Representative women of New England/E. Florence Barker
E. FLORENCE BARKER, the first President of the National Woman's Relief , Corps (elected in July, 1883), was for nearly a quarter of a century a resident of Maiden, Mass., where. .she died September 11, 1897. She was the daughter of William A. and Mary J. (Skinner) Whittredge, was born in Lynnfield, Mass., March 29, 1840, and was educated in the public school of Lynnfield and at the academy in Thetford, Vt.
On June 18, 1863, she, then E. Florence Whittredge, became the wife of Colonel Thomas Erskine Barker, of Gilmanton, N.H., he being on a furlough, recovering from wounds received in the battle of Chancellorsville. In July of the same year Colonel Barker was able to resume command of his regiment, the Twelfth New Hampshire. His bride joined him in August at Point Lookout, Md., and remained at the front until the following April. Her tent was tastefully decorated, and was a cheerful rendezvous for the officers. This experience gained of camp life during wartime increased her regard for the Union soldiers, whom she so often met in camp and hospitals, for Mrs. Barker was intensely patriotic.
After the close of the war Colonel and Mrs. Barker settled in Maiden, Mass. When the Grand Army of the Republic was formed, Mrs. Barker became deeply interested in its success. She joined Major-general H. G. Berry Relief Corps, auxiliary to Post No. 40, G. A. R., in May, 1879, and served as its President four years in succession. At the convention of the Department of Massachusetts W. R. C. in 1880 she was elected Department Senior Vice-President, and in 1881 was re-elected. She was chosen Department President the following year, and filled the office so acceptably that she was re-elected in 1883.
Eighteen corps were instituted during her administration. While presiding over the State convention in Boston, January, 1883, she had the pleasure of welcoming Paul Van Der Voort, of Omaha, Neb., Commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, and other prominent comrades. That the eloquent manner in which Mrs. Barker reviewed the work and principles of the Woman's Relief Corps impressed the commander-in-chief with the value of such an auxiliary is witnessed by the following, which he officially promulgated in a general order dated February 16, 1883:—
"The commander-in-chief is delighted to learn that the loyal women of the land are forming auxiliary societies everywhere. The grand work done by these organizations is worthy of the highest praise.
"The Woman's Relief Corps of Massachusetts is hereby particularly mentioned on account of its perfect organization and the work it has accomplished. The President of the same, Mrs. E. Florence Barker, of Maiden, Mass., will be happy to furnish information.
"By command of
"Paul Van Der Voort,
"F. E. Brown, Adjutant-general."
In general orders issued May 1, 1883, announcing the arrangements for the Seventeenth National Encampment, to be held in Denver, Col., July 24-28, Commander-in-chief Van Der Voort cordially invited representatives of the Woman's Relief Corps and other societies working for the Grand Army of the Republic to meet at Denver and perfect a national organization, adding: "They should bring their rituals, rules, by-laws, and plans of organization, and if possible agree on a uniform mode or system of procedure throughout the country. I pledge the noble women who compose these societies that they will be warmly greeted and given all the encouragement possible. Miss Clara Barton has promised to be present."
At a meeting of the board of directors of the Department of Massachusetts, W. R. C, held in Boston, June 27, 1883, Mrs. E. Florence Barker, Mrs. Sarah E. Fuller, and Mrs. Lizabeth A. Turner were chosen delegates to represent this department at the convention in Denver. It was voted that the Department of New Hampshire be invited to unite with Massachusetts in sending delegates.
Mrs. Barker presided with grace and tact over the deliberations of the women's convention at Denver, which was attended by delegates from several States. At the second day's session it was voted to form a National Woman's Relief Corps on the same basis as that of the Department of Massachusetts, provided the National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic should decide to recognize this action. Several of the delegates present refused to endorse the clause in the rules and regulations admitting to membership other women than relations of soldiers.
This clause also caused a lengthy discussion in the National Encampment when the resolution of endorsement was debated, for several conmrades who believed in a woman's national organization opposed any movement in its behalf that would not restrict the membership to relations of soldiers.
Past Commander-in-chief George S. Merrill, of Massachusetts, said: "We certainly, comrades of the Grand Army of the Republic, cannot afford to do anything that can by any possible means be construed as discourteous or hostile to any of the loyal women of America." Comrade William Warner, of Missouri (since Commander-in-chief), participated in the debate, saying in part: "I come from a State that has no organization, and that has no interest in any differences between the various organizations. I come from a State in which there does not breathe a loyal man who does not extend the right hand of welcome to every sister, mother, or sweetheart within her borders, whose heart beats in sympathy with us."
The resolution which was offered by Chaplain-in-chief Foster was adopted, namely: "That we cordially hail the organization of a National Woman's Relief Corps, and extend our greeting to them. We return our warmest thanks to the loyal women of the land for their earnest support and encouragement, and bid them God-speed in their patriotic work."
