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[p. 13]

Zipporah Sawyer.


[Read before the Medford Historical Society, December 18, 1916.]

Miss Sawyer was born in Bolton, Mass., August 31, 1819. Her ancestors were of that vigorous, self-reliant stock of New England who worked not only for the settlement and progress of their native towns, but were engaged as well in affairs that advanced their country. Miss Sawyer's grandfather, Benjamin Sawyer, served in the war of the Revolution. Her father, Dr. Levi Sawyer, was the physician of Bolton and of all the country around. He was a man of marked individuality, a quality our townswoman inherited to a high degree; she was Miss Sawyer on the street, in the church, in the committee room, Miss Sawyer and no one else.

Her earliest years were spent in her Bolton home, where, as time went on, she combined the duties of a farmer's daughter with those of a doctor's helper, for in those days of thrift and industry a profession was rarely separated from the work of the farm. As her mother died when Miss Sawyer was only four years old, she devoted much of her girlhood to the care of her two brothers, she being the oldest child of her family. It was with pride and sincere satisfaction that she spoke of having mothered her younger brother Rufus from his tenth year. Her friends and large number of acquaintances can testify to the wonderful unity of thought and feeling that existed between the brother and sister, a closeness and harmony that lasted through Mr. Sawyer's life. Her older brother, Sterling Konisky Sawyer, passed much of his life on the home farm in Bolton, where his children and grandchildren now live. From this early life it is easy to see whence Miss Sawyer's domesticity, industry and thriftiness sprang, qualities, alas! from which our new race and complicated ways of living are falling rapidly away.

Passing out of girlhood Miss Sawyer devoted herself to teaching. She graduated from the Bridgewater Normal [p. 14] School, where her brother Rufus also received his professional education. She taught at first in the towns neighboring upon Bolton—Boylston, Northboro, Marlboro, as well as in Newburyport. Then, in July, 1857, she came to Medford.

Just at this point our enthusiasm for Miss Sawyer and her work is especially aroused, for there are few of our Medford citizens who realize how sincere and widely spreading her interest was, not only in the schools of her town and city, but in every smallest concern of Medford for the past fifty-nine years. It was an interest that did not flag, up to the very day of her death. She taught eighteen years, most of the time as an assistant to her brother Rufus, in the Everett Grammar School. She numbered many of our residents among her pupils, whose respect and gratitude bear ample testimony to her lasting influence. On resigning her position as teacher in 1875, she was elected a member of our school committee, the first woman, I am told, to be elected to that board. She remained in this position eighteen years, filling the difficult office of a general mediator between homes and schools. She was eminently just in her duties as school committee, and always strove for the good of the individual as well as for that of the town. She had great insight into whatever was practical. She served her town with unsparing zeal, and all for the general good.

After her retirement from the school board Miss Sawyer spent her years dispensing liberal hospitality in her home on Salem street. Here her brother Rufus died in 1896. Left alone in the home where for so many years brother and sister had lived as one life, Miss Sawyer bravely clung to the interests that had always been hers in the affairs of home, church, town and nation. Though so thrifty a New Englander that the pence were as important to her as the pound, so thrifty, indeed, that she amassed a goodly property, she was generous with her means and her benefactions were numerous. The Historical Society of Medford can testify to her liberality, so can the church of her choice in Medford, Bolton and [p. 15] Northboro. Other organizations benefited by her gifts, the Teachers' Guild, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Bolton Library, the Unitarian Ministerial Fund, and probably other institutions.

In religious belief she was a Unitarian and was consecrated to the work of that church, interested in its charities, devoted to its literature, and particularly loyal to the First Parish of Medford.

Miss Sawyer died October 24, 1916. Her very long life of ninety-seven years, while not full of great events, was remarkable for its evenness, steadiness of purpose, calmness of judgment, lack of violent, impassioned activities that rend souls. Her interest in life never grew less. The last political situation discussed in the morning paper keenly aroused her, and a detailed account of the last library book brought to her was sure to be a part of her conversation with her callers. She loved the world she lived in, even though for the past few years she had to view it from the easy chair in the corner of her living room.

The Rev. Benjamin Bailey, her cousin, at the funeral services of our friend, tersely and beautifully expressed the leading trait of Miss Sawyer's character. ‘She was a searcher after truth.’ The facts of the case were what interested her. She was not given over to sentiment or emotion, but she stood on the solid ground of reason, justice, right. Not that she was unfeeling, oh, no! She might speak her mind plainly, but if she did it brusquely not a day passed before she set matters right in her neighbor's heart as well as in her own. Sensitive herself, she was sensitive to the feelings of others. Indeed, there was a kind of tenderness in her heart which extended from her care of human beings down to the animal kingdom.

We cannot pay Miss Sawyer the debt we owe her, but we can stop to consider what she has given to our past, we can be grateful for the influence she leaves upon her city and her friends. To many of us she seemed, as Lowell says, ‘The type of the true elder race.’

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