Narrative re-telling of George Barton's social standing.

An important and perhaps relatively unknown historical analysis of occupational therapy was completed by Ralph Adams as part of his M.S. in Occupational Therapy at Rush University.  His work is entitled The Emmanuel Movement: An Antecedent to Occupational Therapy.  I will be spending quite a bit of time exploring Adams' work in future posts, but his introductory comments about the founding meeting in Clifton Springs on March 15, 1917 are very important for us to consider.  He states, "...[I]n its historical investigation, the profession has not been as concerned with what brought us to that point as with what followed." (p.4)

And also, "Genuine understanding of the values contributing to the development of a philosophy of occupational therapy and to the formulation of professional identity, and the subsequent identification of methods and practices appropriate to occupational therapy require investigation of the historical antecedents to occupational therapy." (p.4).

So here is some raw narrative about George Barton that begins to explain more about him as a person and provides a re-telling of the narrative about his social background.  From The Geneva Times, May 9, 1958:

Mr. Barton was born in Boston, of a family steeped in the arts and letters...
The young architect had many interesting adventures, beginning with his bike ride through England, studying architecture with the idea of getting into a certain English office of the old, conservative type. He obtained a list of the little-known churches that had been designed by the head of the firm, then rode through the country making a sketch of each one. This pleased and touched the old man so much he gave Mr. Barton a job.

It was on this bicycle journey that he bought a pair of gaudy Wales trousers. They were pretty "loud" and when he fell in with a gentleman who traveled along with him a couple of hours, the latter remarked about his attire.

Young Barton told him it wasn't customary, in his country, to comment on a man's costume. But they went on riding, and when the American began to whistle operatic arias, his new friend joined in. They they fell to singing. When they parted, the Englishman said, "I've enjoyed this very much, but I hope we never meet again."

However the American did see the Englishman again and discovered it was King Edward VII who had been his brief companion...

Mr. Barton greatly enjoyed his membership in the Tavern Club, which was unique in Boston. it was a feat to get invited into this group, because the prospective member had to show he had accomplished something, aside from measuring up to the other standards and ideals. There he met many of the world's greats, and once joined a group that was entertaining the King of Siam before the king had to step out for a city ceremony in his honor. The monarch was having so much fun among people who called him by his first name, that he didn't want to leave.

These small narratives were recorded in a local newspaper near Clifton Springs and capture stories that his family and contemporaries remember about him and that people believe were worth re-telling.   The stories that people remember and re-tell can take on archetypal elements over time but can be relied upon as valuable source material when primary experience with the subject of a biography is not available.

Although these narratives were recorded well after his death, they are important clues for us that provide more detail than what was previously available.  It is evident from these narratives that George Barton was a member of the social elite, that he was privileged to travel to England to study architecture, that while there he was tutored by famous architects, that he had fascinating chance encounters with royalty, and that he returned to the US and was invited to an elite social club where he continued to have social contacts with other wealthy elite people.  It is all source documentation that gives us more detail and understanding about his life and social status.  This will become increasingly important as we next begin to look at his interests in the arts that extend beyond the aesthetics of design and architecture.


Adams, R.A. (1986).  The Emmanuel Movement: An antecedent to occupational therapy.  Unpublished master's thesis, Rush University, Chicago, IL.

de Lancey, B. (1958, May 9). George Edward Barton: Undaunted cripple's courage aided others. The Geneva Times, p. 2.


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