A messenger was sent to the W. R. C. Convention with an invitation for its members to attend the installation of officers of the G. A. R., and the meeting was adjourned at noon until three o'clock p.m. Proceeding to the Tabor Opera House, the delegates were officially notified of the vote of endorsement. Robert B. Beath, of Philadelphia, the historian of the G. A. R., was installed as Commander-in-chief, and, upon assuming the office and addressing the encampment, he said: "I have not been able to enter into the details of the organiza- tion of a Ladies' Aid Society by the good ladies who have assembled in this city of Denver for this purpose; but, whatever they shall do that tends to perpetuate the great humane work of the yar, that has now devolved on the Grand Army of the Republic, and upon all their wives and sisters and friends, I can assure them of my most hearty support."
The auxiliary also received a cordial welcome from other speakers, among them General John A. Logan, who said: "I was once a sufferer on a battle-held and long afterward in a hospital, and every morn I coukl feel as if a silver cord was twined aroimd a capstan in the region of glory and reached to my heart, where it was anchored by the hand of woman. I thank God that he has brought to the front this aux- iliary; that there was mind enough, charity enough, generosity enough, to bring into ex- istence the Woman's Relief Corps."
The convention, upon reassemljling, voted to hold its annual sessions on the date and in the city chosen by the National Encampment, G. A. R., and then elected officers for the en- suing year, namely: President, E. Florence Barker, Maiden, Mass. ; Senior Vice-President, Kate B. Sherwood, Toledo, Ohio; Junior Vice- President, E. K. Stimson, Denver, Col. ; Sec- retary, Sarah E. Fuller, East Boston, Mass.; Treasurer, Lizabeth A. Turner, Boston, Mass. ; Chaplain, Mattie B. Moulton, Laconia, N.H.; Inspector, Emily Gardner, Denver, Col.; Con- ductor, P. S. Runyan, 'arsaw, Ind.; Guard, J. W. Beatson, Rockford, 111.; Corresponding Secretaries, Mary J. Telford, Denver, Col., and Ellen Fay, Topeka, Kan.
Mrs. Barker accepted an invitation to in- stall the officers-elect, and after performing this ceremony she was duly installetl as National President by Mrs. Fuller. At the close of the convention its members were guests at a re- ception tendered in the evening to Commander- in-chief Beath antl Past Commander-in-chief Van Der Voort.
An invitation was extended the women from Massachusetts to accompany the commander- in-chief's l)arty on a trip through the Colorado caiions. This afforded an excellent opportu- nity for conference upon the work of the year, and the mutual interests of the two national organizations were considered by their leaders.
Through the courtesy of George S. Evans, Department Conmiander, national headquar- ters W. R. C. were established at the head- quarters of the Department of Massachusetts, G. A. R., in Pemberton Square, Boston. To prove that a national order was needed, that the plan adopted at Denver was the best, and that women were capable of managing a large organization with ritualistic forms ami parliamentary rules, required excellent judg- ment, tact, and a love for the work. These qualities were combined in Mrs. Barker, who sought advice from the officials of the Grand Army of the Republic, and recognized the importance of harmonious co-operation with them.
In her first general order, dated September 1, 1883, she said: "While working in unison with the G. A. R., we can accomplish great results and build well the structure, which we hope will stand years after the watchful comrades have left — as they must — their unfinished work to our willing hands."
At the National Convention at Minneapolis in July, 1884, Mrs. Barker was able to say: "Our success far exceeds the high anticipations of our most sanguine friends." She wrote over a thousand letters during the year she served as National President, visited the De- partments of Maine, New Hampshire, and Con- necticut, and performed numerous other duties. She declined a re-election, but was made a life member of the National Executive Board, and until her ileath was a leader in the affairs of the order. A woman of commanding presence, always presiding with grace and dignity, Mrs. Barker was also an elocjuent speaker, and she addressed many patriotic gatherings in different parts of the coimtry. She represented the order at the International Council of Women held in Washington, D.C., in 1889, and favored progressive action when advocating the claims of woman's work for the veterans.
The National Woman's Relief Corps has received the cordial endorsement of every National Encampment since 1883, and is the only recognized auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic. It is conducting a great work in every State and Territory of the Union, and numbers over one hundred forty thousand members. It has expended more than two million dollars in relief and many thousands of dollars additional in behalf of patriotic education in the public schools, in the erection of monuments and memorial halls, in the sacred observance of Memorial Day, in securing pensions for army nurses, and in other legislative work of importance.
A National Woman's Relief Corps Home has been founded at Matlison, Ohio, for the wives and mothers of soldiers and for dependent army nurses ; and homes have also been founded and are being supported by the order in several States.
