Biographical Sketch of Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn, 1876-1959

By Shawn Harrington, Curator, Manchester Historical Society, Manchester, Vermont

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn was born in Norfolk, Virginia on February 4, 1876. She was the daughter of a Scottish immigrant and investment broker, John Dalton Cleghorn, and Sarah Chestnut (Hawley) Cleghorn. Following the death of her mother in 1885, Sarah and her brother Carl came to Manchester, VT to live with her two aunts, Julia and Jessie Hawley. She was educated in Manchester and graduated from Burr and Burton Seminary in 1895. During this time she became lifelong friends with Dorothy Canfield Fisher. They both became writers and collaborated on a book of essays, Fellow Captains (1916), and Nothing Ever Happens and How It Does: Sixteen True Stories (1940). Cleghorn also wrote a dramatization of Fisher's novel for children, Understood Betsy (1934).

Sarah N. Cleghorn's first published short story was in the Philistine, shortly after she attended Radcliffe College for the 1895-1896 academic year. She contributed short stories and poems to popular magazines and periodicals such as the Atlantic Monthly, Century, Scribner's, Harper's and The Survey. She was also a contributing editor of TheWorld Tomorrow. Her pacifist beliefs and socialist political views began to be reflected in her writings as the world approached the First World War in 1914 and Cleghorn began making contributions to publications with social agendas such as The Masses. Poems such as “The Mother Follows,” (The Suffragist, 24 Jan. 1914) clearly highlight her departure from earlier writings.

In 1915 Cleghorn began her teaching career as a proponent of the Dalton and Montessori educational methods. She joined Brookwood School in Katonah, N. Y. at its inception in 1920 and two years later was teaching at the Manumit Farm in Pawling, N. Y. In 1924 the Manumit Farm was purchased and re-established as a school for workers' children, the Manumit School, where she taught English and dramatics until 1929. She went on to be a substitute associate professor of English at Vassar College the following year.

Her published works include the novels A Turnpike Lady (1907), The Spinster (1916); a book of poems Portraits and Protests (1917); an autobiography Threescore (1936); books of essays Poems of Peace and Freedom (1945) and The Seamless Robe (1945).

As a 1913 article in the Manchester Journal noted, “While not an active worker for the cause of woman suffrage, she is strongly in favor of the equal franchise.” Some of the other social causes that Cleghorn actively supported were equal rights for African-Americans, prison reform, animal rights, packing-house reform, and the abolishment of child labor and vivisection. She was a member of the Vivisection Investigation League, Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals, League of Mutual Aid, Fellowship of Reconciliation, American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, War Resisters' League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She had joined the Socialist party in 1911 and at the time of her death in 1959, she was a member of Chestnut Hill (Pa.) Monthly Meeting.

In the introduction to her 1936 autobiography, Threescore, Robert Frost said of Cleghorn; "To a saint and a reformer like Sarah Cleghorn the great importance is not to get hold of both ends, but of the right end. She has to be partisan."

Sources:

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorne Papers, Silver Special Collections Library, University of Vermont http://scfindingaids.uvm.edu/repositories/2/resources/1198

Cleghorn, Sarah N. Threescore: the autobiography of Sarah N. Cleghorn. Harrison Smith & Robert Haas, 1936

The Manchester Journal, 13 February 1913, page 3

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