Putting a Face on History Woman's First-Person Portrayals Bring Great Ladies of the Past to Life
Byline: Susan Dibble
By day, Leslie Goddard can be found at the Elmhurst Historical Museum leading tours, teaching children and planning events as the community programs coordinator.
Evenings and weekends, the Des Plaines woman may take on the persona of Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer, Titanic survivor Violet Jessop or former first lady Abigail Adams in dramatic first-person presentations to social, civic and church organizations.
Goddard will debut her newest portrayal at 11:30 a.m. Sunday when she appears as pioneering nurse Clara Barton during Naper Settlement's Civil War Days activities.
Barton was such an important figure that settlement officials asked Goddard to develop the presentation, said Maureen Malloy, education event coordinator at the 19th-century living history museum near downtown Naperville.
No one in the area, it seems, regularly portrays Barton, who served as a nurse during the Civil War and founded the American Red Cross.
"We're really excited about her coming," Malloy said. "She's very well known for her Great Women in History series."
Goddard, who has done previous presentations at the settlement, said her research into Barton uncovered an amazing woman who isn't well-known to the public.
In her early 40s, when the Civil War started, Barton was working in the U.S. Patent Office and already had a successful career as a teacher. But she had not yet found a role that satisfied her ambition and desire to do something useful.
Learning of the troops' need for medical supplies and more timely care, she solicited donations, rented warehouses and entered battlefields with bullets flying about her.
"She was a one-woman powerhouse," Goddard said. "Not only did she survive this, she really kind of thrived on it."
But Barton - who carefully cultivated her image as the "angel of the battlefield" - is only the latest in Goddard's portrayals of women who went beyond the roles society expected of them.
"You can read about these characters. You can follow the details and facts. But it's very hard to get to what did it feel like, what was it like to be there. …