Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Sarah J. Eddy, 1851-1945
By Joanna M. Doherty, Principal Architectural Historian, Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission
Executive Committee Member, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association; Chair of the RIWSA Legislative Committee; Artist; Painter of Susan B. Anthony Portraits
Sarah J. Eddy was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 9, 1851 to James Eddy and Eliza Francis Jackson Merriam Eddy. James Eddy (1806-1888) was a wealthy real estate investor and art dealer, who produced and sold reproduction engravings of masterworks. Eliza Eddy (1816-1881) was active in the abolition and suffrage movements; in her will, she stipulated that her residual estate be divided equally between Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone. James and Eliza lived in Boston for several years after their marriage, then moved to Providence, Rhode Island in the 1860s.
Sarah J. Eddy studied painting and sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Art Students' League of New York, but had returned to Providence by 1880, when the census showed her living in her parents' house, with her occupation listed as “Paints Pictures.” Eddy was active in the Providence Art Club, sitting on the Executive Committee and Jury of Admission, and exhibiting in at least five of the Club's annual shows in the 1880s. The 1887 show included one of two identical portraits that Eddy painted of Frederick Douglass in 1881-82, reportedly the only formal portrait for which Douglass ever sat. Eddy kept one copy, but gave it to W.E.B. DuBois in 1914, who later donated it to Fisk University. Eddy gave the other copy to Douglass; it is now in the collection of the National Park Service, which acquired Douglass's home in 1962.
By the 1890s, Eddy had become an accomplished photographer, regularly exhibiting her work in American and international shows. These included juried exhibitions in Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and salons in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Toronto and Chicago. Eddy's work was shown in two major international exhibitions in 1900. She was among 31 photographers included in an exhibition of American women photographers at the Paris Universal Exposition, organized by Frances Benjamin Johnston; it later traveled to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Eddy was also included in an exhibition titled the “New School of American Photography” in London, organized by Fred Holland Day. In addition to being shown extensively, Eddy's work was recognized by and featured in photographic journals of the period, such as the American Annual of Photography and Wilson's Photographic Magazine.
Like her mother, Sarah J. Eddy was committed to the cause of woman suffrage. She was a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was active at the local level. She served on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) in 1886, during an unsuccessful attempt to pass a state constitutional amendment giving women the vote, and helped organize “parlor meetings” to persuade voters to support the amendment. Eddy was a delegate to the national suffrage conventions in 1904 and 1906, and served as the chair of the RIWSA Legislative Committee in 1905. At the RIWSA meeting held on June 22, 1905, she “presented each member present with a fine photograph of Miss Susan B. Anthony for which a hearty vote of thanks was given.” According to The History of Woman Suffrage, the work of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League, founded in 1908, “was at first largely carried on by an active group of philanthropic women” in the Bristol Ferry area of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where Eddy had built a house in the mid-1890s. These included Miss Cora Mitchell, who served as president, and her “friends and neighbors, among whom were Miss Sarah J. Eddy, Mrs. John Eldredge and Mrs. Barton Ballou.” In the 1910s, Eddy hosted events at her home for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, successor to the RIWSA. In 1918, according to an item in the Newport Mercury, she protested paying taxes in Portsmouth “without a voice in the affairs of the town.” When Rhode Island ratified the 19th amendment, in January 1920, a letter from Eddy was read at a celebratory dinner in Providence.
In 1901, Susan B. Anthony spent three weeks at Eddy's home in Portsmouth, spending each morning sitting for two portraits. Eddy donated one of the portraits to Bryn Mawr College in 1920. The other, which depicts Anthony receiving flowers from a group of children at her eightieth birthday celebration (which Eddy attended), hung first in the office of Carrie Chapman Catt, when she was chairman of the Empire State Campaign Committee, and for two years at NAWSA's headquarters in Washington. It was accepted into the National Museum of American History's collections in 1919. According to scholar Richard Kurin, this acquisition marked the beginning of the Smithsonian's efforts to document the women's suffrage movement. Eddy's 1922 photograph of a group of “Votes for Women” buttons collected by California suffragist Alice Park is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Sarah J. Eddy was also an ardent proponent of the humane treatment of animals, helping to
found the Rhode Island Humane Educational Society in the 1890s. In October 1892, Eddy was elected one of several Vice Presidents of the American Humane Association at its meeting in Philadelphia, and at the time of her death she was reportedly a director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Eddy wrote or compiled five children's books on animals and their care between 1899 and 1938, some of which featured her photographs.
