When I first became aware of Sarah Eddy, I started collecting postcards of the “Social Studio”  which Sarah founded.  Just what was the Social Studio?   As I read the newspaper and magazine accounts from early in the Twentieth Century, it seems the Social Studio had many purposes.   It was a community gathering place (a social center), an arts and crafts school (a studio), a clubhouse for young people, an art exhibit space, an arts and crafts store, and a school for humane education.

The earliest account of the Social Studio was in a Fall River Evening News article in December of 1902.  The article reports that John E. Manchester will be in charge of the building process.  It also says that Miss Eddy has had other work done by Manchester during the last four years.  That helps us date Sarah’s cottage and when she may have come to Portsmouth as around 1898.  This article states that the studio will be for “public uses such as woodwork carving, lectures, stereopticon views, suppers or any object which will benefit those who attend.” The article says that  “It will contain a hall, 22×36, and a kitchen on the first floor, with rooms above, and will be artistic as well as ornamental.”

According to another Fall River Evening News article (2/24/1903), the Social Studio opened less than two months later at the end of February.   The studio is featured as a “spot for people to gather and spend an evening. The Social Studio is fitted with a piano, reading matter, etc… The studio was built under the direction of Miss Sarah J. Eddy and it was through her courtesy that the public was invited to gather at the place on Saturday, and to attend the meetings each Friday evening.”  The activities would soon grow to many more days of the week and throughout the year.

What kind of activities took place at the Social Studio?   Again, the newspaper articles and the postcards help us to understand what went on.  Among the first activities arranged by the Social Studio were boys clubs and girls clubs. The 1906 article in Good Housekeeping lists sixty members in the boys club and thirty five girls in their club.    Many articles tell of plays being performed and there was even an orchestra connected to the Social Studio Boys’ Club.  Handicraft Magazine in 1911 tells of an arts and crafts exhibition and sale.  Lessons were given in various household arts such as wood carving, weaving, and basket work.  Up for sale were Irish crochet lace, intricate metal work (repousse), hand carved pieces including a serving tray and Japanese ideographs (writing). The Social Studio had an artist’s cooperative called “associated workers,” adults who had their work on sale at the studio and they would pay a certain number of cents for each sale.  These workers would leave a sample of the work and the Social Studio would take orders for them.

“The Commons Magazine” lists classes in pyrography (wood burning), drawing, water color painting and raffia.  According to this magazine, the classes were “conducted by competent teachers, a nominal fee being charged for instruction.”  Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1906 adds embroidery and sewing to the list of lessons.  There were many different types of clubs.  The reading club met on Tuesday  afternoon and the social club met on Tuesday evenings.  Among the first clubs organized were those concerned with teaching about the protection of animals.  This topic was particularly dear to Sarah’s heart. Children were taught to know and love the birds and not to disturb nests.  The idea of “Bands of Mercy” came from Sarah Eddy’s 1899 book – “Friends and Helpers.”  Sarah believed that when children learned to respect animals they would learn to respect the rights of people as well.

“Kindness to all living creatures” is one of Sarah’s mottos.  The “Golden Rule” club with smaller children (20 members) gave a portion of their work and time to help others.  The “Estrelles Band of Mercy” have assisted families by donating vegetables, clothes and small amounts of money.

According to The Commons Magazine: “Such a social and educational center would be a great gift and open up wonderful privileges and opportunities in the lives of country boys and girls, who, after the day’s work, might satisfy a legitimate cravings for amusement and society in a more wholesome manner than loafing about the post office or store, retelling petty gossip or engaging in the more dangerous pastime of immature lovemaking.”

Although the Community Christmas Party continued on for many years, most of the activities for children seemed to taper off by the First World War.  The Social Studio continued to be a gathering spot for adults up until the 1930s.  All types of organizations used the Studio and it was frequently used for church gatherings.  Every women’s church group in Portsmouth used the Social Studio for fundraisers and socials and it became a summer chapel for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  Sarah Eddy’s close friend Emeline Eldredge was the director of the Social Studio for around twenty years and her death in 1934 may have contributed to the ending of activities.

The Social Studio is still a useful building today. It is a family home and although there have been additions and modifications, it is still recognizable as the gathering place it once was.