Barbara Barclay Carter (1900 – 1951) [Biography]

[Biography from Matthew Hoehn’s Catholic authors: contemporary biographical sketches, pp. 112-114]

Barbara Barclay Carter was born in Santa Barbara, California, a daughter of John Alexander Carter and Lucia Barclay, whose father had been Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem. Brought to England while still a small child, she was educated there till she was eighteen. Three years later, after a period of secretarial work that included employment in the International Labor Office in Geneva and with the Irish Republican Envoy in Rome, she resumed her studies in Paris, at the Sorbonne and Catholic Institute, specializing in mediaeval history in which she had the honor of passing first in the University. Having taken her degree of Licenciée-és-Lettres, at the Sorbonne and the first year “Auditorat” diploma in Scholastic Philosophy at the Catholic Institute, she returned to London, becoming a contributor to various reviews and newspapers.

Since a small child, she had had the firm intention of becoming a writer. Her first appearance in print (save for a “poem” in French, in honor of King Albert of Belgium during the last war), was in the shape of two short stories in the Cork Examiner and the Dublin Freeman’s Weekly.

Her first book Ship Without Sails, was published in 1931. This book, a reconstruction of the latter years of Dante’s life, had obsessed her imagination for some years. She had included Italian literature in her studies at the Sorbonne in order to deepen her knowledge of Dante, and every year her vacations were spent in retracing his wanderings through Northern Italy. The form of a novel was chosen partly because it imposed itself, but also partly because in many biographies of Dante so large a part was played by conjecture that a fictional approach appeared a more honest and rewarding form. This approach indeed found a solution for more than one problem that had troubled biographers; with imaginative consideration, apparent discrepancies in early documents could be reconciled, and in at least one instance she anticipated findings now generally accepted among Dante scholars. The title was taken from Dante’s description of himself as a “ship without sails, without rudder,” with a cross-reference to the ship in which Lancelot (with whom there is evidence that Dante identified himself ) came to the Castle of the Holy Grail.

In later years, she wrote various studies on Dante, which appeared in the Dublin Review, Contemporary Review, Hibbert Journal and the Notre Dame Review of Politics; to the first two she also contributed articles on other subjects of literary or historical interest. Her second book, however, was of a wholly different character, Old Nurse (1936 ), a study of her own childhood against the background of her old nurse’s world, an adorable little country town in Wales, where she herself spent her school vacations after her mother’s death. A third work is a play on Abelard, which is awaiting a more propitious time in which to try its fortunes.

At the Sorbonne, she had first come into contact with the Christian Democratic movement through Marc Sangnier and his “Jeune Republique” (then the object of ferocious attacks from the partisans of Charles Maurras and the Action Française). Soon after returning to London, she interviewed Don Sturzo on behalf of the Daily Herald. This was the beginning of what was to be a lasting collaboration. Acting at first as his interpreter, she became his regular translator and was brought into ever closer contact with Christian Democracy in its international manifestations. London Correspondent for l’Illustrazione Vaticana, El Matl (Barcelona ), l’Aube (Paris) and La Cité Nouvelle (Brussels), all of Christian Democratic tendency, in 1936 she was one of the founders of a British branch of the movement, the People & Freedom Group (the name is taken from the mediaeval Florentine slogan, revived by Savonarola in the XVth century and again by the Swiss Christian Democrats in the XIXth century), of which the Chairman was Mrs. Virginia Crawford, in youth the favorite disciple of Cardinal Manning, and she herself Hon. Secretary. When in 1938 the Group founded its own paper People & Freedom which (became a quarterly in 1939 and a monthly in 1940 ) she became its editor.


In the fall of 1939 the Group published a composite book, For Democracy, in which leading Christian Democrats from several countries (they included Mendizabal, Joseph Clayton, Father Gosling, Maurice Vaussard) collaborated under Don Sturzo’s direction. To this she contributed the introductory chapter “What we mean by Democracy.” This book had an enthusiastic reception from the press, Catholic and non Catholic, and was the subject of a leading article in the Manchester Guardian as a ” service to the democratic cause.”

From the spring of 1940 to the late summer of 1944, during the German occupation of Europe, People & Freedom, with its Swiss name-sake, remained the only expression of Christian Democracy on the political plane, while the People & Freedom Group in London formed a rallying-point for Christian Democrats in the exiled Governments. It was thus able to bring into being the International Christian Democratic Union, with the one Hon. Secretary serving for both organizations.

On the appropriate date of July 4, 1944, she entered the service of the American Government (having retained her American citizenship in spite of long residence in Europe) and held the office of Consultant on Italian developments to OSS. Besides all Don Sturzo’s books, she has translated Soderini’s Leo XIII, Maria Montessori’s Secret of Childhood and Fanfani’s Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism. Miss Carter’s interest in the development of the inner life within the Church is instanced by her enrollment among the lay oblates of the renowned English Benedictine Abbey of Buckfast. A more ephemeral interest is her main hobby of bee-keeping which she pursues in a London back garden and she is extremely proud of having passed the “Junior Craftsman” examination of the British Bee-keepers’ Association.