Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, ca. 1860.46. Marshall (Boston). Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, ca. 1860. From a carte de visite, purchased, 2004.

Born in 1793 to Gamaliel and Elizabeth Hickling Bradford, Sarah Alden Bradford grew up in Boston and Duxbury. In 1818, she married Samuel Ripley—son of the Reverend Ezra Ripley of Concord and half brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson's father William. The Ripleys spent most of their married life in Waltham, where Samuel served as a minister and ran a boarding school for boys. On Samuel's retirement in 1846, the Ripleys moved into the Old Manse in Concord, where the widowed Sarah remained after her husband's sudden death in 1847. She died in 1867.

Proficient in ancient and modern languages, literature, science, mathematics, and history, Sarah Ripley—a lifelong practitioner of self-culture—was a well-educated, thoughtful woman. She attended some of Margaret Fuller's conversations in Boston and was invited to the so-called Transcendental (or Hedge) Club. Rational and skeptical, she had difficulty reconciling her acute observations with orthodox religion.

Elizabeth Hoar—a learned woman in her own right—admired Sarah Ripley's synthesis of devotion to womanly duties with intellect and learning. She wrote for Worthy Women of Our First Century: "Mrs. Ripley was known and revered in the region where she lived, as one who combined rare and living knowledge of literature and science with the household skill and habits of personal labor needful to New England women of limited means, and with the tenderest affection and care for the young brothers and sisters whom her mother's delicate health and death left to her charge, and for the seven children of her own marriage To ordinary cares were added those of assisting her husband in the cares of a boys' boarding-school, both in housekeeping and teaching. These claims were met with disinterested devotion. And amid all the activity of her busy life the love and habit of acquiring knowledge, which was the life of her age as of her ardent youth, kept even pace."

This photograph captures Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley late in life. Decorous in demeanor and conservatively dressed, she nevertheless projects strength and sensibility. Her intense gaze suggests active powers of observation and an analytical mind.

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