Sarah Eddy and Susan B. Anthony: The Artist and Her Subject

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Sarah Eddy’s mother and grandmother left Susan B. Anthony money in their wills to further the cause of woman’s suffrage, but the two ladies had not met until 1885.  Miss Anthony had been able to get away from her work to go to the “Progressive Friends” (a Quaker offshoot) meeting in Pennsylvania.  In her diary she wrote:  “Last evening as I sat on the sofa Miss Eddy put her arms around me and said, ‘I am so glad I love you; I should have felt very sorry if I had not.’ And so should I, for the sake of her dear mother and grandfather, who had so much confidence in me.”

Sarah and Susan went on to New York together and then to visit Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  A friendship was formed that lasted until Susan’s death.  Miss Anthony could not be there when Sarah would visit Rochester for a convention.  Miss Anthony wrote a friend “I am sure you would be glad to entertain her, she is a sweet, lovely little woman; thoroughly sympathizing with everything and everybody that suffers injustice.  I am very sorry that sister Mary and I must be away and can not have the dear girl with us.” *

Larger portrait re-creating 80th Birthday

Susan B. Anthony came to Portsmouth to visit Sarah and sit for a portrait.  In August of 1901 a Rochester newspaper account quotes Miss Anthony saying that after a meeting in Buffalo – “Oh, after that I am going to make a long promised visit at Bristol Ferry, with Mrs. Sarah Eddy,…Mrs. Eddy has been trying to get me to sit for her for my portrait for years, but I have never seen the time when I could stay long enough, but now that I am taking life so easy that I have consented, and she will see what she can do with me as her subject…**

Small portrait now at Bryn Mawr

Miss Anthony would write to her sister about the visit.  Every morning was spent sitting for the two portraits Sarah was painting.  One was a “bust portrait” – the other was a larger image of Susan’s 80th birthday celebration.  This birthday celebration was two years before in Washington, D.C. Eighty children filed pass Miss Anthony to bring her an American Beauty rose.  Sarah used local children as her models.  As a subject, Susan B. Anthony didn’t consider the portrait flattering.  In a letter almost a year later to Sarah, she would write that “There is something about the hollowness of the left cheek that makes me look as if I had had a ball thrown at me and hit me good and hard!  Could you fill it out with a touch of the brush?” ***

Turret Room with 5 windows.

In her letter to her sister Susan wrote: “Every afternoon I have the most refreshing sleep and when I wake the slanting rays of the sun are shining on Narragansett Bay and from all the five windows of my big room is the most glorious view imaginable. We have delightful drives over the old stone bridge that connects us with the mainland, to Tiverton and along the shores of Sconset 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.  I went in the carriage one afternoon to call on Julia Ward Howe, whose summer home is six miles from here; she was charming and I had an interesting time.” ****

A Rochester newspaper account of the visit reports that Miss Anthony visited the women’s section of Brown University.  She remarked to the women:  I see you girls at present have to peek over the fence at the boys, but the time will come when you will be admitted there on equal terms with them.”  The 200 women students applauded the idea. *****

  • *From “Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, 1880-1887.  Rutgers, 1997.
  • **Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester NY, 8/11/1901)
  • ***Letter from Susan B. Anthony to Sarah Eddy – June 12, 1903 in the collection of the University of Rochester.
  • ****The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. 3, Ida Husted Harper 1908.
  • *****Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (11/8/1901).

A Turkey as a Guest at Thanksgiving? Sarah Eddy and Vegetarian Thanksgivings

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Mrs. Burke prepares Thanksgiving Dinner

Hanging on the wall at the Portsmouth Historical Society is a painting of Mrs. Burke cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.  Sarah Eddy was the painter and this particular painting was our introduction to this Portsmouth artist and philanthropist.  What is unusual about the “Thanksgiving Dinner” is that there is no turkey.  There is pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, breads and vegetables.  This would be a tradition with Miss Eddy because she was a vegetarian.  When Susan B. Anthony came to Bristol Ferry to have her portrait painted, she wrote that the neighbors sent over “roast beef for Sarah’s cannibal friends.”

