Saco in York County, Maine — The American Northeast (New England)
Sarah Fairfield Hamilton, 1831-1909
Saco Main Street Museum Walk
Sarah Fairfield Hamilton was a founder of the local chapter of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, and led that organization to create Saco's first kindergarten, a nursery for mill workers' children, summer park programs and other progressive reforms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Her father, John Fairfield, was frequently away from home, serving first as Congressman, then Governor and eventually U.S. Senator. When he died unexpectedly in Washington D.C., Sarah assumed the role of second-in-command to her mother regarding her six younger brothers and sisters. Sarah attended Thornton Academy, which was named for her grandfather, Thomas Thornton. She was a student there when it burned in 1848, a year after her father died. She went to Bradford Academy in Massachusetts for one year.
She taught Sunday School at the Unitarian Church in Saco, a congregation that her father had helped organize, where she met Benjamin Franklin Hamilton, supervisor of the Sunday School. Their friendship blossomed into romance and marriage. The Hamiltons purchased half of the Leland mansion at 329 Main Street, now named
On a trip to Boston, Sarah encountered Mrs. Abbey Diaz on a horse trolley and introduced herself to the well-known speaker on domestic issues and promoter of women's reading clubs. Sarah invited her to speak in Saco. Her lecture at City Hall was an instant success. From this initial encounter, the Diaz Union was formed - "Union" because some women were afraid that a "Club" might be mistaken as a suffrage association.
For the first several years, the Union met at Sarah's house where discussions on how to improve society permeated the air. Eventually, it was decided that the members' time might be better spent "doing something" rather than "discussing" the community's problems. They invited Mrs. Diaz to return to Saco and she suggested they join the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, an active benevolent association based in Boston. The first program sponsored by the Saco Union was a kindergarten class, held in a room at the rear of City Hall called Froebel Hall after the German kindergarten originator.
Later, when it was noted that children of mill workers were pulled out of school to care for younger siblings, the E. & I. Union founded a nursery. Summer park programs provided care for children during school breaks. Sewing classes
This group of high-powered women pushed for separate and better prisons for women, economic help for the needy, medical help for the sick, and female representation on governing boards, including school boards, city councils and state legislatures.
Sarah pushed for woman's suffrage and for all the progressive ideas of aiding those less fortunate. She argued that social and educational needs should not be partisan issues. Although Sarah lived to see a member of the Union elected to the school board, she died before women could vote.
Sarah has always been recognized as the Mother of the Women's Educational & Industrial Union. In 1909 a fund was started in her memory. The following year, the Greek Revival Stearns house at 42 Beach Street became the Union's new home and was renamed The Sarah Fairfield Hamilton Memorial Building.
Today, many of the services initiated by Sarah Hamilton and the energetic and innovative E. & I. ladies are considered essential services now offered by the city government or the schools, but they originated in the front parlor of Sarah Fairfield Hamilton's Main Street home.
[Photo captions read]
1. Sarah Fairfield Hamilton.
2. Froebel Hall at the rear of City Hall
3. Sarah Hamilton
4. Thornton Hall, where Hamilton lived and the E & I Union was founded.
5. The WEIU shield.
Erected by City of Saco and Saco Museum.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Charity & Public Work • Education • Labor Unions • Women. In addition, it is included in the Unitarian Universalism (UUism) series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1848.
Location. 43° 29.997′ N, 70° 26.617′ W. Marker is in Saco, Maine, in York County. Marker is on Main Street (Maine Route 9), on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 331 Main Street, Saco ME 04072, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Dr. Laura Black Stickney, 1879-1961 (within shouting distance of this marker); Jacob Cochran, 1782-1836 (within shouting distance of this marker); Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush (within shouting distance of this marker); Veterans Memorial (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Veterans' Memorial at Eastman Park (about 400 feet away); World War Memorial (about 400 feet away); Spanish War and Philippine Insurrection Memorial (about 400 feet away); War Memorial (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Saco.
Also see . . . Historic Walking Tour of Main Street. City of Saco website entry (Submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Credits. This page was last revised on January 7, 2022. It was originally submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 578 times since then and 27 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.