The Case of Lena, Part II: Barton's response to 'A Common Man'

Continued from Part I - Read here.

This exploration of some of Barton's writing outside of professional journals is offered for additional context to assist readers in understanding his concerns and passions that related to the occupational therapy profession.


The story of Lena got one reader of the Geneva Daily Times "all choked up."  This reader called himself "A Common Man" and wrote a letter to the editor on January 19, 1920 asking more about Lena's story:

Now what I don't understand is this.  It was too bad that Lena couldn't take that elegant job in the 5&10 and I guess the manager was sorry too because they say it's hard to get good girls like Lena and her father would be glad of her help I'll say so.

Well what I want to know is this.  Why couldn't Lena learn something at Oak Mount so that when she got well again she could get a better job... that would help her father more and the extra pay she's get would sort of make up for the time she spent at Oak Mount when she didn't have the 5&10 job.

Maybe I'm just crazy but do you see what I mean?

That letter to the editor motivated Barton to write his own letter to the editor on January 24, 1920, calling it his 'duty and pleasure' to respond.

First, it is interesting to note Barton's compassion for the little girl - indicating that the subject "is not 'just a story' but a very real and dear little girl."   He went on to state that 'A Common Man' "has expressed the very essence of one of the greatest of the problems which now face the United States in this period of reconstruction, of which so much is being said, and so little actually done.  That children and "grown ups" also can be taught much of value to themselves and to society during the long period of convalescence is an assured fact."

Barton had no shortage of criticism for the health care system or existing power structures, a theme which is repeated in his letters to Dr. Dunton.  Representative criticism is in his letter to Dunton dated May 19, 1917 where he states, "So far I have failed to find any one in Washington who seems to know where anything is or should be, though I hope for inside information shortly."  The criticism of health care and government was repeated throughout his book and was just as evident in his Letter to the Editor:

I shall be glad personally to champion these ideas of "Just a Common Man" anywhere, their only weakness lying in the fact that they are in advance of the times.

When enough like him dare to protest against the present hospital method of treating the sick, then the hospitals will change their method because they need his money for their support.  The teachers will study and qualify: and "chasing the cure" will cease to be the awful, dreary, discouraging process it is made to be at present; and Lena will be sent home with resistance to her disease increased, knowing more than she knew before (able to take a better job), and an active home missionary to fight intelligently against tuberculosis.

Until then all that Lena will learn is the discouraging if not disgusting stories of the lives of the other victims with whom she is confined.

What is notable about this Letter to the Editor is that it demonstrates Barton's ongoing passion and commitment to the occupational therapy cause after he stopped participating as formally in the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy.  Quiroga's characterization of the 'momentary brilliance' of Barton's career needs to be reconsidered.  Barton's journal submissions and book writing ended mostly by 1918 but his work at Consolation House continued in earnest.  Barton did not 'suddenly burn out' but instead just focused his efforts in different directions.

Barton's passion about occupational therapy extended to children, notably evident in his writing about the 'Case of Lena' - and would very soon play out in his life in ways that he might have only been imagining at the time he was writing letters to his local newspaper editor. 

To be continued...


embedded links, Fulton History (newspaper archives), and...

Quiroga, Virginia A.M. (1995). Occupational therapy: The first 30 years 1900-1930.  Bethesda: AOTA Press. 


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