Mrs. Barker was deeply interested in the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea, Mass., and was one of the founders of the Ladies' Aid Association which co-operates with the Board of Trustees, of which Colonel Barker was treasurej. A room at the home, furnished by the Depart- ment of Massachusetts W. R. C, contains her portrait, and is designated by a banner with the inscription, "Dedicated in honor of Mrs. E. Florence Barker, first National President of the Woman's Relief Corps."
When Mrs. Barker, in 1884, retired from the office of President, her associates in the Depart- ment of Massachusetts presented to her an en- grossed testimonial as a mark of appreciation and esteem, saying in part: "The excellent judgment ever manifested during the two years in which you .servetl this department as Presi- dent, the fidelity with which you rendered service as first National President of the order, your influence, everywhere recognized, hare conferred honor upon our work, and aided in giving it a permanent endorsement by the Grand Army of the Republic throughout the land."
Mrs. Barker did not confine her interests entirely to Grand Army and Soldiers' Home work. She was one of the directors of the Union ex-Prisoners of War National Memorial Association, treasurer (and president one year) of the Woman's Club House Corporation of Boston, a trustee of the Maiden Hospital, and a director of the Hospital Aid Association. She exerted an influence in public work and social life, and thoroughly enjoyed her asso- ciations in both.
In all her public work Mrs. Barker received the hearty co-operation of her husband, Thomas Erskine Barker. He was born in Canterbury, N.H., in 1839, and was educated in the public schools. He enlistetl in Company B, Goodwin Rifles, Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, May 31, 1861, and on the next day was made Captain. He was taken by the enemy at the first battle of Bull Run, and was con- fined in Libby Prison at Richmond, Va., and in Salisbury, N.C. After nine months in rebel prisons he was paroled and sent N(jrth. At his own request he was discharged from the army in July, 1862. He re-enlisted as a pri- vate, joining Company B, Belknap Guards, Twelfth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, and was elected and commissioned Captain. He engaged in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Va., and was wounded in the latter conflict.
Soon after the battle of Gettysburg he returned to duty and was placed in command of the regiment. Colonel Barker was in the battle of Cold Harbor, in the series of engagements in front of Petersburg, where for twenty-two successive days he was under fire, and he was also present at the capture and occupation of Richmond. He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel in October, 1864, ami Colonel in April, 1865. At the conclusion of hostilities he was placed in command of the United States forces at Danville, ii., and, after a few weeks' service there as military governor, was ordered with the regiment to Concord, N.H., where it was mustered out of service.
For some years he was in the employ of a wholesale grocery firm in Boston. In 1872 he was admitted into partnership with Wadleigh, Spurr & Co. 1880-88 he was a member of the firm of Andrews, Barker & Bunton, and on June 1, 1889, he became one of the firm of Barker & Harris, brokers and commission merchants.
Colonel Barker was a resident of Maiden twenty-two years, and was prominent in many social organizations. He was a member of Mount Vernon Lodge of Masons; the Royal Arch Chapter; the Middlesex Club; the Loyal Legion of Massachusetts; the Kernwood Club, of Maiden; and of Major-general H. G. Berry Post, No. 40, G. A. R., of that city. He served as Assistant Quartermaster-general of the Department of Massachusetts, G. A. R., and often attended as a delegate the National Encampments. For many years he was a member of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and for three terms was president of the Boston Wholesale Grocers' Association.
For two years he represented Maiden in the lower branch of the State Legislature. His last political service was as a delegate in the Republican Congressional Convention at Lynn in October, 1896.
Colonel Barker was a leading member of the Universalist Church in Maiden, and was for many years superintendent of its Sunday-school. To the interests of the Soldiers' Home he was sincerely devoted, and was treasurer of its Board of Trustees at the time of his death, December 17, 1896.
The Woman's Relief Corps lost one of its earliest and most earnest friends by the death of Colonel Barker. It was he who framed the first resolution ever presented in a department encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, endorsing a State Relief Corps.
The death of Mrs. Barker occurred less than a year after her husband's passing. Memorial services were held by corps throughout the country, posts of the Grand Army joining in these tributes to her memory. Her portrait has been placed in department headquarters in Boston.
The home in Maiden of Colonel and Mrs. Barker welcomed prominent guests from many States. One room was devoted to relics, among them a jewelled sword, presented to the Colonel by the officers of his regiment; his commission as military governor of Danville, Va.; a bolt from Libby Prison, in which he was confined several months; and hanging on the walls of the room was the engrossed testimonial, above named, which she cherished as a valuable souvenir.
Colonel and Mrs. Barker are survived by two daughters and one son—namely, Florence, Blanche, and William E. The last named is in business in Boston, and resides at Maiden. The daughters are married, and their home is in Kentucky.