Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah E. Richmond, 1843-1921

By Rachel Walter, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park

Educator, university administrator, suffragist

Sarah Elizabeth Richmond was born in Baltimore, Maryland, about 1843, to Henry and Mary A. Richmond. Sarah Richmond was invested in education at an early age. Her grade school teacher reported Richmond playing school outside with fence poles representing her sisters. She went to public schools in Baltimore. After elementary school, she had to wait a year before starting high school because she was so young. She spent that time with an influential teacher, Miss Eliza Adams. Richmond later stated it was this gap year that solidified her desire to be a teacher. In 1855, she graduated from Western Female High School, an all-girls public high school in Baltimore. Her first teaching job was with public schools in Baltimore, making $100 a year. During her early career, Richmond attended teaching training courses led by Adams.

In 1861, Baltimore schools issued a requirement that teachers swear allegiance to the United States. As a supporter of the Confederacy, Sarah Richmond refused and resigned her teaching position. She opened her own private school in Baltimore. In 1865, Richmond closed her private school and began her long affiliation with the Maryland State Normal School, later Towson University. As put by the Baltimore Sun, “a history of Miss Richmond is a history of the State Normal School.” In 1866, she completed the normal school's six-month program with an advanced certificate to teach any public-school grade in Maryland. After her graduation, she was appointed by the principal, M.A. Newell, to teach at the normal school. She taught a wide variety of subjects, including geometry, bookkeeping, school law, and history of education. In 1872, she became the vice principal, contributing to curriculum development and administration of the school. One chair, reviewing the progress of the school, noted, “Mr. Newell may think he's principal, but Miss Richmond is queen bee.” By 1876, the Maryland State Normal School had outgrown the one-hundred student capacity of its facilities and moved to a new location in northwest Baltimore.

In 1909, Sarah Richmond became the first female principal of the Maryland State Normal School. She had been considered for the position before, but was seen as too liberal, partly because of her interest in woman's suffrage. She worked tirelessly between 1910 and 1911 to ensure that the Maryland State Normal School got appropriate facilities. She performed her duties for the school by day and wrote letters requesting resources for new land and facilities by night. By 1915, the school was moved to its current location in Towson, Maryland. Although Richmond claimed the “acreage, price, beauty, ... [and] accessibility” of the Towson location explained the move, some observers later argued that racism may have played a role. Between 1910 and 1913, the area of northwest Baltimore surrounding the school was implicated in attempts to designate neighborhoods as black or white to avoid what some white Baltimoreans described as an “invasion” by black residents. This fear of racial demographic change near the school may have influenced the move to a more white and rural area.

Sarah Richmond retired in 1917 after she ensured the new school facilities were built. In response to her resignation, a new position was made for her so that she could be involved with the normal school while her health was declining. She stayed active as the Dean of Women until her death in 1921. This position allowed her to continue teaching and advising.

Sarah Richmond had a major impact on the women at Maryland State Normal School, many of whom stayed in contact with her after graduation. She aimed to make classes interesting and to do something new each day in the classroom. She fervently believed that all-school assemblies served as an educational and unifying force. Richmond planned assemblies focused on everything from current events like the discovery of the North Pole in 1896 to a reading of the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” by its author James Ryder Randall. She enforced compulsory membership in literary societies so that shy students would gain confidence and all students could develop creative and social expression. She also had the normal school offer sewing and cooking classes for girls to gain domestic skills. During her tenure as vice principal and principal, she continued teaching. She believed that classroom interaction was necessary for her to properly run the school.

Sarah Richmond was active in women's groups and teacher's organizations. In 1899, she became the director of the Teachers' Beneficial Association. She was active in the County Teachers' Institute, which was used to help train teachers through summer courses from 1900 to 1925. Richmond taught these courses, which especially benefitted rural teachers, but also strongly advocated full training at the State Normal School. She fostered and served on the board for the State Teachers' Reading Circle. The reading circle was suggested by Dr. M. Bates Stephens, state superintendent of education from 1900 to 1920, who thought teachers were too conservative pedagogically. Teachers in the Circle read books on pedagogy, literature, history, and science.

In 1908, Sarah Richmond was elected the first female president of the Maryland State Teachers' Association. As president in 1909, she introduced the notion of schools as community centers, where facilities and activities served the recreational and cultural needs of the surrounding community.

Outside of education, Sarah Richmond was a member of the Neighborhood Improvement Club, and the Baltimore Women's City Club. She was, according to the History of Woman Suffrage, a “pioneer” suffragist in the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association.

Upon her 50th anniversary of affiliation with the normal school, alumni gave her $500 in silver pieces, which she immediately invested and then donated to the school upon her death. The funds she donated became the Sarah E. Richmond Student Loan Fund. In 1924, the school built a new all-women's dorm named in her honor. A former student of hers, Minnie Lee Davis, wrote, “It is impossible for me to speak of Miss Richmond in words that will adequately express her ability and her influence. What she taught was beside the point, although she was an excellent and inspiring teacher. It is herself that she gave to the school, to the students, and through them to the state.”

Sarah Elizabeth Richmond died March 4, 1921, after a three-month battle with cancer. She was buried with the Richmond family in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore.


CAPTION: Sarah E. Richmond, principal, Maryland State Normal School, 1909-1917.
CREDIT: Image with article: Felicity Knox, “Sarah E. Richmond: Principal, 1909-1917,” September 4, 2016, Special Collections and University Archives, Towson University, Towson, MD, accessed June 19, 2019,


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Knox, Felicity. “Sarah E. Richmond: Principal, 1909-1917.” September 4, 2016. Special Collections and University Archives, Towson University, Towson, MD. Accessed June 19, 2019.

Local Matters. “Sixth Annual Commencement.” Baltimore Sun. November 19, 1858, p.1.

“Miss Sarah Richmond, Noted Educator, Dies.” Baltimore Sun. March 5, 1921, p.18.

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Office of the Principal/President, Series 5: Sarah Elizabeth Richmond Records, 1866-1937. Collections of the Principals and Presidents - UA00010, Box 5. Towson University Special Collections and Archives, Towson University Libraries, Towson, MD.

“Plans More Rooms For State Normal.” Baltimore Sun. January 12, 1923, p.20.

Richmond, Sarah E. “Maryland State Normal School, Baltimore, Report of the Principal, October 30, 1912.” In Forty-SixthAnnual Report, State Board of Education of Maryland, Showing Condition of the Public Schools ofMaryland for the Year Ending July 31st, 1912. Baltimore: Sun Job Printing, 1912, pp.118-20. HathiTrust.

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Thomas, Ida Belle (Wilson). “The Life and Work of Sarah Elizabeth Richmond: A Pioneer Maryland Educator.” PhD diss., New York University, 1942.

United States Census 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, s.v. “Sarah Elizabeth Richmond, Baltimore, MD.” HeritageQuest.

“Women's Clubs.” Baltimore Sun. November 17, 1919, p.10.

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