Ripley, Sarah Alden (1793–1867)

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Ripley, Sarah Alden (1793–1867)

American scholar and teacher . Name variations: Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley. Born Sarah Alden Bradford in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 31, 1793; died in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 26, 1867; daughter of Gamaliel Bradford III (a prison warden and reformer) and Elizabeth (Hickling) Bradford; married Samuel Ripley (a minister), on October 6, 1818 (died 1847); children: Elizabeth; Mary Emerson; Christopher Gore; Phebe Bliss; Ezra; Ann Dunkin; Sophia Bradford; one who died young.

Born in 1793 in Boston, Massachusetts, Sarah Alden Ripley was one of nine children of Gamaliel Bradford III and Elizabeth Hickling Bradford . She began her education during visits to her grandfather's home in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where she studied with Dr. John Allyn, a minister who did not share the common belief that only boys should be educated. In Boston, she continued her studies in Greek and Latin with the help of a man named Cummings; her father, a progressive warden at Charlestown State Prison and a descendant of Priscilla Alden , taught her French and Italian. Her mother, poor in health, often left the care of the other children to Sarah, although she still found time to read Sophocles, Theocritus, Tacitus and Seneca.

In 1809, at age 16, Ripley met Mary Moody Emerson , aunt of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mary Emerson tried to mold the girl's intelligence by pressuring Ripley to accept Calvinism. Though Ripley rejected Calvinism and its harsh strictures, she did meet the Reverend Samuel Ripley, Mary Emerson's half-brother, and agreed to marry him in accordance with her father's wishes. In 1818, Sarah moved into Samuel's home in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he served as the minister of the First Parish Church and owned a small boarding school for boys. This began Ripley's career as a teacher of Latin and Greek and housemother not only to the boys at the school, but to her own seven surviving children as well. Despite her increased responsibilities, Ripley continued to read and study many subjects including theology, philosophy, chemistry and botany. Ralph Waldo Emerson, her friend and nephew by marriage, later noted that "her delight in books was not tainted by any wish to shine, or any appetite for praise or influence." Harvard University President Edward Everett said that Ripley could have been a professor of any subject, and she was known as a Greek scholar of national prominence.

In 1846, Ripley and her husband retired to Concord, Massachusetts, where he died a year later. To ease her grief, she continued reading Greek, including Homer's tragedies. At 70, she decided to read Don Quixote, so she taught herself Spanish. Ripley died of a stroke on July 26, 1867. Her portrait hangs in the "Old Manse" in Concord, Massachusetts.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. Give Her This Day: A Daybook of Women's Words. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

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

Ann M. Schwalboski , teacher and writing specialist, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County