Pugh, Sarah (1800–1884)

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Pugh, Sarah (1800–1884)

American teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, on October 6, 1800; died in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on August 1, 1884; only daughter and second of two children of Jesse Pugh and Catharine (Jackson) Pugh; attended the Westtown (PA) Boarding School for two years; never married; no children.

Remembered for her intelligent and dedicated support of both the anti-slavery and the woman's suffrage movements, Sarah Pugh performed the quiet, behind-the-scenes tasks without which reform becomes impossible. "I have no fear of her talents rusting for want of use," wrote Lucretia Mott of Pugh, with whom she worked and traveled on many occasions.

Born in 1800 in Alexandria, Virginia, Sarah Pugh lived from the age of three in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where her mother established a dressmaking business after the death of her husband. Raised as a Quaker, Pugh's education included two years at the Quaker-run Westtown Boarding School. In 1821, she accepted a teaching position at the Friends' school of the Twelfth Street Meeting House in Philadelphia. She left the post in 1828, as a result of the split between the Orthodox and more liberal Hicksite Quaker sects, an event which also caused her to question her own religious beliefs and to ultimately accept the Unitarian faith. In 1829, Pugh established her own elementary school in Philadelphia, where she taught for more than a decade.

In 1835, inspired by a speech by the English abolitionist George Thompson, Pugh joined both the Female Anti-Slavery Society, of which she served as an officer for many years, and the American Anti-Slavery Society. She attended antislavery conventions and worked tirelessly for passage of state and national legislation abolishing slavery. In 1840, leaving her school in the hands of her co-workers, she joined Lucretia Mott, Mary Grew , and others as American delegates to the London meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. When the Pennsylvania women were denied active participation because of a vote to exclude women delegates from the convention proceedings, she wrote their statement of protest. Pugh made a second trip to Europe in 1851, remaining in England for over a year to assist with the anti-slavery movement there. During that time, she consulted with British intellectuals and advised administrative committees and women's groups on how to organize campaigns.

Following the Civil War, Pugh turned her attention to the plight of freed slaves and to women's rights, working on behalf of both causes through the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Association. Often traveling with Mott, she attended women's rights conventions and meetings, speaking for the suffrage cause. In 1869, when the movement began to split into two factions, Pugh refused to take sides, and continued to attend meetings of both factions. She was also active in the Moral Education Society, founded in Philadelphia in 1873.

Living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, with her brother Isaac and his wife, Pugh remained active and in good health until the last two years of her life, when she was debilitated by lumbago. She died on August 1, 1884, following a fall.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.