Sarah Porter

Sarah Porter

Induction Category:
Education & Preservation

Born: 1813

Died: 1900

Inducted: 1994

Town: Farmington

When Sarah Porter opened her school for girls in Farmington in 1847, she was a classically-educated woman who hoped to prepare her students for a lifetime of intellectual and cultural development. Like earlier evangelically-minded women, including Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke, and Catharine Beecher, founder of the Hartford Female Seminary, Porter believed that women should be the beneficiaries of a rigorous and comprehensive course of study to prepare them for the future as guardians of a virtuous republic.

Sarah Porter was born into a well-educated Connecticut family, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister. One of her brothers was President of Yale University, and she received a classical education from the school’s professors who were willing to teach women “after hours.” For several years, Porter taught in Springfield, Mass. In 1843, she returned to Farmington, renting rooms to teach several young women in the area. Unable to support herself—her students had to board in her parents’ home—Porter moved to Buffalo, N.Y., after securing a teaching position in a school run by the Presbyterian Church. Then, in 1847, she was asked to return to Connecticut to run a recently established schoolhouse formed by Farmington’s Female Seminary Association.

The original class at Miss Porter's School included 25 students, nine of them boarders. Soon the school's reputation spread throughout the world, with many prominent families sending their daughters to Connecticut to study. By 1885, Sarah Porter had bought the original schoolhouse and surrounding land, as well as the Union Hotel on Main Street, to accommodate increasing numbers of students. In the 1850s, the curriculum included Latin, French, German, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, chemistry, history, geography, music and natural philosophy. Extracurricular activities included required Bible study on Sundays and lectures by prominent speakers. Physical fitness was stressed with daily exercise and calisthenics. Most students stayed for one to three years and, instead of a diploma upon completion, they were awarded a recommendation from the school. Sarah Porter was involved in all aspects of the school’s day-to-day schedule, and its culture reflected Porter’s fervent belief that women should receive an education equal to that of men—even if that education was to be used by a woman to be the head of a household.

Though Porter was not in favor of women's suffrage, she did support reforms in divorce and property laws that had disadvantaged women. She also founded the Farmington Lodge Society to bring “tired and overworked” girls from New York City to Farmington during their summer vacation. After her death in 1900, management of the school was turned over to Porter’s nephew. In 1943, it was incorporated as a non-profit institution. Today, Miss Porter’s is an academically demanding college preparatory school for 330 young women. Among the school’s many prominent graduates have been Dr. Alice Hamilton and her sister Edith Hamilton, architect Theodate Pope Riddle, fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, and former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

During This Time
1800 - 1920: Industrialization & Reform