Biographical Sketch of Sarah Isabel Towle Moller

Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Sarah Isabel Towle Moller, 1878-1960

By Laura Koch, Graduate student, Simmons University

Suffragist Sarah Isabel Towle Moller was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts on November 29, 1878 to Sarah Dorset Hamblin and Boston attorney George H. Towle. She had an older sister, Mary, born in 1877. Sarah attended Wakefield High School for one year, then went on to the Cambridge School for Girls. Both she and Mary attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, though Sarah did not achieve the same academic success as her sister. After three years studying a variety of subjects, including History, English, Politics, and the physical and natural sciences, Sarah transferred to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that she could live at home. In her letter to the Radcliffe admissions committee, she explained that she had repeatedly failed her examinations at Bryn Mawr, first on a technicality involving a forgotten attendance card and then because she was ill with the measles. She earned her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe in 1901 and went on to study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where she won the top Sears Prize for the Antique Class in 1904. Later that year, Towle traveled to Paris for a year to study painting. When she returned to the United States, she joined the Art Students' League of New York City and began painting portraits in 1908.

In 1905 Sarah Towle married Irving Clark Moller, an engineer and army colonel who later became known for his work advising the United States government on solving traffic problems in China. The couple employed two servants and adopted at least two children: a son, James, born in 1916, and a daughter, Barbara, born in 1918. The family moved frequently, living at different times in Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Connecticut. Moller appears to have maintained a close relationship with her sister, Mary, who became an attorney; in 1920, the two purchased property together in New York City.

Although Moller was already a prominent member of the Woman's Home Missionary Society in Massachusetts and the Woman Suffrage Party in New York, Moller's move to Washington, D.C. allowed her to develop her activism further. From 1912-1915 she served as a delegate of the National College Equal Suffrage League. In November of 1913 she volunteered to be an usher at a lecture given by militant British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Also in 1913, Moller marched in several suffrage parades in various cities, including the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C., in which she was chosen as marshal for the artists' section of the parade. Later, she joined several other suffragists in testifying before a Senate committee investigating the lack of police protection at the parade, "declar[ing] that one policeman to whom she appealed replied that the police had orders not to do their duty." Moller was also a regular participant in suffrage pageants and tableaux, appearing in one production entitled "Woman of Achievement" in Baltimore in May 1913. Moller's suffrage work informed her activism in other spheres as well; one Washington Post journalist quoted her addressing problems of "vice" in Washington, D.C., arguing that, "'until women get the vote...the solution of this problem will not even be in sight.'"

Sarah Towle Moller died on January 9, 1960, in LeRaysville, Pennsylvania, and is buried in Wakefield, Massachusetts.


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