Vintage photo of Sarah Eddy Home.

Susan B. Anthony has secured her place in history as an important figure in gaining the vote for women.  Her full length portrait hangs in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. We have forgotten, however, the artist and friend of Susan B. Anthony who painted that grand full-length oil painting. The artist, Sarah James Eddy, was a long time resident of Portsmouth and Susan actually came to stay with her in Portsmouth for three weeks as she “sat” for the portrait.

Why did Susan take the time to come to little Portsmouth for a long portrait sitting? You have to learn a little about the artist to understand why Miss Anthony would indulge the artist. Sarah James Eddy was an accomplished artist. She was a skilled painter, photographer and sculptor. Sarah was also a close friend to some of the most notable leaders in the great causes of the day – abolition and women’s suffrage. Sarah had experience in painting important portraits. In the 1880s she persuaded Abolitionist Frederick Douglass to come to Rhode Island (she was living in Providence at the time) to sit for a full-length portrait. Now hanging at the Frederick Douglass National Park near Washington, this painting might be the only painting where Douglass actually “sat” for the artist.

Sarah’s family supported the anti-slavery cause and Douglass became a friend of Sarah. The friendship and family connections Sarah had with these great figures provided her with an opportunity other artists would not have had.  Although Susan B. Anthony had long promised a visit, the opportunity didn’t arrive until the fall of 1902. Susan visited family members in Massachusetts as she made her way to Sarah’s large home in the part of Portsmouth known as Bristol Ferry. The letters Susan wrote show how she relished her time at Bristol Ferry. She stayed over three weeks and the artist and subject would spend their mornings on the portraits and would enjoy the afternoon traveling around Aquidneck Island.

Miss Anthony wrote: “We have delightful drives over the old stone bridge that connects us with the mainland to Tiverton and along the shore of the Sconset (Sakonnet) River, which is really an arm of the ocean and here we can see the whole length of the island with Newport in its beauty on the coast. It is ten miles away and we went by train one day, took the famous ocean drive and passed the palaces of the nabobs.”

Susan enjoyed just being at Sarah’s home. She wrote of waking up from afternoon naps to “the slanting rays of the sun” shining on Narragansett Bay. She must have slept in a turret room because she wrote that “from all five windows of my big room is the most glorious view imaginable.”

Bristol Ferry was the “hotbed” of the Rhode Island Women’s Suffrage movements, so Susan was among friends and supporters in Portsmouth. She would take a carriage ride down West Main Road to Oak Glen, the home of Julia Ward Howe. She found Julia “charming” and “had an interesting time.”

Sarah Eddy was a woman of many causes and she entertained so many at her home. While Susan was there one of the guests had just come from a Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Convention and another was from the Anti-Vivisection Society. Sarah was a strict vegetarian and one of her neighbors teased that Susan should come for a meal at their house because a “slice of good roast beef” would do her good. Susan declined the offer, but the neighbor sent over some of the roast beef “for Miss Eddy’s cannibal friends.”