th (Massachusetts) regiment. She had taken care of them 30 years ago. They always thought about her, and they just wanted to see and thank her again. I just thought that was so touching.

Q. How did you start performing as Clara Barton?

A. I've been a member of the library for a long time. I've done ("Gone with the Wind" author) Margaret Mitchell and Belle Boyd, who was a Confederate spy. I have done Clara before a long time ago.

I'm a member of Toastmasters, and I'm a historian. I've written and given tours. I thought the next step was to impersonate and embody some of these characters.

Q. Was it difficult at first?

A. Well, I write and produce and research the shows and it's exhausting (laughs). I shape it depending on the group. But she did so many things. I could talk for hours about her. She was like a Mother Teresa of the 19th century.


The Heritage Library Foundation

Clara Barton Museum

Clara Barton -- Civil War Trust