This year the Portsmouth Free Public Library is celebrating one hundred and twenty-five years of service to the Portsmouth community. Portsmouth women have been vital to the success of the library. In a history of the library, Ernest Denomme remarks that Sarah Eddy of Bristol Ferry Road was “one of the best educated and well traveled women in Portsmouth….she made her presence felt throughout the community.” She contributed to the success of the Portsmouth Free Public library from the beginning of the organization, but you won’t find her name among the board of directors. She was a private person who worked effectively behind the scenes. Many of the original library organizers were in her circle of friends. One of her best friends, Emeline Eldrege, served on the library board for years.

Sarah was a world class artist, writer, and sculptor. The Bristol Ferry area where she lived became a center for artists such as Oscar Miller. She is famous for her portrait of Frederick Douglass and she brought Susan B. Anthony to Portsmouth to sit for her portrait. That portrait is in the Smithsonian in Washington today. She made a number of donations of artwork to the library, some of which are on view now. Sarah never sold her work, she always gave it away.

By the 1920s the original library needed to be expanded. The West Wing was constructed chiefly through Sarah’s funding to be used as an Art Room. It was common for libraries in that period to also serve as places to display art and bring culture to the community. In 1921 a Newport Mercury article shows Sarah as part of the Art Committee of the library. As she grew older her interest in the library waned, but the traces of her influence remain. In the 1950s the Art Room was re-purposed into a Children’s Room. It serves as the book shop today.