She looked like Clara Barton. She knew everything about Clara Barton. But the person who spoke as Barton at the Kaneville Public Library on April 6 was actually actress Leslie Goddard, who brought her historical character to life during the educational performance.
Barton is perhaps most famous for founding the American Red Cross. But she also holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve as a nurse on the front lines of a battlefield, which she did during the Civil War.
During her Kaneville Library performance, Goddard’s character shared stories of the challenges she faced in her quest to care for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. She spoke to the audience about the medical conditions she treated during this war and the courage it took for her to brave the war’s front lines.
Goddard has given presentations as Barton for nearly 12 years.
“What started as a hobby turned into a full-time job about three years ago,” she said.
Goddard in 2015 presented more than 300 programs, portraying historic woman such as Barton, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy. Goddard said it takes her up to two years to prepare each performance, reading as many biographies and general history of the era as she can. She then delves into the primary source materials: the person’s own letters and autobiography.
“I write my own scripts and try to incorporate the woman’s own words if possible,” Goddard said. “I spend about six months memorizing and rehearsing the script and assembling the costume.”
But what Goddard finds most challenging is keeping up with the latest research and news about each woman for the question-and-answer session at the conclusion of the presentation. Goddard always takes questions and can’t predict what questions people will ask, so she does her research right up to each performance.
For the costumes, she usually turns to either vintage clothing shops or has a seamstress create a custom costume for her – for example, Jackie Kennedy’s signature pink suit. Goddard actually sewed the Barton costume herself, using plain, dark fabric to hide the blood stains and dirt associated with working at a field hospital, and creating a long, floor- length skirt that actually drags on the ground.
“Women’s skirts in those days were designed to be long enough to be worn over steel hoop skirts,” Goddard said. “But hoop skirts were difficult to maneuver in a hospital, so most hospital workers just wore several petticoats underneath, and the skirt would drag a bit.”
Goddard said she loves that the skirt from her costume actually drags in an authentic way.
“This was the first time we offered this kind of event at the library,” Kaneville Library Director Lynda Fillipp – also an employee of Shaw Media – said. “We partnered with the Kaneville Historical Society to bring this free event to the community – a chance to step back into history with Leslie’s wonderful, realistic portrayal of Clara Barton.”
Fillipp said she was excited to see nearly 50 people at the event, and hopes that the Barton presentation is just the first of many programs hosted by the library.
“We think for the next event, we’ll have to move the program to the Kaneville Community Center gym so more people can attend,” she said. “Moving the library outside of its four walls really excites me.”
Goddard said the Kaneville program was great.
“It was a good-sized audience, which allowed for me to develop a great discussion,” she said. “People were then more comfortable asking questions and sharing insights at the end.”