Many of my favorite historical figures (Lincoln, Sherman, Meriwether Lewis among them) appear to have suffered from debilitating depression, which makes it all the more stunning that they went on to drag themselves up and change their worlds. Another of my favorite tough broads, Clara Barton, was listed amongst the black dog owners, too.
“I am depressed and feel dissatisfied with myself,” she wrote in fine, tiny script in diaries now stored on microfilm in the Library of Congress. With so little to do, she paradoxically couldn’t rest, and so “rose not refreshed, but cold and languid.” For neither the first nor last time, she considered suicide.
“All the world appears selfish and treacherous,” she wrote on April 14. “I can get no hold on a good noble sentiment any where. I have scanned over and over the whole moral horizon and it is all dark. The night clouds seem to have shut down — so stagnant, so dead, so selfish, so calculating. . . . Shall the world move on in all this weight of dead, morbid meanness?” A few days later, she fantasized again about killing herself.
But then, as Elizabeth Brown Pryor wrote in her 1987 biography, “Clara Barton: Professional Angel,” the self-made philanthropist’s “dejection was lifted finally by her only true remedy — a need for her services. The Union army’s spring campaign had started early.”