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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 180

Papers of Sarah Alden Ripley, 1806-1867


Correspondence of educator and intellectual Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley.


  • Creation: 1806-1867

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Sarah Alden Ripley as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


.42 linear feet (1 file box)

The present collection, consisting mainly of letters written by Sarah Alden Ripley, illuminates various periods in the life of this woman notable for her learning and for her serene and loving nature. The letters to Abba Allyn and Mary Emerson date from the early years (1809 through the 1820's, with a few later letters) and reveal mainly her intellectual interests and philosophical outlook. The letters to Sophy, dating from the 1860's, are filled mainly with news of family and friends, expressions of hope and affection, and sadness at the ravages of the war and her own failing health and faculties. For the years in between, the letters (1843-1845) to George F. Simmons are the most informative, being filled with news of family, friends and the Waltham parish, reports on her reading and scientific pursuits, and an occasional comment on public affairs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other notable writers, ministers and reformers of the period figure in these letters as neighbors or acquaintances with whom there was an exchange of both friendship and ideas.


Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley was born on July 31, 1793, in Boston, the daughter of Gamaliel Bradford III and Elizabeth Hickling Bradford. She was the oldest of nine children and, as her mother's health was poor, was largely responsible for her siblings' upbringing. Though the family lived in Boston, Sarah spent much time in Duxbury, where her grandfather Bradford lived and where she formed a lifelong friendship with Abba B. Allyn (later married to Convers Francis, brother of Lydia Maria Francis Child). Abba's father, Dr. John Allyn, taught both girls Latin and Greek; another instructor of Sarah's was a Mr. Cummings in Boston, but much of her store of knowledge of the classics, modern languages, philosophy, botany, chemistry and astronomy she acquired on her own.

In 1810-1811 the family lived in Duxbury for a year; in 1813 they moved to Charlestown, where Gamaliel Bradford was warden of Charlestown State Prison.

When she was 16 Sarah was befriended by Mary Moody Emerson (1774-1863), Ralph Waldo Emerson's aunt and a woman of powerful intellect and religious convictions who strongly influenced her later famous nephew and her young friend Sarah Bradford.

On October 6, 1818, Sarah married Samuel Ripley (1783-1847), son of Ezra Ripley, minister of First Parish in Concord, and Phebe Bliss (Emerson) Ripley. The latter was the widow of William Emerson, Ezra Ripley's predecessor, and Mary Moody Emerson's mother. Samuel, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, became the minister of First Church in Waltham. Here the Ripleys lived for 28 years, raising seven children (one other died in infancy), educating many more in their small boarding-school for boys, and also instructing "rusticated" Harvard students.

In the spring of 1846 the Ripleys retired from what Sarah later (in a letter to her daughter Sophy) described as "that dreary passage of constant labours and homesick boys" to the Old Manse in Concord. Samuel died at Thanksgiving 1847. Sarah survived him by twenty years, during which she saw the death of her son-in-law, George F. Simmons in 1855; his brother Charles Simmons in 1862; of her daughter Ann Dunkin Loring; her granddaughter Lucia Simmons (1855-1860); her sister Martha Bartlett; and her son Ezra, killed in the Civil War in 1863. While her oldest daughter Elizabeth Ripley (called Lizzie or Arly) remained with her and the next, Mary, lived next door with her children, her son Gore moved to Minnesota; Phebe apparently taught school in various places but visited frequently; and Sophy, the youngest, lived in Milton with her husband, James B. Thayer. Ann's son, David Loring (born 1849), lived in Concord and later with the Thayers. Sarah Ripley herself died in Concord on July 26, 1867.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession Number 72-78

The Sarah Alden Ripley letters were deposited in the Schlesinger Library in July 1972 by Sophia Ripley Ames Boyer.

Processing Information

Processed May 1973

Ripley, Sarah Alden, 1793-1867. Papers of Sarah Alden Ripley, 1806-1867: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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