Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Sarah Burger Stearns, 1836-1904


STEARNS, Mrs. Sarah Burger, woman suffragist and reformer, born in New York City, 30th November, 1836. She went with her parents to Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1845. Being a thoughtful child, she early felt the injustice of excluding girls from the State University. Of this she took note in a school paper, which she edited for a year, at the age of fourteen. At fifteen she served as president of an industrious literary society of girls. At sixteen she had the good fortune to attend a national woman's rights convention, held in Cleveland Ohio. Inspired by the eloquence of Lucretia Mott, Lucy Slone and others to do her part toward securing a higher education for women, she left the Cleveland high school three years later, and returned to Ann Arbor to prepare, with others, for the classical course of the State University. Miss Burger succeeded in finding a dozen young women who could and would make with her the first formal application to the regents for admission. The only reply given them was that "It seems inexpedient, at present, for the University to admit ladies." The discussion thus aroused in 1858 never ceased until young women were admitted in 1869. In the meantime she had accepted, for a year, a position as preceptress and teacher of Greek and Latin in an academy for girls and boys, and made a second application. Receiving the same answer as before she entered and soon was graduated in the State Normal School. After spending six months in her native city, she returned to Michigan and became the wife of Lieutenant Ozora P. Stearns, a young man who had won her heart, five years before, by advocating justice for women. As he was in the army, she after marriage, served one year as preceptress in a seminary for young women in Monroe, Mich. Her husband, having obtained a position on staff duty in St. Paul, Minn., wished her to be with him until he was sent south, after which she returned to her home in Detroit, Mich., but not long to be idle. She sought to arouse the indifferent and employ the inactive by lectures upon the Soldiers' Aid Societies and the Sanitary Commission. While in Boston, Mass., the Parker Fraternity invited her to give a lecture upon the "Wrongs of Women and Their Redress." That she repeated in some of the suburban towns. While waiting for her husband to be relieved from service, after the close of the war, she taught the Freedmen where Colonel Stearns was stationed. She was always busy. Even after going to housekeeping in Rochester. Minn., she found time to lecture before the institutes upon primary teaching, moral instruction in the schools, and kindred subjects, and was fond of writing for the press upon educational topics. She helped to promote benevolent work, by her lectures upon "Woman and Home," "Woman and the Republic," and other subjects. Colonel and Mrs. Stearns moved to Duluth, Minn., in the spring of 1872, since which time she has indulged less her fondness for study and literary work, and has become known as a woman of varied philanthropies. For three years she served as a member of the Duluth school board. She was for several years vice-president for Minnesota of the Association for the Advancement of Women. She served four years as president of a society for the maintenance of a temporary home for needy women and children. As a white-ribboner and a suffragist she was often a delegate to their State annual meetings. She was for many years vice-president for Minnesota of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and she helped to organize the state society and some local ones. She was for two years president of the State society, and is now president of the Duluth Suffrage Circle.

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