In researching Sarah, I have come across an interesting article from the New York Times from 1902.  Sarah was part of a Thanksgiving Dinner sponsored by the New York Vegetarian Club. The article began with a statement that:  “A live and very lively turkey bearing over his head a placard, ‘I Am Safe Here’ was the feature of the decorations..”  The poor turkey was behind a “strong wire netting for protection” but wasn’t calm until the dessert plates were cleared and “he settled down quietly with what seemed to be a feeling that his turn was not coming next.”  Among the courses were mushroom soup, cranberry sauce, pineapple and celery cream salad and raspberry ice cream.

Sarah would attend another “Thanksgiving Dinner” when Rhode Island finally passed the Federal Suffrage Amendment on January 6, 1920.  Sarah Eddy was among those celebrating at the victory dinner.  Turkey was served, but I imagine Sarah did not partake of that main course.

Sarah Eddy’s Suffrage Work


Sarah Eddy was a woman of many causes and in a sense many of them are intertwined.  Her work on woman’s suffrage is part of a larger effort of encouraging kindness and fairness to all.  She advocated for humane treatment of animals, temperance, fair treatment of black people and for arts and cultural education. The motto of her Social Studio, a neighborhood meeting center, was “All men’s good be each man’s rule and universal Peace Lie like a shaft of light across the land.”  Sarah’s goal was teaching kindness to every living creature and humane treatment of animals was her passion until her death in Portsmouth in 1945.

Sarah was born in Boston in 1851 and her family moved to Providence in the 1860s.  She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Arts Students League of New York.  She was back in Providence by 1880 and was active in the art community. By 1900 Sarah seemed to move permanently to the Bristol Ferry area of Portsmouth.   Sarah never sold any of her work – she gave it away.  She thought of her art as a way of reaching out to help others. She was a painter, sculptor and master photographer.  She continued to paint even into her nineties.

Even though she was a photographer, she made a habit of avoiding her image being taken.  We have only one photograph of her that appeared in a journal for humane treatment of animals.  One newspaper account seems to capture her spirit: “Miss E(ddy) is an enthusiastic humanitarian and vegetarian, a believer in woman’s rights and dress reform, and withal an artist and a lovely little lady. (Times-Picayune-New Orleans, 10/31/1887)

She followed in her mother’s footsteps with her commitment to suffrage.  She was part of national, state and local organizations.  She was never a leader, but she was an organizer and worker for the cause. Sarah had lifelong membership in the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  She was a delegate to national conventions in 1904 and 1906. She was on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association in 1886 and she chaired their legislative committee in 1905.  Sarah organized “parlor meetings” when there was a push to pass a state constitutional amendment giving women the vote.

FR Evening News 11/12/1918

In Portsmouth Sarah Eddy  was a part of the Bristol Ferry women who organized the Newport County Woman Suffrage League in 1908. Gradually the Suffrage League grew throughout Aquidneck Island.  Sarah protested against paying her Portsmouth property taxes because she had no representation.  Sarah the philanthropist didn’t hold grudges.  After women could vote, she donated a storage cabinet that was sorely needed by the Portsmouth Town Clerk.  Sarah’s home on Bristol Ferry or her Social Studio across the street was often a meeting place for the Newport County Woman Suffrage League.  It was the scene of celebration after the vote was won and it was the place for the centennial meeting of the League.

Sarah brought national and state leaders to Portsmouth.  She encouraged her Bristol Ferry friends and neighbors to be active in the cause.  She hosted meetings large and small.  Sarah Eddy was a force in the woman’s suffrage movement in Portsmouth.

Sarah Eddy: Suffrage was a Family Affair


Portsmouth artist and philanthropist Sarah Eddy was the heart of the Bristol Ferry suffrage group.  Three generations of her family were actively supporting the cause of the vote for women.

