Quentin Crisp

December 25

Quentin Crisp (1908)

It was on this date, December 25, 1908, that English writer, actor and homosexual rights campaigner Quentin Crisp was born Denis Pratt in the London suburb of Sutton. The self-described "stately old homo of England" relates in his autobiography how, in his early twenties, he decided to devote his life to "making the existence of homosexuality abundantly clear to the world's aborigines."

Crisp once made his living as a paid nude model in government-supported art schools — literally, a naked civil servant. This became the title of his autobiography, which was dramatized on American television in 1975. His cross-dressing and effeminate style often elicited reactions ranging from verbal taunts to physical assaults. In the early 1980s, fed up with England, Crisp became a Resident Alien in the US — publishing a second autobiography with that title in 1996.

young Quentin Crisp
A younger Quentin Crisp

Although he rejected the natural comparisons to Oscar Wilde, Crisp was narrator for a 1988 film version of Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol." He returned to the screen several more times, including an appearance in 1992 as Queen Elizabeth I in Orlando! Aside from denying that he was a "practicing homosexual" — "I didn't practice; I was already perfect" — Crisp was an Atheist. "When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist," Crisp once quipped, "a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?'"

Crisp died in Manchester, England, on 21 November 1999 at age 90. It was Quentin Crisp who said, "The absolute nothingness of death is a blessing. Something to look forward to."

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Clara Barton

 

Clara Barton (1821)

It was also on this date, December 25, 1821, that Clara Barton was born Clarissa Harlowe Barton in North Oxford, Massachusetts. She was the youngest of five children, who took over much of her early education. From age 17, Barton was a schoolteacher, but she hit a glass ceiling at a free school she opened and expanded in Bordentown, NJ, being passed over to run it when a man was hired instead. Barton moved to Washington DC, and worked in the U.S Patent Office, but when the American Civil War broke out, she said, "while our soldiers stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them."

Although unmarried and barely five feet tall, Barton was given permission to deliver medical supplies directly to the Union front lines. For the next two years she did this so well that a surgeon who worked with her suggested to General McClellan that she was the Angel of the Battlefield. Later, she was called the American Florence Nightingale, after the British "angel" of the Crimean War. Barton also relieved suffering during the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, and returned to introduce the Red Cross to America. Barton served as its first president and wrote a History (1882) of the organization she headed until 1904.

Like her British counterpart, Clara Barton was opposed to Christianity. Although she believed in God, she was a Rationalist throughout her life. Brought up in the Unitarian Church, the Dictionary of American Biography admits that "she ... was never a Church member." In a 1905 letter to a friend, Barton writes of her Theistic, not her Christian beliefs:

Your belief that I am a Universalist is as correct as your greater belief that you are one yourself.... I look anxiously for a time in the near future when the busy world will let me once more become a living part of its people....
Due to Barton's efforts, the United States signed the Geneva Agreement in 1882. She also worked with Susan B. Anthony in the women's suffrage movement. Clara Barton died on 12 April 1912, in Glen Echo, Maryland at the age of 91. She was buried in North Oxford, Massachusetts.

* Letter of 12 March 1905: Clara Barton of Glen Echo, MD, to Mrs. Norman Thrasher of Lakewood, OH.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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