Doremus, Sarah Platt (1802–1877)

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Doremus, Sarah Platt (1802–1877)

American philanthropist who helped found New York Woman's Hospital and shelters. Born Sarah Platt Haines on August 3, 1802, in New York City; died on January 22, 1877, in New York City as a result of a fall; daughter of Elias Haines (a businessman) and Mary Ogden; married Thomas Doremus, on September 11, 1821; children: eight daughters, one son, and a number of adoptees.

Became active in benevolent activities for the Greeks suffering under Turkish control (1828); became president of a society to promote the GrandeLigne Mission in Canada, organized and run by Henrietta Feller (1835); began working in the woman's ward of the New York City Prison (1840) which led to the formation of the Woman's Prison Association, an organization dedicated to aid recently released women; appointed manager of the City and Tract Society, an organization devoted to evangelizing among the poor (1841), and joined the City Bible Society of New York (1849) which provided them with Bibles; one of the founders of the House and School on Industry (1850), serving as president for ten years and as manager for eight; assisted in the establishment of the Nursery and Child's Hospital of New York State (1855) and during the Civil War, helped distribute supplies to hospitals in and around New York City.

A member of the Dutch Reformed Church, the independently wealthy Sarah Platt Doremus devoted her life to many philanthropic and benevolent activities while encouraging others to do likewise. She participated in numerous and far-ranging support organizations, but her main focus became missionary work and the support of women in mission. Responding in 1834 to the appeal of the Reverend David Abell, an American member of the Dutch Reformed Church and a missionary to China, Doremus attempted to establish a branch of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, although officials of the American Board of Missions dismissed this plan. In response to Frances Mason 's plea for other women to assist her in the education of Burmese women (an action contrary to the Baptist Board of Missions' refusals to allow for female missionaries), in 1860 Doremus established the Woman's Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands. She became its first president, providing her home as its headquarters. Her house soon became the staging ground for missionaries preparing to depart for abroad; it also became a rest home for those forced to return due to ill health. Within ten years, the Woman's Union Missionary Society had female missionaries in India, China, Syria, Greece, and Japan. The success of this organization soon led to the establishment of similar denominational organizations that supported and sponsored female missionaries.

Doremus' work was significant not only in the establishment and the success of the Woman's Union Missionary Society, but also in altering traditional Reformed, Baptist, and other protestant denominational resistance to women missionaries. Until Doremus and other women leaders became active in the context movements of women's rights and women's education, few women were allowed to go on missions, and those few were almost never sanctioned representatives of mission boards. In fact, when Doremus founded her mission board, only five major and five minor boards existed; only 31 women had been allowed to become missionaries and those under special circumstances. The role of women in mission was limited to their service as wives of missionaries, carrying on the full duties of missionary work unrecognized. Doremus' organizations and boards altered prejudices against women in mission, providing not only the organizational support and funding, but a voice that stated clearly the necessity for female missionaries.

Well reported of for good works, [Sarah Doremus] hath brought up children, she hath lodged strangers, she hath washed the saints' feet, she hath relieved the afflicted, she hath diligently followed every good work.

—Dr. E.P. Rogers, Funeral Sermon


Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1959.

Hardesty, Nancy A. Great Women of Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

Montgomery, Helen Barrett. Western Women in Eastern Lands. NY: Macmillan, 1910.

Amanda Carson Banks , Vanderbilt Divinity School

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Doremus, Sarah Platt (1802–1877)

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