Francis Jackson – Boston Public Library, 1850

When he died in 1861, Sarah’s maternal grandfather, Francis Jackson of Boston, left Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone $5,000 to use as they sought fit “to secure the passage of laws, granting women, whether married or unmarried, the right to vote, to hold office, to hold, manage, and devise property, and all other civil rights enjoyed by men..”   Jackson was very active in the abolition movement and counted William Lloyd Garrison as a good friend.

Eliza Eddy

Francis Jackson’s daughter, Eliza carried on this family interest in suffrage and Sarah was her daughter.  Like her father, when Eliza died in 1882, she left money to both Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony.  In her will she said “I request said Susan & Lucy to use said fund thus given to further what is called, the Woman’s Rights cause.”  After other deductions from her estate were made, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone received about $57,000.  Susan is quoted in a newspaper article :  “..I am going to make a long-promised visit at Bristol Ferry, with Mrs. Sarah Eddy, daughter of the woman who left me $24,000 for suffrage work, and which I used mostly in getting up the history of woman suffrage.” (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 8/11/1901).

Sketch of James Eddy by Sarah Eddy

Sarah’s father, James Eddy, also gave generously to the social causes of his time.  Eddy’s fortune was self made.  Eddy was born in Providence and learned the trade of an engraver.  He traveled throughout Europe and made high quality copies of European works he loved.  He became a collector of fine art and his home in Providence was filled with masterpieces.  Sarah’s interest in art might have come from being surrounded by an art gallery at home.  One newspaper account stated that Eddy might have been worth three million dollars.  (Boston Globe 7/17/1887).

Eddy gave generously to the anti-slavery movement, temperance reform and the improvement of women’s status in society.  Eddy came from a family of ministers, but his own views on religion are hard to follow.  He advocated for the Free Religious Society and built the Bell Street Chapel in Providence by his residence.  He split with the society and often the ministers invited to speak at the Bell Street Chapel found themselves speaking to him alone.  I could not find Sarah Eddy listed as part of any formal church in Portsmouth and that might have been her father’s influence.

Sarah Eddy’s philanthropy and advocacy for causes had strong roots in her family heritage.  From grandfather Francis Jackson, mother Eliza and father James, Sarah had strong examples to follow as a supporter of Woman’s Suffrage.  They also provided her with connections to national leaders in the movement like Susan B. Anthony.  Like her family members, Sarah was in the background – supporting, encouraging and enabling those who led the fight.

Portsmouth Suffragists: A circle of families and neighbors

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The Portsmouth Historical Society curator’s committee is working on displays for next season that are centered around the 1920s. I chose to work on the women’s suffrage movement in Portsmouth because I thought I had an abundance of material on it already. Little did I know that when I began to research again, I would see ever widening rings of Portsmouth families and neighbors that were part of the movement. The short list of Portsmouth women active in the movement has begun to grow and grow. In subsequent blogs I will focus on these women individually.

Whole generations of families (women and men) were active in promoting the cause of the right of women to vote. The Mitchel Family, the Ballou Family and the Howe Family were prime examples of movement activity passing from one generation to another. The Bristol Ferry neighborhood in general was a “hotbed” of women’s rights efforts. Our Portsmouth women had connections, too. There was a natural connection to other women on the island through the Newport County Women’s Suffrage League. Through Portsmouth artist and reformer Sarah Eddy national leaders such as Susan B. Anthony came to visit Portsmouth. Through the hospitality of the Ballou Family, Rhode Island and Providence leaders came to visit and speak. Julia Ward Howe was a national leader in her own right and gave the Portsmouth women a connection to Massachusetts women as well.

These women were reformers and were involved in other efforts. Abolition, temperance and social welfare issues were part of their heritage. After women got the vote, they devoted their energies to the League of Women Voters and local political parties (primarily the Republican Party).

My research is continuing, but a blog enables me to revisit blogs as I uncover more information. My goal is to focus on the women individually or in families. What is their background, education, and what other causes were important to them? How did they fit into the life of Portsmouth?

Letitia Lawton, Cora Mitchel and Emeline Eldredge