Sarah Frances Norton

(1838–1910) Sarah was a great granddaughter of President John Adams. Working with Susan B. Anthony, Sarah campaigned for the admission of women at the Cornell University, which she called "that stronghold of feminine prejudice," and the two women received the support of its founder, Ezra Cornell. The school admitted women in 1870, one of the first American universities to do so.

Sarah, a novelist and lecturer, often challenged gender-based economic disparities. She questioned the practice of marriage as the husband’s economic ownership of the wife. As president of the Working Women’s Association, she discovered that about half of New York City rag pickers were female. She wryly concluded, “This is the only business in which women have equal opportunities with men.” Pointing out that children were not the property of their parents, to be denied schooling and forced to work at very young ages, she advocated compulsory education for both sexes. “If, by this means, every boy and girl could both be educated and made self-supporting...would it not be better for both parents and children?”

Having lost her fortune, Sarah Norton died at age 72 in 1910, in Troy, N.Y. in poverty. A penciled statement found clutched in her hand illustrated the circumstances in which she found herself as she approached death, stating, "I have spent my life and nearly two fortunes working in the interest of women and this is the end - friendless-dissolution-death. Let no one play at philanthropy who wants peace."

Oakwood Cemetery

Section P, Lot 590

50 101st Street, Troy, NY 12180

Rensselaer County

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This program was funded in part by Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

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