At my visit to Adena Mansions, I was told by the guide that Sarah was what we would call a feminist today, as she was a champion of women’s and children’s rights. I learned there was one book written about her In Winter We Flourish by Anna Shannon McAllister (1939), and I set about to find it and read it to learn more about this great woman. Some heralded her as an American Queen, though she only wished to be known as a queen in Heaven.
Sarah Ann (May 10, 1800- February 6, 1877; Taurus – Demeter) was the second daughter and child of Thomas Worthington, sixth governor of Ohio, also known as “The Father of Ohio,” and Eleanor Swearingen. She grew up at Adena Mansion with nine other children and a whole system of laborers to monitor the estate but who were also thought of as family. Her parents were devoted to each other and to their faith. A precocious young girl who enjoyed having fun yet she was also studious and appreciated rules and order. She was a linguist and would come to speak Italian, German and French. Her early beginnings in the arts were as an accomplished pianist who was often invited to give recitals during social gatherings. As a woman she was pious beginning her spiritual pilgrimage as an Episcopalian and later converted to Catholicism in 1855. She was a good woman, a good wife and mother and later a patron of the arts, as well as a philanthropist, in general, who not only gave to charities, began them.
Firstly, she became a wife five days after her sixteenth birthday and this was to Edward King who became an attorney and opened his own firm in Cincinnati. He was also twice the Speaker of the House of Representatives and he founded the Cincinnati law school (now known as the University of Cincinnati, College of Law). While she would have a wonderfully devoted marriage as her parents, there was great disappointment in her attempts at child bearing. She gave birth to five children but only two survived. This would be Rufus and Tom but by her death, only Rufus would remain as Tom only lived to be thirty-one.
While married to Edward, she began utilizing her time and money to help those less fortunate. This started in 1832 when she helped aid families during a flood in Cincinnati. During that same year there would be a cholera outbreak and Sarah would help nurse the sick and even opened a portion of her home to house some of the worst cases. This was a bit surprising as her husband, from all his travels, was in another part of the home suffering from malaria. In 1833 she opened the Protestant Orphan Asylum which by 1939 was located in Mount Auburn (It is assumed this is now closed, as there is only a reference to another establishment built in 1849 online).
The passionate love of 20 years would end on February 6, 1836. Sarah, being a strong woman, used her period of mourning to follow her sons to Cambridge and opened the upstairs of her home to other young boys also attending the university. After graduation from Harvard, one son, Rufus would follow in his father’s footsteps and open a law office in Cincinnati. Tom began a practice in Philadelphia and his mother remained there as she was not yet ready to return to the home of she and her late husband. Both her sons would marry within two years’ time.
Eight years after the death of her first husband, she would marry William Peters. She was now forty-four years old and he was considerably older than she. They would stay married for almost 10 years until his death in 1853. It is through this marriage though when she begins to flourish more in her contributions to women and children. She was devoted to helping women acquire skills so that they may be able to have economic independence. Her first attempt to start an organization for seamstresses failed, for unknown reasons, noted by the author in the biography. Incapable of giving in she went on to open a home for delinquent girls, Rosine Association for Magdalens (a Quaker society home), which appears to be what might be called a trade or vocational school today.
Her next project was to begin the Philadelphia School of Design in 1848. Here the women created domestic creations through textile design of wallpaper, carpets and other household needs. This was significant, not just for helping create careers for young women but because, at this time, most of these items were imported. It also gave special meaning to these women, who, at this time could not own property or have the rights to their children. This college is now known as Moore College of Art and Design and continues to be a woman only school. It is the first and only visual arts college for women in the United States. Below is an excerpt from her biography (page 142) which explains, in her words, the reason for founding this school.
Having for a number of years observed with deep concern the privation and suffering to which a large and increasing number of deserving women are exposed in this city and elsewhere for want of a wider scope in which to earn their living; and after bestowing much through and enquiry with reference to the means of alleviating their miseries, I resolved to attempt the instruction of a class of young girls in the practice of such of the arts of design as were within my reach. I selected this department of industry, not only because it presents a wide field, as yet unoccupied by our countrymen; but also because these arts can be practiced at home, without materially interfering with the routine of domestic duty, which is the peculiar province of women. Sarah Ann Worthington Peter
After tackling these projects, this is when her son Tom died. To deal with her grief she set about to sail for Europe, with his wife and children assuming her husband William would join her. This did not happen. After she returned from her trip, which lasted over a year, he would die a few months later.
Before returning to Europe the second time, she would start the Ladies Academy of Fine Arts in Cincinnati where she had now moved back to. This does not appear to still be in existence. A bust of her likeness was placed in the Cincinnati Art Museum (however a return email has not occurred to verify as to whether it is still there). Sarah would end up touring Europe six times and spent much of this time procuring art for the museums here in the U.S., meeting with several popes and other church leaders, and soon began to become a bit of celebrity whose name could be seen in various newspapers wherever she might travel. The latter aspect she did not enjoy very much. Through these travels and the delight she would take in the rites and rituals seen amongst the Catholics, as well as her conversations with these holy men, she converted to become one of the followers herself.
Toward the end of her life, she had given quite a bit of money to various convents and to the church itself. She also established some of the orders in the United States. At the age of 77 she was surrounded by her son Rufus and his wife Minnie, Sisters Martha and Antonia and a local priest. The final portion of her Eulogy found on the last page (381) of her biography and given by Reverend Edward A. Higgins, S.J., and Rector of Saint Xavier’s College was distributed as a leaflet to those amongst the funeral mass.
Nature had indeed been generous in bestowing on Mrs. Peter qualities seldom found united in the same person: a bright, keen intellect, a warm, loving heart, untiring energy, and a soul utterly devoid of selfishness. Her mother’s heart was filled with the tenderest love, the most touching solicitude, for her children and relatives. She had the kindliest and a generous relief for every form of distress. ‘God gave her largeness of heart as the sand that is on the seashore.’ All will cherish her memory, and profit by the beautiful example of her virtues. May she rest in peace. Amen.
There are many other projects and duties that Sarah took on and if you would wish to read further, I would recommend obtaining a copy of this very old book (Abe Books or at a library or other used book store). Having read the majority of this book, it is not very entertaining as it is all factual rather than story, I found her to be quite a woman. It is ladies like these that you can’t imagine ever doing anything wrong and certainly making no enemies. She walked a path of servitude that seemed to increase with age. While her father is the one who is revered in our state, women like Sarah should not be forgotten. It continues to astound me as to how little has been written about these great women. We can find so much written about royal ladies but so little about the contributions of women in history, of lesser but certainly not without means. Of course even those with little means at all, we have abandoned even more as their letters and other writings have not been set aside for posterity as would a woman’s like Sarah.
If you love history and happen to be in Ohio, or visiting, make plans to visit the Adena Mansions and tour their grounds. I believe there continues to be a couple hundred acres left so there is more than enough room to take a stroll around the property.