No, Clara Barton did not write that.

Today’s post is about an inspirational quote that is not only misworded but is often misattributed to Clara Barton.  Read on to learn who really wrote it as well as who is spreading this untruth across the internet and in modern literature.

The Misattributed and Misworded Quote Variations

“I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better.”
Clara Barton

“I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better.  It irritates me to be told how things have always been done.  I defy the tyranny of precedent.  I go for anything new that might improve the past.”
Clara Barton

“I have an almost complete disregard of precedent and a faith in the possibility of something better.  It irritates me to be told how things always have been done … I defy the tyranny of precedent.  I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.  I go for anything new that might improve the past.”
Clara Barton

The Correct Quote

I have underlined the sections that are used to create the misquote.

One of Clara Barton’s most outstanding qualities was her almost complete disregard of precedent.  The fact that a thing had always been done in a given way was evidence to her that it could be done again in that fashion, but was of almost no value to her as proving that that was the best way to do it.  She always had faith in the possibility of something betterIt irritated her to be told how things always had been done.  She knew that a very large proportion of things that have been done since the creation have been blunderingly done, and she was always ready to listen to suggestions of better ways.  Having once decided upon a course that defied the tyranny of precedent, she held true to her declaration of independence, and saw her experiment through.

In this she was not reckless or iconoclastic.  She simply forbade herself the cheap luxury of a closed mind.  If no better way presented itself, she was content with the old way of doing.  But she was eager for any new thing that might improve upon the past.  Hers was preeminently a forward-looking mind and a soul with face ever toward the sunrise.

William Eleazar Barton
The Life of Clara Barton
Volume II, chapter XVIII

Here is the quote found in The Life of Clara Barton, volume II, chapter XVIII by William Eleazar Barton (Clara’s cousin).

The First Part of the Correct Quote Found in 'The Life of Clara Barton' volume II, chapter XVIII by William Eleazar Barton

The First Part of the Correct Quote Found in The Life of Clara Barton
volume II, chapter XVIII by William Eleazar Barton

The Last Part of the Correct Quote Found in 'The Life of Clara Barton' volume II, chapter XVIII by William Eleazar Barton

The Last Part of the Correct Quote Found in The Life of Clara Barton
volume II, chapter XVIII by William Eleazar Barton

Here is the title page.

Title Page of 'The Life of Clara Barton' by William Eleazar Barton

Title Page of The Life of Clara Barton by William Eleazar Barton

Statistics
After surveying 103 websites featuring today’s misquote, I found the following trends.

PercentageType of Website
32%    Quotes only
21%    Social media
18%    Informational
7%     Quotes a major feature
5%     Organization
4%     Corporation/corporate individual
4%     Online app or service
4%     Academic/educational/school
3%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
2%     Topical group or discussion forum

Quote Websites Are the Main Source of Today’s Misquote

Based on the above statistics, the main source of today’s misquote are websites that specialize solely in providing quotes.  As we’ve seen in so many of my previous posts, this is not a surprise.  Also note the 7% of websites that provide quotes as a major feature of their functionality.  If we add these two categories together, 39% of the sites featuring this misquote are quotes-only databases.  Clearly, quote websites are the worst place to go when searching for quotes.

Social Media Is Another Source of Today’s Misquote

The above statistics also show that social media websites are the second major source of propagation for today’s misquote.  This too fits the pattern seen in so many of my previous posts.  Unfortunately, social media is the breeding ground for the quote virus.  Each time one person posts a misquote, all of his/her followers get it, and then all of their followers get it and so on and so forth.  It is like an infection that spreads and eventually becomes an epidemic.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the untruth mutates into the truth and becomes gospel.  This appears to be the case with Barton’s misquote.

The bottom line is beware of those cute memes that are posted and pinned in social media.  Many of them are infected.

Nursing Career Books Are Another Source of Today’s Misquote

Because Clara Barton was a nurse who founded the American Red Cross, it seems it is incumbent upon nursing career books to feature this misquote.  One would think books that are composed of facts and figures for the purpose of education would contain nothing but fact-checked data.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  I came across 20 books featuring our misquote, and 10 of them are books on the subject of nursing.  Apparently, this misquote has been around for so long that even educators accept it as truth.

The Cause of the Misattributed Quote

Today’s misquote was created by piecing together various phrases contained within two paragraphs of William E. Barton’s book The Life of Clara Barton.  In these paragraphs, he is describing Clara from his perspective.  This does not mean that she said or wrote these words; rather, they are the author’s words describing his perception of her.

Apparently, somewhere along the line, someone decided to cherry-pick bits and pieces of these paragraphs and then insert the word “I” to give the impression that Clara actually wrote them.  I’m not sure why someone would do this, but as I’ve written before, it only takes one person to set the quote virus in motion.

By the way, Clara did author a few books, and the misquote does not occur in any of them.

Most Disappointing Find

I came across a dissertation online that cites this misquote.  This dissertation is for Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing in the Graduate Division of the University of California San Francisco.  I am disappointed that academia is contributing to the propagation of this misquote.  After all, these are the people who research, prove and teach facts.  It’s a shame that they are part of the misquote epidemic because many of these misquotes alter history and give credit where credit isn’t due.

Most Amusing Finds

I find it amusing that the misquote itself is about breaking precedents, yet the nursing field continues the precedent of using this misquote even though it is incorrect. Oh the irony.

I also find it amusing that there are a few websites that cite the source of this misquote from another quote website.  Talk about the blind leading the blind!  (chuckle, giggle, wink)

Quote Books Are Another Source of Misquotes

During my research, I came across one quote book that featured this misquote.  As I’ve mentioned before, modern quote books are just as unreliable as quote websites.  I would bet most of them were written using quote websites as a source.  If a book does not feature detailed source information with the quote, it is not trustworthy.  Citing the name of the author/orator alone is not sufficient.  Details such as the name of the work in which the quote is found should be accompanied by applicable information such as the chapter, act, scene, line number, etc.

Misquotes for Sale

As with my previous posts, I came across today’s misquote for sale.  A wooden bookmark with the engraved misquote can be had for $7.50.  Additionally, a money clip for nurses featuring the misquote is available for just $19.95.  What a deal!

Let’s Kill the Quote Virus

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the quote virus.  It can only be eradicated through education and safe quoting.  You can be a part of the solution by sharing the knowledge.  Also, if you’re on Facebook, you can “like” my Facebook fan page, and if you’re on Twitter, you can follow me @SueBrewton.

Finally, remember to practice safe quoting by never trusting quotes that do not have detailed source information.

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

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