Around 1905, Eddy constructed a small building, which she called The Social Studio, on land across the street from her home in Portsmouth. The Social Studio was a community gathering place for arts and crafts classes, lectures, exhibitions and performances, and served as a venue for events that supported Eddy's causes. According to an article in Good Housekeeping, children at The Social Studio were instructed “to know and love the birds and not to disturb them or their nests” and “lantern slides were shown and talks given on protection of animals.” On August 17, 1920, it was the site of a jubilee hosted by the Newport County Woman Suffrage League, celebrating the ratification of the 19th amendment, which took place the following day.
Sarah J. Eddy died on March 29, 1945 at her home in Portsmouth. She never married and had no children; her closest relative at the time of her death was a grand-nephew. Eddy is buried with her father at the North Burial Ground in Providence.
National Humane Review, Vol. 1, No. 8, p. 174.
Sarah J. Eddy, Susan B. Anthony on the Occasion of her 80th Birthday (1900), Smithsonian Institute.
Sarah J. Eddy, Susan B. Anthony (1901), University of Rochester libraries.
Abdul-Musawwir, Najjar. “Artistic Representations,” in Julius E. Thompson, James L. Conyers, Jr. and Nancy J. Dawson, eds., The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2010.
Algeo, Sara M. The Story of a Sub-Pioneer. Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Company, 1925.
“American Humane Association; Tie Vote on Vivisection – Election of Officers.” The New York Times. October 29, 1892.
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Beers, J.H and Co. Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, Vol. I. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1908.
Catalogue of the Fiftieth Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1879.
Catalogue of the 109th Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1914.
Curtis, Verna. “Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1900: Staking the Sisterhood's Claim in American Photography,” in Bronwyn A.E. Griffith, ed., Ambassadors of Progress: American Women Photographers in Paris, 1900-1901. France: Museé d'Art Américain Giverny in association with the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Hanover, NH: Distributed by University Press of New England, 2001.
DuPay, Mrs. Haskins. “The Social Studio.” Good Housekeeping. July 1906.
Eddy, Sarah J. “A Good Use for the Camera.” The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1894. New York: Scovill & Adams Company, 1893.
Gordon, Ann D., ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Vol. IV: When Clowns Make Laws for Queens, 1880-1887. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI: 1900-1920. New York: J.J. Little & Ives Co., 1922. [LINK]
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Vol. III. Indianapolis: The Hollenbeck Press, 1908.
James Eddy: Biographical Sketch, Memorial Service, Selected Thoughts. Providence, RI: J.A. & R.A. Reid, 1889.
Kurin, Richard. The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013.
Graddy, Lisa Kathleen. “How Women's History and Civil Rights First Came to the Smithsonian,” http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/womens-history-smithsonian (accessed July 9, 2018)
“Miss Sarah A. [sic] Eddy, Author of Books on Animals, 93, Active in Humane Societies.” The New York Times, March 31, 1945.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, African American Legacy Recordings. “A Voice Ringing O'er the Gale! The Oratory of Frederick Douglass.” Sound recording liner notes. 2006.
Peterson, Christian. “Approved Biography of Sarah J. Eddy.” Available at http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Sarah_J__Eddy/A/
“The protest of Sarah J. Eddy against paying tax...” Newport Mercury, November 16, 1918.
Prieto, Laura R. At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.
“RI Woman Suffrage Association—Report of Meetings—from May 17, 1899-Feb. 20, 1908,” Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.
“Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating a ‘Heroic Life,” https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/susan-b-anthony/
Struckmeyer, Lisa. “The Life and Times of a Frederick Douglass Portrait.” Presentation. 2014. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWUzkPaUcIY.
“Susan B. Anthony Portrait Accepted.” The New York Times. July 6, 1919.
Dr. William O. Stillman, “American Women Humane Workers,” National Humane Review, Vol. 1, No. 8. (August 1913): 174-175.
“Rhode Island Ratification Day,” The Woman Citizen Vol. 4. No. 27 (January 24, 1920): 762-763.
“Woman Suffrage Jubilee.” Newport Mercury, August 14, 1920.
Richard Hines, Jr., “Women in Photography,” Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. 36. New York: Edward L. Wilson, Publisher, 1899, pp. 137-141.
Barr Ferree, ed. Year Book of the Art Societies of New York, 1898-1899 (New York: L. Scott Publication Co., 1899).